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Searching for the birds of paradise


The natives
Ernst Mayr Scientist
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The natives were very... they rarely did... they hardly ever saw a white person and when I went later on further in the interior I came to a number of villages where no white person had ever been. And it was really an untouched nature and the flowers were also most overwhelmingly rich and... and astonishing, and the bird life was incredible. The greatest advantage I had is that these people... part of the protein that they had... they had no domestic animals, they had some wild pigs that they collected occasionally, and the other protein they got were birds that they had shot. So they had a name for every species of birds, they knew their birds, they knew where to find them and pretty soon I turned over my little bird guns to the native collectors and I gave them the names of the birds that they should get and I was able in a relatively short time to get together a... a remarkably complete collection.

The late German-American biologist Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) was a leading light in the field of evolutionary biology, gaining a PhD at the age of 21. He was also a tropical explorer and ornithologist who undertook an expedition to New Guinea and collected several thousand bird skins. In 1931 he accepted a curatorial position at the American Museum of Natural History. During his time at the museum, aged 37, he published his seminal work 'Systematics and Origin of the Species' which integrated the theories of Darwin and Mendel and is considered one of his greatest works.

Listeners: Walter J. Bock

Walter J. Bock is Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Columbia University. He received his B.Sc. from Cornell and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. His research lies in the areas of organismal and evolutionary biology, with a special emphasis on functional and evolutionary morphology of the skeleto-muscular system, specifically the feeding apparatus of birds.

Tags: New Guinea

Duration: 1 minute, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008