Papua New Guinea, A Threatened Wilderness
With vast tracts of pristine forest containing unparalleled biodiversity, Papua New Guinea is considered to be one of three major Tropical Wilderness Areas left on earth (Conservation International). The Huon Peninsula of PNG, where the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP) is focused, is home to more endemic bird and mammal species than any other like-sized area in mainland New Guinea.
Unlike other parts of the world in which deforestation has taken a heavy toll, about 70% of PNG rainforests remain intact. However the country is now facing increasing mining and logging pressures. Combined with the resource demands of a growing population, these pressures threaten wildlife and the traditional culture of PNG's indigenous people.
Working Together to Protect Tree Kangaroos
Lisa Dabek started the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program in 1996 to study the endangered Matschie's tree kangaroo (Dendrolagus matschiei) and look for ways to conserve this species in partnership with the local people. The program was originally formed through the Association of Zoos & Aquarium's Tree Kangaroo Species Survival Plan. The Matschie's tree kangaroo, endemic to the Huon Peninsula and has important cultural significance for the local indigenous people, serve as a flagship species for the program.
From its roots as a research project, TKCP has grown and evolved over the years, addressing the goals of species and habitat protection through a community-based approach that involves local landowners in decision-making and provides community benefits. For over a decade, the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP) has been working with local landowners in Papua New Guinea to create and now manage the country's first Conservation Area on the Huon Peninsula, encompassing pristine cloud forest ecosystems and endangered tree kangaroo habitat.
Establishing a Conservation Area
The people of the Huon Peninsula depend on the land for subsistence agriculture, clean water and hunting for protein sources and ceremonial materials. In contrast to much of the rest of the world, over 95% of PNG land is owned by the country's indigenous people. Therefore long-term wildlife conservation requires that indigenous landowners understand the direct link between protecting their forests and protecting their future.
Yopno-Uruwa-Som (YUS) Conservation Area
On January 9th 2009, the Yopno-Uruwa-Som (YUS) Conservation Area was officially declared by the PNG National Government. This milestone achievement for the TKCP was made possible by the dedication of the local communities and partners such as Conservation International and the PNG National, Provincial and Local Governments.
The new protected area provides the highest level of land protection in PNG and encompasses core land parcels pledged by clans to conservation and buffer areas of mixed use, covering an area of over 180,000 acres in and around the YUS Local Level Government. The protected area also extends from sea level to 4,000-meter mountain ranges, thus preserving a complete altitudinal spectrum of Huon Peninsula habitats free from resource extraction.
Developing Long-Term Plans
With the YUS Conservation Area (YUS CA) now established, TKCP is focused on sustainable management of the YUS Conservation Area, through developing plans and resources that guide monitoring, use and enforcement of the YUS CA. TKCP is also establishing a PNG-based Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) linked to TKCP that will manage the YUS CA and associated community projects over the long-term, with the YUS Community Based Organization (CBO) of YUS landowners serving in an advisory role.
TKCP continues to work directly and build local capacity so that indigenous communities have the skills, knowledge and resources they will need to manage the area effectively and protect the tree kangaroo forever.