Tenkile Conservation Programme

To conserve the biodiversity of the Torricelli Mountains in Papua New Guinea


There are eight species of tree kangaroos living in Papua New Guinea. One of them, the tenkile, or Scott's tree kangaroo (Dendrolagus scottae),  was discovered as late as 1989.


Owing to access to better medical supplies and improved hygiene, the human population of Papua New Guinea's Sepik area has trebled since World War II. Missionaries have affected traditional beliefs and customs, which led to changes or increase of hunting pressure on certain species within the Torricelli Mountains. For example, the traditional conservation areas known as "ples masalai" were strictly avoided from fear of evil spirits. Heavy tribal fights do not occur any longer along the traditional land boundaries and people feel free to hunt on other people's land. The introduction of guns and torches has made hunting much easier than with the traditional bows and arrows.

Unfortunately, the combination of all these factors has strongly affected the tenkile population. When the conservation programme was first proposed in 1998, as few as 100 individuals were estimated to remain in the wild. This made the tenkile one of the most endangered mammals in the world. The cause for the decline was predominantly  the increase in human population and consequently increased hunting pressure on the animals, which is now only rarely seen by the villagers

The conservation of the tenkile has been recognised as a high priority by the WAZA in situ Conservation Workshop held at the Khaow Kheow Open Zoo, Thailand, in 2001.


The Tenkile Conservation Alliance (TCA) is a NGO based in Lumi, Sandaun Province in Papua New Guinea. Its principle aim is to conserve the biodiversity of the Torricelli Mountains, using two critically endangered species of tree kangaroos, the tenkile and the golden-mantled tree kangaroo (or weimang, Dendrolagus pulcherrimus) as flagship species. The Alliance works with 18 villages that have tenkile on their land (tenkile villages), all of which have signed a moratorium to no longer hunt wildlife. More recently, 21 weimang villages have joined the conservation programem, extending the programme’s scope to encompass the entire Torricelli Mountain Range.

In order to assess the effectiveness of the moratorium as a conservation strategy, TCA has established a research programme using distance sampling based on the collection of  tree kangaroo scats. This work is now solely undertaken by teams of trained villagers. Initial analysis of the data indicates that the tenkile’s population increased by approximately 50% from 2004 to 2006. Moreover, no killing of tenkile has been recorded since 2003. Villagers are very excited about the return of this iconic animal to their land, which they can see more frequently.


Recognising that a sustainable alternative was needed to replace the wildlife hunting resource, village-based rabbit farming is now providing an increased level of proteins for villagers, improving general diet and health. The programme is building on these successes by facilitating further health and hygiene projects, such as access to fresh water that lead to a decrease in diarrhorea and scabies by up to 70%. The programme has moved from an initial focus on school-based education to much broader community-based conservation education.

The project has made significant progress including:


  • Continuation of the hunting moratorium for the 18 tenkile villages and 21 weimang villages. There has been no significant hunting of any fauna within the tenkile habitat since 2004.
  • Landowner agreement to establish a conservation area within the Torricelli Mountain Range with the 18 tenkile villages and 21 weimang villages. All these villages have designated hunting areas from non-hunting areas and written their own rules and penalties for the long-term management of the area except for six weimang villages.
  • Establishment and maintenance of seven tenkile research sites and one weimang research site (more to be completed).
  • Significant capacity building implemented to ensure local ownership and management of tenkile and other wildlife in the research sites across the Torricelli Mountain Range. All scientific data are collected by TCA’s Research and Distance Sampling Officers, independent of the TCA Project Manager.
  • Preliminary results from Distance Sampling research indicate a significant increase in the population of tenkile from approximately 160 (in 2004) to 240 (in 2006).
  • Conservation Area Management Committees established in all tenkile villages and significant capacity building conducted for all committee members in scientific knowledge and management.
  • The successful breeding of rabbits in tenkile villages has led to two people being trained as “rabbit farming trainers”. These trainers have successfully completed rabbit courses to all 21 weimang villages.
  • Major improvements in the rabbit farming success in several tenkile villages, one village having bred more than 300 rabbits since 2004.
  • The establishment of rabbit farms in all 21 weimang villages. A total of 82 rabbits have been distributed to weimang villages. Two villages have successfully bred rabbits.
  • Establishment of chicken farms in all villages. Distribution of 100 half caste Austrolops chickens to tenkile villages.
  • Local capacity built with the training and supervision of three Project Officers employed by TCA for future sustainability and management of all TCA’s projects.
  • Significant improvements to TCA's base in Lumi, including a security fence, VHF radio tower and a community training centre with septic toilets and accommodation currently under construction. TCA will officially open its training centre, VHF radio and chicken incubator on 5 June (World Environment Day) 2009.


This programme is an outstanding model of how effective conservation outcomes may be achieved and assessed in developing communities when they are coupled with development of sustainable resource and economic alternatives.


WAZA Conservation Project 04016 is implemented by the Tenkile Conservation Alliance with 11 full-time employees, led by Jim and Jean Thomas from Melbourne, Australia. The project's major partners previously were Zoos Victoria and Australian Volunteers International, with additional annual support from Perth Zoo and grants from other donors, including Saint Louis Zoo's WildCare Institute. 


Visit www.tenkile.com.


> to project overview
  • The Tenkile Conservation Alliance
  • The Tenkile Conservation Alliance
  • The Tenkile Conservation Alliance
  • Tenkile Conservation Programme

    Tenkile Conservation Programme

    (1) © Jim & Jean Thomas, (2) © Chris Banks, (4) © Jim & Jean Thomas