The Tree Kangaroo as a flagship for the legislated conservation of the Torricelli Mountain Range, Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinean, Mathew Akon is Senior Project Officer of the Tenkile Conservation Alliance (TCA), an NGO established in 2001 dedicated to the conservation of the remote Torricelli Mountain Range, a 250,000 ha area rich in wildlife.
Many species here occur nowhere else on Earth. One such species is the Tenkile, or Scott’s tree kangaroo, the TCA’s namesake and a critically endangered marsupial first described in1989.
Recognised as the most threatened of all tree kangaroo species, the tenkile’s range is today restricted to only 150 km2 of rainforest. Like many marsupials, tenkiles are slow breeding. Growing human population has led to significant increases in the hunting of wild species for food and tenkile have declined dramatically over the past 30 years as a result. Their decline also compromises the wellbeing of local communities who traditionally depend on wildlife for protein, with low levels of nutrition now common.
Mathew was born in the Torricelli Mountains and witnessed first hand the decline in the region’s fauna. In 1999 he led a group of stakeholders from 13 villages from across the region to stop the hunting of tenkile.
“Before the establishment of this program, our grand parents, parents and even my family killed tenkile for meat. But since the signing of the moratorium, tenkile numbers have increased”.
Successful research teams have been established with 18 villages since 2003, with more than 100 people employed each year through TCA’s Tenkile Distance Sampling research. Now the goal is to establish a 96,000ha protected Conservation Area at the core of the Torricelli range. Mathew and TCA are working directly with the region’s 39 villages to inspire support for the project, using tenkiles and another critically endangered tree kangaroo species, the weimang, as flagship species. Training will then enable the communities to effectively manage the Conservation Area themselves.
TCA, the only NGO in the region, are leading community projects to improve livelihoods and build capacity. The result is some 10,000 people committed to the conservation effort, who have helped complete maps of their land, and identified sites important for food, for wildlife and their cultural beliefs.
“In the beginning, 65% of people were supportive, but now the project results – capacity building, employment opportunities, community development, as well as substitute protein farming, have proven to be positive. This has stimulated the stakeholders who are now 100% behind this program”.