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Rebecca Stirnemann: The Little Dodo of Samoa

Rebecca Stirnemann shares her experiences of working on Samoa and working to save the little Dodo from an uncertain future.

Name: Rebecca Stirnemann

Species: The Manumea and Mao

Location: Samoa, South Pacific

Twitter: @samoanbirds

Bio: My name is Rebecca and I am an Ecologist. This means I study how different species and environments are related to each other. We use information we collect on species to inform us how to save them from extinction.

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Research Site:

I work in tropical forests and currently I am working in Samoa. Samoa is in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. It is made up of two big islands, Savaii and Upolu.

 Target Species:

Within the forest of Samoa there are some bird species which are only found here and nowhere else in the world. One of these species is the Manumea or the tooth-billed pigeon. The Manumea is closely related to the dodo and has a high chance of going extinct in the near future. It is currently endangered.

One of the amazing things about the Manumea is we know nothing about it. We do not know if it nests in the trees or on the ground. We don’t know what it eats. We don’t know if it needs a big area of forest or a small area. This makes it very hard to do any conservation for the Manumea to save this species. So research is needed before this species disappears and follows the dodo.

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"Once I got a leech stuck in my eye, feeding on me. That even horrified the doctors."

Fieldwork Highlights:

I love exploring new places. There are many beautiful places in the forest. When you working in the forest you might be following a bird and wander into a beautiful forested glade with a waterfall which is perfect for a swim. So while working you explore and see many surprises.

I also love catching species which we need to do to add transmitters or measure them. Some of the species are very smart so you need to come up with a way to trick them. Then for a moment you can see close up some the amazing species that you might only usually hear.

The Challenges:

Working in the tropics is very hot, prickly and there are many insects which want to feed on you. Leeches and mosquitoes like to suck your blood. Ants and centipedes bite. Some of the trees have sharp thorns and impale you. Once I got a leech stuck in my eye, feeding on me. That even horrified the doctors.

To be honest tropical forests are not comfortable places to work. You need a lot of passion to put up with the biting and impaling and in exchange you are rewarded with seeing things which maybe no other person has ever seen.

TOP LEFT: Parrotfinch (sega ula) a bird only found in Samoa under threat by forest degradation and invasive species. TOP RIGHT: The Mao (Gymnomyza samoensis) is threatened by habitat destruction and the spread of introduced species such as rats. BOTTOM LEFT: Members of the team survey the forest. BOTTOM RIGHT: The team recording a Samoan Whistler (Pachycephala flavifrons).
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Top Tips for research in Samoa

1) Use insect repellent- lots of it. Keep it handy at all times for a quick spray. I keep mine in a bum bag. Have lots of varieties if you want to go non-DEET to test prior to field work. Mosquitoes are desperate to get though.

2) Wear long pants and boots. The locals might be bare footed and have a small piece of cloth wrapped around them but they are amazing and mosquitoes like new blood.

3) Carry a sharp machete if you need to walk through the forest it is dense and you might need to go back another way. Things grow back fast so cutting things down isn’t as bad as in temperate areas.

4) Work with the local people they can teach you to forage of the land. This is always handy if your helicopter or boat doesn’t return as scheduled or if your food runs out and you are hungry (this has only happened a couple of times).

5) Keep your ears peeled in the forest if you want to see things. You hear it first.

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