IT WAS the first day of 2023 and John Mittermeier was feeling dispirited. He and his colleagues had been in Madagascar for 10 days searching for a bird last seen more than two decades ago. Long treks looking for its native forest habitat had revealed swathes of land cleared for agriculture and vanilla production. They had faced rain and leeches and Mittermeier had been ill much of the time. And, in two days, they would start heading home.
The team had just moved to a new location and Mittermeier had awoken full of hope, but he soon realised that the environment there was also degraded. “I went from a high of anticipation to ‘this is a disaster’,” he says. By 9 am he was walking back to camp. Then it happened. “Boom! There was a dusky tetraka.”
This little green bird with its yellow throat and eye rings is so special that it makes the “most-wanted” list of the Search for Lost Birds. The initiative, launched in 2021, aims to use the excitement that elusive species inspire to direct the world’s army of birdwatchers, researchers and conservationists to seek out avians lost to science. It even offers financial support for some searches.
Looking for long-lost species helps conservationists decide where their focus should be, says Christina Biggs at conservation organisation Re:wild. Finding them can bring hope. “We live in a time of apocalyptic climate-change fatigue,” she says. …