World's rarest tree kangaroo gets help from those who once hunted it

Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
August 17, 2009



The Wildlife Conservation Network is holding its 2014 Wildlife Conservation Expo on Saturday, October 11, 2014 from 10am to 6pm at the Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco, CA. The lineup includes 20 prominent conservationists.


An interview with Jim and Jean Thomas of the Tenkile Conservation Alliance



The world's rarest tree kangaroo is in the midst of a comeback in a remote part of Papua New Guinea.

On the brink of extinction in 2001 with a population estimated at fewer than 100 individuals, Scott's Tree Kangaroo (Dendrolagus scottae), or the tenkile, is recovering, thanks to the efforts of the Tenkile Conservation Alliance to motivate local communities to reduce hunting and respect critical forest habitat. The tenkile Conservation Alliance, led by Australians Jim and Jean Thomas, works to provide alternative sources of protein and raise environmental awareness among local communities.


Captive tenkile.
Although the tenkile has always been relatively rare, its decline began only recently as a result of profound social changes in local communities wrought by the entrance of missionaries, who encouraged traditional hunter-gatherer societies to settle in villages. This led to rapid population growth and an accompanying increase in demand for game. As local taboos to ensure sustainable use were abandoned, overhunting quickly reduced the abundance of all forms of wildlife, including the tenkile. Today the tenkile also faces a new threat: habitat loss due to subsistence agriculture and logging.

In the face of these challenges, the Tenkile Conservation Alliance (TCA) is taking a multifaceted approach to ensure that local people benefit from conservation. Education programs to ensure that villagers understand the impact of unrestrained hunting and forest clearing have led to a moratorium on hunting of the tenkile, while turning the species into a local source of pride.


TCA's Team: [top row] Jim Thomas, Project Manager; Jean Thomas, Capacity Building Officer; Patrick Ikon, Project Officer; [second row] Mathew Akon, Project Officer; Francis Elpiti, Caretaker; Hilary Oiye, Security; [third row] Thomas Tolei, Security; John Wowi, Carpenter; Leonard Towaiyu, Plumber/Carpenter; [fourth row] Edward Saire, Carpenter; Samuel Kabau, Project Officer.
"The people here trust and respect us and are extremely thankful that we are promoting a greater respect for the environment and its resources," the Thomases told mongabay.com. "At first most people saw the tenkile as something to eat. Now we are having people actually say "sorry" for all the tenkile they killed previously."

TCA's project is also providing food security for local communities by introducing alternate sources of protein—rabbits and chickens—thereby reducing hunting pressure on wildlife. The group hopes to soon capitalize on a proposed climate change mitigation mechanism known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) to generate funds for conservation areas as well as local communities.

"The benefits the people need to manage their resources under a carbon trading venture are roads for transporting cash crops to market, permanent housing and solar power," the Thomases said. "This is basically what we are competing against with logging because logging companies promise roads, housing, and power."

The Thomases are hopeful that REDD could generate sufficient funds to enable villages to legally withdraw from logging in Forest Management Areas, thereby protecting these areas for wildlife and sustainable use by people.

The Thomases discussed TCA's efforts to save the tenkile during an August interview with mongabay.com.

Note: If you are interested in meeting the Tenkile Conservation Alliance, Jim and Jean Thomas will be presenting at the Wildlife Conservation Network's Expo in San Francisco on Saturday, October 3th.



Mongabay: What is your background and how did you become interested in tree kangaroos?

Jim and Jean Thomas: Both Jean and I studied at LaTrobe and Melbourne Universities, although at different times. We met when we both worked for Zoos Victoria on the native mammal section with tree kangraoos.


I have always been involved in conservation and recovery plans and became particularly interested in Tree Kangaroos in 1996 after going on a field trip to Far North Queensland to the habitats of the two Australian species. It was at this time that Roger Martin, a mammalogist and expert on Tree Kangaroos, who had been to Papua New Guinea, told stories around the campfire about working with the Tenkile (Scott's Tree Kangaroo - Dendrolagus scottae) of the Torricelli Mountains in PNG. He thought that they along with the Weimang (Golden-mantled Tree Kangaroo - D. pulcherrimus) would be hunted to extinction within a few years. This story got me inspired to at least visit this area, which was also the only place where three species of Tree Kangaroos co-existed. The other being the Grizzled Tree Kangaroo (D. inustus).

In 1998 Zoos Victoria and Rainforest Habitat - PNG formed a partnership after a workshop about the plight of Tree Kangaroos. This PHVA (Population and Habitat Viability Analysis) workshop concluded that Tenkile would become extinct within 10 years without outside assistance. A hunting moratorium for Tenkile was established in 1999 and the Tenkile Conservation Alliance (TCA) was established as an NGO (non-government organization) in 2001. We started in early 2003 and have pretty much run and managed TCA since then.

Mongabay: Is the tenkile naturally rare or has it declined from a once-large population?

Jim and Jean Thomas: The Tenkile has only been recorded from the Torricelli and Bewani Mountains of the North Coast ranges of New Guinea. It once had a greater distribution but has been reduced by 70-80 percent by hunting and a trebling of the human population within the last 50 years.

Mongabay: Is overhunting the result of population growth from cultural change in local communities?


