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I came across a tree kangaroo that had only been observed once - by the individual who killed it in 1928.
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I came across a tree kangaroo that had only been observed once – by the individual who killed it in 1928.


As a tourist from Britain, I enjoy spending my vacations searching for species that are thought to no longer exist. During my most recent visit to Papua New Guinea in 2022, I came across a Louisiade pitta bird. This bird had been the subject of unsuccessful professional expeditions for many years and had not been seen alive since 1898.

We played recordings of a similar bird called a pitta, which made a sound resembling a chicken being choked, until we got a response. It was like hearing a ghost rattling chains in a haunted house after rattling them ourselves.

The Louisiade pitta bird

During a subsequent visit to Papua New Guinea, I set out in search of the Telefomin Cuscus, a small possum that was thought to have disappeared due to widespread forest fires in 1997.

I came across one, but regrettably it was being cooked on a grill by a nearby family. I truly hoped they had found an alternative protein source, but it’s understandable that people need sustenance.

Overall, I have encountered around twenty-four of these creatures, primarily consisting of plants. The most enjoyable one I came across was the Wondiwoi tree kangaroo, resembling a lovable stuffed animal, during my search for rhododendrons in West Papua four years ago. It had previously been sighted only once in 1928 by the person who hunted it, and is currently housed at the Natural History Museum in London.

Two trips were necessary to locate it, and we had to use machetes to cut through thorny and dense bamboo plants that quickly grew back. On the final day, we spotted the animal right before we had to leave. I felt relieved because I would have had to explain to my wife if I returned without any success.

Telefomin Cuscus, a small possum

My spouse is incredibly understanding and encouraging, but she may consider it a bit eccentric. She never accompanies me on these journeys – the farthest she’s ever gone with me is Devon, and that was more than enough for her.

I completed my studies in zoology at the University of Oxford and currently work in the field of medical communications. My job involves a significant amount of computer modeling, and I am currently focused on creating models of extinct species to determine the most effective search locations. This task requires a great deal of perseverance.

Michael Smith in Frensham Ponds, Surrey.

I hope to feature these animals as symbols of endangered and historic environments. My goal is to gather evidence of something intriguing – and it seems to be successful in engaging and inspiring people to support conservation efforts. I understand that not everyone may be passionate about magnificent plants, but most people do enjoy adorable animals and stunning exotic birds. When considering alternative job opportunities for hunters, it’s important to consider what will attract tourists, and that is exactly what I am researching.

Efforts are being made to engage individuals in conservation and ecotourism, given limited alternatives. I strive to establish partnerships between indigenous landowners and external organizations to establish facilities for ecotourism. This serves as a means of income for locals and incentivizes them to protect their forests, a desire shared by many.

The Wondiwoi tree kangaroo in a tree


It is difficult to predict if there will be any remaining resources as changes may not occur quickly enough. Back in the 1990s, Papua New Guinea was mostly covered in forest with a small population. Although it is still predominantly forested (80-90%), there is significant demand from individuals and companies seeking to produce palm oil. While this type of development brings financial benefits to the area, it also involves constructing major roads that cut through the mountains.

Here are some basic suggestions for those looking to enter this field: maintain physical fitness, pack lightly, familiarize yourself with the area and improve your language skills. Take care of your porters and avoid hurrying discussions with community leaders.

Papuan forest, where the Wondiwoi tree kangaroo was discovered.

I am able to swiftly travel with a small group of individuals who have knowledge of the local area, while also being mindful of avoiding unwanted attention. I have encountered difficulties in the past with various individuals, from poachers in Cameroon to undercover officers in Burma, and I do not want to attract unnecessary attention by having a large group.

Regarding what lies ahead, I am uncertain. I am personally financing my endeavors, so I am constantly lacking in funds. I have come across past accounts of a legendary creature in the north-east region of India, which I believe may be referring to a colossal salamander – the largest amphibian in the world. It would be worthwhile to explore this further.

  • According to Phoebe Weston, Michael Smith is an unprofessional botanist from England who uses his vacation time to hunt for species that are thought to no longer exist. His primary occupation is as a self-employed analyst in the field of medical research.

Source: theguardian.com