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2016 Whitley Award
Karau Kuna Papua New Guinea Terrestrial
Protecting Papua New Guinea’s spectacular wildlife

Winner of the The Whitley Award donated by The William Brake Charitable Trust in memory of William Brake


Located on the Huon Peninsula in Papua New Guinea (PNG), the YUS Conservation Area was the first of its kind in the country. Named after the three rivers flowing through it – Yopno, Uruwa and Som – it covers 1,500km² of pristine habitat accessible only by foot, and extends from mountainous peaks to coastal reefs. This remote area supports unparalleled levels of biodiversity including flagship species such as Matschie’s tree kangaroo and birds-of-paradise.

1_Kuna_Karau Kuna


Over 90% of PNG land is owned by indigenous people, so the support of local communities is vital for protection of the YUS landscape. For over a decade, the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Programme has been working with villages to sustainably manage this landscape and the resources upon which people and wildlife depend. To facilitate this, Karau Kuna has developed Community Land-Use Plans (LUP) with 50 villages to ensure a consensus on resource use that takes into account both people’s welfare and conservation priorities.

Wahnes's Parotia (Parotia wahnesi) adult male performs ballerina display.
Wahnes’s Parotia (Parotia wahnesi) adult male performs ballerina display. Photo Tim Laman


Karau’s project benefits 12,000 people living within YUS and has created a positive dialogue between landowners and conservationists. As a result, he has seen a growing number of individuals participating in conservation activities and a decline in illegal activities. Fortunately, 70% of PNG forests remain intact, yet only 4% of land is protected. As the human population grows, sustainable use of natural resources is becoming more important. Furthermore, pressure from logging and mining companies is putting traditional management practices at risk of being discarded in favour of short-term financial gain.

Karau during Land-Use Planning meetings

With his Award Karau will:

  • Strengthen biodiversity protection in the YUS by engaging indigenous landowners and local government in conservation planning and monitoring.
  • Support communities to refine Land-Use Plans for the next five years to 2020 to guide resource management, implement conservation actions and enable sustainable land-use zoning.
  • Provide local rangers with field equipment and specialised training to increase management capacity, monitor wildlife and respond to threats.

Why it matters:

  • PNG is one of only three Major Tropical Wilderness Areas on earth.
  • The LUP process has been identified as a model for replicating community-based conservation in PNG and has been incorporated into national policy.
  • The region is home to more endemic bird and mammal species than any other like-sized area in mainland New Guinea.

Long-term wildlife conservation requires local communities to understand the direct link between protecting their forests and protecting their future.