On the 10th of June an adult male Tenkile was released back into the wild. It was held in captivity for a month to monitor its defecation rate. The results will assist TCA's distance sampling research.
Jim and Jean Thomas: There have been a lot of cultural changes in recent times. Previously there were more "ples masalai" or ancestral taboo areas. A lot of these places have disappeared and have been replaced by houses and gardens.

Mongabay: Is there much logging in the area? If so, do you see the potential for payments for ecosystem services as a means to deliver economic benefits to local people?

Jim and Jean Thomas: There is a lot of logging going on around us. Some of our villages have recently reported illegal logging on their land. There are also oil palm projects and a planned slurry pipe for a mining company. So, the three most environmentally damaging lines of work surround the Torricelli Mountain Range. We are aiming to conduct carbon trading and are working with other bodies developing projects. We are confident that, should the required funding be available, we can increase our project area to include Forest Management Areas (FMA), having those villages legally withdraw from logging. The benefits the people need to manage their resources under a carbon trading venture are roads for transporting cash crops to market, permanent housing and solar power. This is basically what we are competing against with logging because logging companies promise roads, housing and power.

Mongabay: How do villagers respond to your efforts? Do you have an difficulties convincing people to care about animals they rely upon for food?

Jim and Jean Thomas:

Village celebration
We've been working here for nearly seven years. The people here trust and respect us and are extremely thankful that we are promoting a greater respect for the environment and its' resources. At first most people saw Tenkile as something to eat. Now we are having people actually say "sorry" for all the Tenkile they killed previously. This is a real behavior change.

Mongabay: Are there any opportunities for rehabilitation of animals captured as food? Are tenkile ever kept locally as pets?

Jim and Jean Thomas: At TCA Base-Lumi we pretty much have a mini zoo. if an orphaned animal comes to us we generally look after it. Sometimes we can save animals, sometimes we can't. We presently have 6 Grizzled Tree Kangaroos, 2 Weimangs, 1 NG Pademelon, 2 Cuscus, 8 Sugar Gliders, 3 Ground Boas, 2 New Guinea freshwater turtles, 1 NG freshwater crocodile, 1 Flying Fox, a Western Black-capped Lori and a Victoria Crowned Pigeon.

Generally people only keep dogs, pigs and chickens as pets. When wildlife is caught and then caged in the village it generally doesn't survive long.

Mongabay: Are there ways to boost the population through ex-situ measures?


Aini - from Wuguble village.
TCA has provided each village with a 1000 gallon Tuffa Tank. Water tanks were seen as a necessity by TCA staff to better improve the rabbit farming project and assist local communities with a clean water supply that was close to the village.Water is normally collected from local water sources that are not necessarily clean and disease free. Many people suffer from diarrhea and other water borne diseases in the area so clean water supplies are essential in any village. Water is normally collected by women and carried to the village in bamboo water carriers or saucepans and buckets. In some villages, women have to walk for more than 30 minutes to collect water with some having to walk up hill and in rugged terrain. By reducing the workload of women, this has helped give them time to rest and assist the rabbit project. TCA had a local plumber provide water tank training to two female representatives from each village. This enabled women to realize how to maintain the water tank and prevent damage occurring.
Jim and Jean Thomas: The best way for Tenkile to increase in numbers is to leave them alone in their remaining habitat. Our distance sampling research indicates that the Tenkile population has increased from ~140 (in 2004) to ~300 (in 2008). Three villages have now spotted Tenkile in areas where they have not seen them before. We also work with the villages that have Weimang on their land. We have 18 Tenkile villages and 21 Weimang villages in our program - which is ~10,000 people.

Mongabay: Are you working with other species beyond the tenkile?

Jim and Jean Thomas: The Tenkile and the Weimang are the flagship species. TCA aims to conduct more studies on other species when funding becomes available.

Mongabay: What are the biggest challenges of working in the field?

Jim and Jean Thomas: The biggest challenges in the field are the remoteness, the steep slopes of the Torricelli's and the amount of rain. Here in Lumi we receive up to 3.5 meters per year.

Mongabay: Is there any potential for tourism to help?

Jim and Jean Thomas: TCA would like to see tourism get a chance in the Torricelli's. There is real potential here and we are educating the people about what is needed to conduct eco-tourism. There is a lot we need to do before inviting tourists to the area such as infrastructure and footpaths to the villages and mountains.

Mongabay: How can people in places like the U.S. help your efforts?


Jean Thomas with school children
Jim and Jean Thomas: There are many ways people in the U.S could help TCA. Donations or sponsorship to any of our programs will go a long way even if a small amount. Please visit our website www.tenkile.com

Mongabay: Do you have any tips for aspiring field conservationists?

Jim and Jean Thomas: Anyone doing real, on the ground conservation must be willing to spend long periods of time away from family and friends. They must be willing to face many disappointments to start with and perhaps not have their first "win" for six months or more. The world needs more people working in remote areas of wilderness in developing countries doing conservation, education and trying to protect rainforests. Rainforests are the most delicate and vulnerable ecosystems in the world and serve as the lungs of the planet.


Tenkile Conservation Alliance

If you are interested in meeting the Tenkile Conservation Alliance, Jim and Jean Thomas will be presenting at the Wildlife Conservation Network's Expo in San Francisco on Saturday, October 3th







CITATION:
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com (August 17, 2009).

World's rarest tree kangaroo gets help from those who once hunted it.

http://news.mongabay.com/2009/0820-tree_kangaroo_interview.html