Tree Kangaroo Conservation Programme

To foster wildlife and habitat conservation and support local community livelihoods in Papua New Guinea


The country of Papua New Guinea (PNG) is home to one of three remaining major tropical wilderness areas in the world, a "mega-diverse" area that supports approximately 242 species of mammals, the world's largest butterfly and 762 species of birds alone. Unlike other parts of the world where deforestation has exacted a heavy toll, about 70% of rainforests in PNG remain intact. Yet the wildlife and traditional culture of PNG's indigenous people are now under threat from the increasing pressures of mining and logging interests, global climate change and a growing human population. Long-term wildlife conservation requires that indigenous landowners understand the direct link between protecting their forests and protecting their future, and have the knowledge, training and tools necessary to develop and implement plans for sustainable use of land and resources.

The Tree Kangaroo Conservation Programme (TKCP) at the Woodland Park Zoo focuses its work in the Huon Peninsula in the YUS Local Level Government Area (Yopno-Urawa-Som watersheds) of the Kabwum District in Morobe Province of PNG. The YUS area includes 13 wards and over 35 villages. The region is also home to several endangered and endemic species, including the endangered Matschie's tree kangaroo (Dendrolagus matschiei) and long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bruijni), the vulnerable New Guinea pademelon (Thylogale browni), New Guinea harpy eagle (Harpyopsis novaeguineae), Huon astrapia (Astrapia rothschildi), Huon melidectes (Melidectes foersteri), Palm cockatoo (Probosciger atterrimus) and Salvador teal (Salvadorina waigiuensis). With the region facing pressures from outside resource extraction and a growing human population, protection of the region's unique biodiversity needs to both foster wildlife and habitat conservation and support local community livelihoods through global partnerships, land protection and scientific research.

TKCP is working with local landowners in PNG to create and manage the country's first conservation area encompassing 187 000 acres of cloud forest and tree kangaroo habitat. The tree kangaroo, which is endemic to the region and has important cultural significance for the local indigenous people, serves as a flagship species for the project. This area extends from sea level to 4000 m mountain ranges, thus preserving a complete altitudinal spectrum of Huon Peninsula habitats free from resource extraction. Preserving a broad altitudinal gradient is especially important to long-term conservation, as species habitat ranges fluctuate in response to global climate change.


TKCP is Woodland Park Zoo's signature international field conservation programme. Programme Director Dr. Lisa Dabek began TKCP in 1996 as a focused research study to determine the conservation status of the endangered Matschie's tree kangaroo on the Huon Peninsula of PNG. Dr. Dabek and her team identified habitat protection to be a primary objective, with the tree kangaroo as an ideal flagship species. Given that local indigenous landowners own and control over 95% of the land in PNG, the team recognised that long-term habitat protection required conservation awareness and commitment in local communities. TKCP developed a community-based strategy that helps provide services and improve the standard of living in these communities. Indigenous landowners and community members participate in all TKCP fieldwork, including scientific research, land mapping, community education and conservation outreach activities.

On 9 January 2009, TKCP and collaborating partners and indigenous landowners achieved an important milestone. On that day, the PNG National Government formally designated the 187 000 acres landowners have set aside as an official conservation area. This represents the culmination of more than a decade of effort and the first practical implementation of the country's 1978 Conservation Areas Act. The next step will be to secure the future of the unique YUS Conservation Area. To this end, TKCP is working with indigenous people, representatives from the PNG government, universities and NGOs to build local capacity so that indigenous landowners have the skills they will need to manage the area over the long-term. TKCP has taken the first steps to establish a community-based organisation that will provide a structure for local management of the YUS Conservation Area and associated community projects. Known as the YUS Conservation Organisation, this organisation will oversee and provide input on community improvement activities, including education and healthcare projects in villages. TKCP staff is assisting by developing a constitution and policies for the community-based organisation, and registering of the organisation with the PNG government. Made up of landowner committees, the organisation will eventually assume responsibility for managing the YUS Conservation Area for the long term.

Since 1996 TKCP has grown into a holistic programme that integrates conservation outreach, habitat protection and scientific research with capacity building and activities that address community needs including greater access to education and healthcare. In addition to the declaration of the official YUS Conservation Area and the foundation of the community-based organisation in 2009, TKCP currently conducts a range of conservation and community projects to support the TKCP goals.

TKCP's Papua New Guinea staff is leading field teams to complete GIS boundary mapping of the clan-owned parcels that make up the YUS Conservation Area. In addition, TKCP is facilitating the creation of a landowner management plan, which will define the rules and regulations of the conservation area land, including biodiversity targets as well as goals for long-term monitoring of ecological and cultural indicators. In addition, TKCP is advancing scientific knowledge and generating support for protection of PNG wildlife and rainforest habitat through support of numerous research projects on the Matschie's tree kangaroo and Huon Peninsula. To gain insight into the ecology of this important indicator species, TKCP Research Coordinator Gabriel Porolak has completed four years of research on the home range and habitat use of tree kangaroos at the YUS research site as part of his Masters degree from James Cook University. In 2009 Porolak has begun assisting with long-term monitoring of the YUS conservation area through creating a database of all of known species, socio-economic data and mapping information on YUS, and testing field methods for long-term tracking of indicator species such as tree kangaroos. Also in 2009, University of Rhode Island PhD candidate T. J. McGreevy completed a comparative genetic analysis of captive and wild populations of Matschie's tree kangaroos. This project determines the genetic diversity of the captive population in North American zoos, the inter-relatedness of radio-collared wild tree kangaroos and the population size of the wild kangaroos at three field research sites in PNG. Phylogeographic analysis conducted through this project will help AZA zoos decide whether the North American population of captive tree kangaroos should be supplemented with animals from international institutions.

