Bristol adventurer explores Papua New Guinea's wildlife
Published: 4 Feb 2015
Jonathan Clegg, from Bristol, is a 26-year-old biologist, adventurer and Churchill Fellow of 2014. His Fellowship took the form of a six-week biological collecting expedition to Papua New Guinea, where he led a team of three explorers, a joint British-Belgian-American effort, to discover new species of reptiles and amphibians.
In visiting the island provinces of West New Britain and Manus Island the team followed in the footsteps of a little known biologist who previously visited and surveyed the same areas almost 30 years ago.
In 1989, a Belgian biologist by the name of Benoit Mys died while conducting scientific research in Papua New Guinea at the age of 28. Benoit had spent much of the mid 1980s collecting biological specimens across Northern Papua New Guinea for his PhD, and the hundreds of lizards, frogs and snakes he collected were deposited in the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences following his death. In 2011 during an internship at the museum, while studying for a Master of Biology in Brussels, Jonathan rediscovered and started to work on Benoit’s collections.
The principal aim of the 2014 expedition to New Britain and Manus Island was to bring back fresh specimens of a potentially new species of snake that was found in the 1980s collections. While they only succeeded in finding one specimen, Jonathan and his team also collected 224 specimens of other frogs, lizards and snakes, and hope that careful scientific inquiry will prove some of these animals to be new species. West New Britain and Manus Island are very poorly studied areas so everything discovered is potentially of huge interest.
Jonathan plans to continue to follow in Benoit Mys’s footsteps in Papua New Guinea, with plans afoot for a phase two expedition early next year and a PhD into the country's herpetofauna.
He hopes that his experience will act as an inspiration to others to push their boundaries, follow their dreams and seek out experiences beyond what they might think is possible.