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When I was a boy of nine, I read a book
called The Malay Archipelago,

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by the great 19th century naturalist,

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the co-proposer with Charles Darwin

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of the theory of evolution
by natural selection,

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Alfred Russel Wallace. This is it.

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And in it he describes his travels
and explorations

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through Borneo and Sumatra,

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eastwards through the islands
that are now Indonesia

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to the western end of New Guinea.

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And in it, I saw one illustration
that thrilled me to the marrow.

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It shows greater birds of paradise
displaying in the forests of New Guinea

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and being hunted
by native plume hunters.

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It seemed to me then as now, that to see
the greater bird of paradise in display

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must be one of the most thrilling sights
in nature.

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And it became my childhood ambition
to go and do just that.

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Well, it's taken me 60 years,
but here I am.

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(People chattering)

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I first tried to see the birds back in 1957.

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But then
I could only get to eastern New Guinea,

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where the species Wallace saw
doesn't occur.

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And there was another problem -
the people used the plumes as money.

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These are wedding gifts - pearl shells,
mats sewn with cowrie shells

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but, most valuable of all
birds of paradise skins,

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prepared in the traditional way by cutting
off the legs and the wings,

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to fully reveal the plumes.
There were 21 of them.

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The bride seemed pleased, but for us,
looking for live birds,

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there was worse to come -

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a celebratory dance.

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Each man wore plumes
of at least 40 birds of paradise,

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of several different kinds.

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Most astonishing were the sawtooth
quills they wore through the nose.

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These came from
the King of Saxony's bird, that then,

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very few naturalists had even seen alive.

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There seemed little chance of finding
living birds here,

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so we decided to go into wilder country
to the north.

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The headman called for porters.

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We got 50. Once in the mountains,

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our baggage was taken over by people
who didn't wear feathers in their hair.

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Instead, they had huge wigs,
covered
[...]
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