Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program - Huon Peninsula, Papua New Guinea

Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program

The Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP) began in Papua New Guinea in 1996 under the direction of Dr. Lisa Dabek, Director of Field Conservation at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. The TKCP works in Morobe district in the YUS Local Level Government on the Huon peninsula in northern Papua New Guinea. YUS stands for Yupna, Urawa and Som Rivers, the principal watersheds of the area. The project focuses on the Matschie's or Huon tree kangaroo (Dendrolagus matschiei ) which is endemic to the Huon Peninsula.

While originally focusing on research of the tree kangaroo, the holistic program expanded to include research, conservation, education, community development and health. The initial research was in estimating tree kangaroo population density from defecation rates through fecal collection. Genetic studies of the dung samples should also give an idea of how many individuals are in an area. Tree kangaroo population data have been supplemented by interviews with local knowledgeable hunters. Their information on plant species are compared with laboratory studies of plant materials in the fecal matter. In 2004, the program began telemetry studies within a site where tree kangaroos have not been hunted for 20 years and can be visually observed.  Recent studies in 2009 have used video research cameras on tree kangaroos to record behavioral data in the wild. Additional studies have begun on the long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bruijnii) which is endemic to New Guinea. Other studies include biodiversity studies of various sites by teams of experts on various invertebrate and vertebrate taxa.

The Education program under Education Coordinator Danny Samandingke is carried out in local schools from kindergarten to eighth grade, using local teachers with educators from various zoos. In addition, the program supports University students from the YUS area who are committed to return to the YUS area to teach.  Other work is being done on livelihoods including coffee plantations and agroforestry.

Community Conservation acted as an advisor to the project from 2003-4 focusing on the community conservation and legal aspects of the project. Papua New Guinea has a unique land tenure system in which customary or traditional law is followed. 97% of the lands in the country are owned by clan landowners under the customary clan rules. Therefore, any conservation effort depends entirely on the interest, knowledge and good will of clan landowners to conserve some of their lands. The TKCP collected verbal pledges of the clans in the YUS area. Community Conservation Director,

Community Conservation Director, Dr. Rob Horwich's role was to research the resources within country on the types of conservation efforts tried, and to research the laws relevant to protected areas in Papua New Guinea. He wrote “A Landowners Guide to Relevant Environmental Law in Papua New Guinea”, a landowners guide to local laws that was reviewed by environmental lawyers in the country. During 2004 Horwich working with local teacher Danny Samandingke after gathering some clan pledges created a preliminary map of the various clan lands that had been pledged at the time. Later a whole program was developed for clan members to help in mapping their lands to produce GIS maps of the Conservation Area.

As a result of CC’s research, the TKCP and its YUS clan landowners created the first Conservation Area in Papua New Guinea pledging 187,800 acres for total protection or no-use zones which will serve as wildlife "banks" from which young animals will disperse to adjacent hunting lands. Most of these lands are at the higher altitudes away from the villages. The Papua New Guinea National Government granted official recognition to the YUS Conservation Area (CA) and on January 9th, 2009 they registered the YUS CA as the first Conservation Area in the country.

On Earth Day, April 22nd a celebration and a ribbon cutting took place in Teptep village with local landowners, government officials, staff, and TKCP partners in attendance. Over five hundred members of the YUS community, the Woodland Park Zoo, Conservation International staff, international guests, and PNG government officials including the Minister of the Environment were in attendance. The two-day celebration featured traditional “Sing Sing” performances and speeches.

This Conservation Area on the Huon Peninsula protects cloud forests that are one of the rarest ecosystems with endemic and endangered species such as the Matschie’s tree kangaroo, the long-beaked echidna - an egg laying mammal, New Guinea harpy eagle, New Guinea pademelon - a small kangaroo-like mammal, the dwarf cassowary, Salvadori’s teal and an endemic species of bird of paradise.  The Conservation Area includes an altitudinal spectrum of habitats from sea level to 4000 feet.   It also prevents an estimated 13 million tons of carbon in the biomass from being released into the atmosphere.

As part of CC’s work for the TKCP, Horwich advised the project to work on creating a Community-Based Organization to manage the project.  The TKCP initiated the YUS Conservation Organization (YUS CO) which will manage the Conservation Area and its various projects. In 2009 YUS CO registered with the national government. The YUS committee nominated members from each community to be part of the YUS Committee which will advise YUS CO.  YUS CO will have committees on Education, Conservation, Management and Health.  Staff and a board of advisors were recruited as well.  A draft of the constitution was written and translated for review at the  first meeting  of YUS CO in 2010.

Short Film: The Tree Kangaroo Conservation Project, Papua New Guinea
(Please allow the video time to load.)

This film was created by Horwich and the late Glenn Donovan, a CC Board member. It was filmed in 2003-4 by Horwich and gives an impression of the country and project at that time. 

For current information on the project see the following websites.

The web site for TKCP on the Woodland Park Zoo site at: http://www.zoo.org/treekangaroo


You can experience the celebration through the video, “Papua New Guinea’s FIRST Conservation Area” on WPZ’s You Tube channel— www.youtube.com/woodlandparkzoo;