Finally, in 2009 TKCP launched a CRITTERCAM project in collaboration with National Geographic. A CRITTERCAM is a device that is attached to an animal, similar to a radio collar, that records still and/or video images from the animal's perspective. Never before used on an arboreal animal, this unprecedented project will track the behaviour of a single animal throughout an entire day, allowing scientists to observe tree selection, feeding behaviour, interaction with other animals and possible mating or caring for young. The project may also document other species in the forest canopy that is rich in bryophytes and epiphytes.

In order to support TKCP's goals of community capacity building and support of livelihoods, TKCP is also leading several education and community health programmes in villages across the YUS region. In response to requests from local teachers, TKCP conducts teacher training workshops and provides conservation-oriented curricula for village schools. These professional development workshops empower teachers and raise conservation awareness among teachers and students. TKCP also contributes to the development of basic educational capacity in village schools, which suffer because of their remote locations, insufficient funding and lack of professional development opportunities. TKCP will continue to sponsor students for teacher training at Balob Teachers College in Lae to ultimately provide additional teachers in village schools. In addition, TKCP is working to expand its community health work in PNG through collaboration with provincial and district Health Departments. TKCP works with these agencies to provide Village Birth Attendant training (midwife training) in YUS villages, in which participants learn to make deliveries safer for women and babies. More than 36 participants have received training so far, and workshops are being expanded to include information on family planning, health/hygiene and nutrition. In addition to Village Birth Attendant training, TKCP will continue to sponsor health patrols in which doctors and dentists from the PNG Institute of Medical Research visit each of the three YUS zones (Yopno, Uruwa and Som). Finally, to help facilitate immunisations, TKCP is installing solar refrigerators at health centres in each of the three zones in YUS. Solar refrigerators keep vital medications and vaccinations cold, allowing for improved health care in remote communities.

Through the combination of these social support programmes with conservation initiatives and scientific research, TKCP aims to create a long-term conservation solution with the people of the Huon Peninsula to protect the endangered Matschie's tree kangaroo, amongst other endemic and endangered species, and the forest that this community and the species rely on for survival.

WAZA Conservation Project 09008 is implemented by Woodland Park Zoo's Department of Field Conservation and is supported by the American Association of Zoological Horticulture, Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA)' Marsupial & Monotreme Taxon Advisory Group, AZA Tree Kangaroo Species Survival Plan, Bermuda Zoo, Brevard Zoo, Brookfield Zoo, Calgary Zoo, Cleveland Zoo, Columbus Zoo, Dallas World Aquarium, Fort Worth Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK), Gladys Porter Zoo, Greater Kansas City AAZK, Jardin Zoologique du Quebec, Kangaroo Conservation Centre, Lincoln Children's Zoo, Miami Metro Zoo, Milwaukee County Zoo, Minnesota Zoo Foundation, New Mexico Biopark Society, Oaklawn Farm Zoo, Oregon Zoo, Philadelphia Zoo, Pittsburgh Zoo, Riverbanks Zoo, Roger Williams Park Zoo, Saint Louis Zoo, San Antonio Zoo, Santa Fe Community College Teaching Zoo, Sedgwick County Zoo, Toronto Zoo, Utah's Hogle Zoo, Zoo New England, Zoological Society of San Diego, Zoo Parc de Beauval and Woodland Park Zoo's Partners for Wildlife.

TKCP has received financial and technical support from many partner NGOs, including Conservation International (including the Melanesia Programme, Global Conservation Fund and Critically Endangered Species Fund), National Geographic Society and, through a partnership with Conservation International, financial support from the German Development Bank.

In addition, TKCP has received financial support from private foundations, such as Conservation Food & Health Fund, International Foundation, Shared Earth Foundation, Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund, Rhode Island Foundation and Elinor Patterson Baker Trust, and numerous private individual donors.

TKCP works closely with PNG regional and local governments including the Papua New Guinea Department of Environment & Conservation, Morobe Provincial Government, Kabwum District Government and YUS Local Level Government Councillors. TKCP works with local groups including the YUS Landowner Committee, the YUS Education Committee and the YUS teachers, headmasters and school boards. TKCP also partners with several research institutes and universities including James Cook University, University of Rhode Island, University of Goroka, PNG Institute of Medical Research, PNG Forest Research Institute, The Rainforest Habitat and Balob Teachers College.

Finally, TKCP partners with colleagues and community members without whom the programme cannot succeed, including Dr. Bruce Beehler, Dr. Carol Esson, Dr. Andrew Krockenberger, Drs. Blair Brooks and Nancy Phillips, Carol and Bruce Hosford, the Leahy family, the Centre for Support of Native Lands and Community Conservation.




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  • Papua New Guinea Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program
  • Papua New Guinea Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program
  • Papua New Guinea Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program
  • Tree Kangaroo Conservation

    Tree Kangaroo Conservation

    (1) © Lisa Dabek, (2) © Ryan Hawk, (3) © Bruce Beehler, (4) © Chris Doyle