Dutch writer and wildlife activist Marc Argeloo has been visiting Indonesia for nearly two decades, studying the nation’s exotic and often unique wildlife. It’s fitting, therefore, that he’s the author of “Land of the Birds of Paradise,” a book produced by the World Wildlife Fund Indonesia to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
On Tuesday at Erasmus Huis, Jakarta’s Dutch cultural center, Argeloo launched the book, the title of which refers to Papua, the eastern-most part of the Indonesian archipelago that the author says is one of the last places on Earth where scientists can still discover new species.
Since his first visit to Papua in 1995, Argeloo has spoken with more than 1,000 people there, with his book containing interviews with more than 100 sources. Although known for his interest in the science of nature and wildlife, Argeloo says the book has a broader context, covering not only Papua’s rare and exotic species, but also the region’s history, geology, geography and development.
“It has to be broader because WWF works on so many levels,” he said. “Readers will get the bigger picture of [the foundation’s] work in conservation; it is not only about working in nature.”
The book consists of nine chapters about Papua and West Papua. In the book, Argeloo tackles topics from species to science and from people to spatial planning to draw the bigger picture for readers. During a presentation on Tuesday, Argeloo said he found Papua to be a place of sharp contrasts, where traditional practices and modern life exist side by side.
Those who like history will find the book fascinating, as Argeloo digs deep into Papua’s past, as recorded by scientists. This includes a map from about 1660, which Argeloo found at a university in the Netherlands, that shows Papua New Guinea and Australia as one land mass.
He tracks down the Dutch scientist who found rock paintings in Ayamaru caves from 26,000 years ago. According to Argeloo, it is the best archeological study that has ever been done in Papua. Argeloo also discovered that the grizzled-tree kangaroo, now an endangered species in Papua, once constituted 80 percent of food eaten there.
“For me, it’s clear that Papua is a very rich island and very precious for scientists,” Argeloo said. “More than 1,000 new species have been discovered [there] in the past 15 years.”
The book contains captivating descriptions of Papua, which is home to 274 different languages. Argeloo said it was important that the book discuss the social changes in Papua so readers understand the island as a whole.
The Dutch Embassy sponsored the book, which is available for readers at the Erasmus Huis library.
An Indonesian-language version of the book is expected to be released in December.
WWF itself has been working to improve ecologically rich Papua since 1980. Linke Paschalina Rahawartin, WWF program manager for southern Papua, said the foundation was striving in many ways to protect Papua’s nature.
“For the people in Papua, our biggest worry today is [agriculture program] the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate, which took away millions of hectares in southern Papua,” she said.