Hunting tree kangaroos
The Torricelli Mountain Ranges in the north-west of Papua New Guinea are home to the Scott's tree kangaroo (known locally as the ‘tenkile’) and the golden-mantled tree kangaroo (locally known as ‘weimang’). Tree kangaroos are large, shy marsupials with long tails, which live in damp forests 900 metres above sea level. They have traditionally been hunted for food. Populations of both species are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Changes and population growth
After World War 2, missionaries arrived in the region and brought many changes to the lives of the local Olo people. Better medical supplies and improved hygiene led to a trebling of the human population, which dramatically increased the hunting of native wildlife for food. There was also a decrease in warfare between villages, so that people felt free to hunt on other people’s land and use the traditional conservation areas that had been had been avoided for fear of evil spirits. The introduction of guns and torches also made hunting much easier. By 1999, there was only about 100 tenkile left. Local communities expressed concern and the Tenkile Conservation Alliance (TCA) was launched to implement a recovery program.
In 1999, 14 local villages bordering the Torricelli Mountain Ranges agreed, through signing a hunting moratorium, to stop hunting tenkile. By 2003, a further 22 villages had signed the moratorium, with the result that no tenkile have been hunted since.
Education activities, village meetings, school activities, a weekly radio program, village puppet shows, a community newsletter and teacher training were designed to involve and support villagers to make changes.
Rabbit farms and improved gardening were introduced to provide alternative food sources. Local experts provided training and follow-up visits to help villagers overcome problems and improve techniques. Some villagers have been so successful in breeding rabbits that they have been able to earn additional income by selling excess rabbits to other communities. The introduction of a rotational gardening system has meant less clearing of surrounding forest.
Villagers were employed as conservation officers which helps generate income for the village communities and build ownership of the program.
Water tanks were installed, providing a more secure water supply and decreasing womens workload in water collection. Villagers have learnt to use water sources through the building of pit toilets and constructing and using Tippy-taps for handwashing. Health has improved and the incidence of gastric illnesses in children has decreased.
Tippy-taps are a simple technology designed to encourage handwashing in areas with limited water supplies. They are constructed from a plastic container or length of bamboo filled with water and suspended from a branch. By pulling the string attached to the neck of the container, water flows from small holes in the handle so that it acts like a tap. This uses less water and is much more hygienic than washing hands in a bowl of water.
Seven research sites have been established on the ridges of the Torricelli Mountains. Teams of local people have been trained to set up transect lines and count tenkile scats (droppings) along these lines to estimate the numbers of tenkile. Increased densities of scats indicate that tenkile numbers rose from around 150 in 2001 to over 240 at the end of 2005.
The villagers strongly believe that the tenkile habitats should be protected from over-hunting, logging and mining. Each village decides, maps, and manages the forest protection area and which areas should be allocated to gardens, the collection of forest products, and so on.
Villagers are enthusiastic about the holistic conservation program, and sightings of tenkile are increasing – some in areas where they have not been seen for over 30 years.
Australian Volunteers International www.australianvolunteers.com
Tenkile Conservation Alliance www.tenkile.com
Zoos Victoria www.zoo.org.au/PNG