NEW GUINEA TOUR: New Guinea photo slideshow

50+ pictures of rainforests in New Guinea

New Guinea, the second largest island in the world, is shared between two countries: Indonesia (the western half) and Papua New Guinea (the eastern half).

New Guinea is home to one of the last great expanses of tropical rainforest as well as some of the world's most traditional forest people, some of whom have had little or no contact with the outside world (44 groups in Indonesian Papua are estimated to remain "uncontacted").

People of New Guinea

About 7.5 million people live on the island of New Guinea.

The island is believed to have been first settled by humans 40,000-60,000 years ago.

There are presently about 1,000 tribes in New Guinea. These groups speak more than 1,000 languages, or about 15 percent of all the languages spoken on Earth.

The large diversity of languages is the result of New Guinea's rough terrain, which includes rugged mountains, thick forests, and nearly impassable swamps.

Traditionally warfare has been common among New Guinea's tribes. Some even practiced cannibalism until the early 20th century.

Most societies in New Guinea practice some form of agriculture, often supplemented by hunting. Sago palm is a staple food for people in the lowlands of New Guinea.

Since the 1970s, Indonesian New Guinea (which used to be called Irian Jaya) has experienced a lot of immigration of people from other parts of Indonesia, mostly the island of Java. The migrants came under the government's transmigration program which aimed to reduce population pressure in Java and also establish more control over outer islands.

Today there is tension between these transmigrants and native Papuans.

In Papua New Guinea there are fewer migrants but crime is a major problem.

Economy of New Guinea

New Guinea is rich with natural resources including timber, minerals, and offshore fisheries and energy deposits. But most of the wealth generated goes to foreign companies and a small group of influential individuals.

Papua New Guinea has seen more widespread development than the Indonesian part of the island, although the average citizen remains poor.

Most Papuans are part of the informal economy, living off subsistence activities. The dominant industries are extraction-based (logging, mining, and industrial agriculture).

Transmigrants tend to have better jobs than native Papuans in Indonesian New Guinea.

In Papua New Guinea, recently the government has started taking away land from native communities and giving it to companies for logging and industrial plantations.

Plants and animals of New Guinea

Despite covering less than 0.5 percent of Earth's surface, New Guinea is estimated to contain 5-10 percent of global biodiversity.

New Guinea's species are characteristic of Australia rather than Asia due to its historical links to the Australian land mass (when sea levels fall due to changes in climate, New Guinea is connected to Australia, not the rest of Asia).

New Guinea has nearly 300 kinds of mammals, but does not have many large mammal species.

Instead of monkeys, New Guinea has tree kangaroos.

It also has other marsupials like wallabies, cuscuses, and possums; egg-laying mammals like the echidna; bats; and rodents.

New Guinea is most famous for its birds. It has over 650 species.

There are three species of Crowned Pigeon, a giant ground pigeon. All are considered "at risk" due to hunting and habitat loss.

New Guinea has 10 endemic species of bowerbird, which are best known for their unusual courtship behavior. Males build large structures which they decorate with colorful objects in order to attract a mate.

New Guinea have many species of parrot including lorikeets, pygmy parrots, and cockatoos. Several species are now endangered due to collecting for the pet trade and logging of their natural habitat.

Cassowaries are large ground-dwelling birds that live in New Guinea and Australia. They are one of the world's heaviest birds and cannot fly.

Native Papuans traditionally use cassowary feathers for hats and clothing.

Birds-of-paradise are among the most famous of New Guinea's bird. There are about 40 types of birds-of-paradise, the best-known of which have long and colorful feathers. Birds-of-paradise feathers and skins have long been collected by native Papuans for ceremonial use.

Some birds-of-paradise have elaborate courtship rituals where the male performs for one or more females. If impressed the female or females will mate with the male.

New Guinea also has many species of reptiles and amphibians, including some that are popular in the pet trade.

New Guinea has thousands of species of insects, including some with spectacular colors,

like beetles,

grasshoppers and katydids,

and butterflies

The coral reefs that surround parts of New Guinea are the richest in the world.

At least 1,200 species of fish have been found in the waters around New Guinea.

Environmental Issues in New Guinea

New Guinea's rainforests are being degraded and destroyed at a rapid rate due to logging, mining, large-scale agriculture, and subsistence farming.

Between 1972 and 2010 PNG lost more than 6 million hectares of forest, an area about the size of West Virginia or Belize. Only Brazil and Indonesia lost more forest among tropical countries.

Indonesian New Guinea has also experiences extensive logging for timber and clearing for oil palm plantations to produce palm oil.

Mining has had a big impact in New Guinea, destroying forests, polluting rivers and the ocean, and creating social conflict with native Papuans.

While both Indonesian New Guinea and Papua New Guinea have shown interest in establishing parks and participating in a plan to conserve rainforests, neither has had much success to date in slowing deforestation and logging.

Conservation in New Guinea

But all hope is not lost for New Guinea.

Papua New Guinea just created a park system and part of Indonesian New Guinea has implemented a ban on logging.

Furthermore, there are several local and international conservation groups working in both Papua New Guinea and Indonesian New Guinea.

There are things you can do to help protect the environment in New Guinea.

Tell your friends and parents about New Guinea's forest: why it is special and is happening to it.

Be sure to recycle and reduce energy use. Try to produce as little garbage as possible.

Ask questions about the products you and your family buys. Do these products harm the environment? What is the origin of the wood in your furniture? Where does your paper come from?

Join an organization that is working to protect New Guinea's rainforests.

This tour was created by Rhett A. Butler, the founder of