Conservation Location of the Week – New Guinea


Huon Tree Kangaroo, YUS Conservation Area (PNG)

New Guinea has mystified, terrified, and surprised travelers for hundreds of years – it is famed as a remote, rugged place covered in thick tropical rain forests, home to strange and wonderful wildlife, and cannibalistic cultures; its seas are filled with some of the world’s most pristine coral reefs. In fact this place is still so little-known that it is one of the few places on Earth where biologists still routinely discover new large mammals – expeditions in the Foja Mountains and Bosavi Crater have discovered 2 new species of Giant Woolly Rats, and a new species of wallaby known as a Dorcopsis, thought to be the smallest member of the kangaroo family on Earth. Unfortunately, this reputation has become under threat recently as these forests have been under huge pressure due to logging and hunting. This has caused many of the island’s weird, most wonderful, and endemic species to grow rarer and rarer.

This unfortunate tale is most clearly exemplified by the Tenkile, an extremely rare species of Tree Kangaroo that occurs only in the Torricelli Mountains, a rugged East-West range on the north coast of Papua New Guinea. The range is covered in impenetrable tropical rainforest, home to rare and unusual creatures few have ever heard of, let alone seen. Its dense jungles hide a myriad of mammals including Dasyures, New Guinean Quolls, the Dorcopsis, Critically Endangered Northern Gliders, Feathertail and Ringtail Possums, rare Black-spotted Cuscus, and rarest of all, the beautiful Weimang, or Golden Mantled Tree Kangaroo, Dendrolagus pulcherrimus, and the elusive Tenkile, or Scott’s Tree Kangaroo, Dendrolagus scottae, looking something like a cross between a koala and teddy bear. While this is a region seriously under threat from logging and poaching, there is hope. Recently, an Australian-sponsored research and conservation project, the Tenkile Conservation Fund has set up a station in a remote village high in these mountains. Through camera trap surveys and village meetings, they have set up a conservation area preserving pristine mountain forests home to all of the species mentioned above, as well as a myriad of rare birds, including Dwarf Cassowaries and Birds of Paradise and reptiles and amphibians. While skimming their website, I was caught by surprise that such great conservation activity was actually occurring in PNG, a place where I knew there were some amazing mammals, but also a place where they were exceedingly difficult to observe, as so many are rare due to excessive habitat loss and hunting. Something particularly wonderful that I read was that many hunters who had previously hunted this species and others vowed never to hunt the Tenkile ever again and do their best to protect it – how great! Best of luck to them and I hope for a successful future for the project and for the Tenkile and all the other creatures of the Torricelli Mountains.

One the opposite end of the country, in the west lies the central highlands of New Guinea, in the Indonesian Province of West Papua. Here, the island’s two highest peaks, Puncak Mandala (Mandala Mountain) and Puncak Jaya (Cartensz Pyramid) form the center of the highest mountain range in Oceania. These peaks are covered in pristine rainforest, followed by cloud forest above, and finally subalpine moorlands before yielding to the realm of rock and ice. Both peaks shelter rare species including Seri’s Tree Kangaroos, Goodfellow’s Tree Kangaroos, and the black and white Dingiso, Cuscus, mountain Ringtail Possums, Trioks (rather like the striped possums of Australia), Long Beaked Echidnas, and Echymiperas, a close relative of Australia’s marsupial Bandicoots. This region is an amazing place that has somehow escaped the changes of time, owing to its reputation as something of a lost world. Fortunately though, conservation interest has increased and vast tracts of these highlands have been preserved as remote forest parks. Few ever visit these isolated regions, but those who do can be met with great hardship, but also exceptional rewards. For example, it takes days to travel and trek to the remote Mandala plateau, but a recent expedition to the region discovered and photographed a rare wild New Guinean Singing Dog, thought to be a “lost” relative of the Australian Dingo. There have even been rumors of Tasmanian Wolves – thought to have gone extinct decades ago. While probably untrue, these statements do emphasize that this region must be researched more, and that it must be protected.

What else lies in hiding in the remote mountains, jungles, and cloud forests of New Guinea? Only time will tell.



Tree Kangaroo:

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