I thought that Australia’s Cape York Peninsula was a far away place. It certainly is as remote a place as I have ever been. However, Conservation International and Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo have found a location not far from the tip of Cape York to the northeast in Oceania that is very rich in biodiversity and even more remote.
Papua New Guinea occupies the Eastern half of the island of New Guinea and smaller nearby islands. It is a country that is as culturally diverse as it is naturally diverse. With funding from CI, the team of scientists from Seattle’s major metropolitan zoo are working to not only preserve the species richness, presumed to be quite impressive, but to help an impoverished nation.
Papua New Guinea gained its independence from Australia as recent as 1975, but it continues to struggle on many fronts—most notably an economic one. A great majority of its citizens live in rural communities, and a third live on less than two US dollars a day. Most people subsist on agricultural resources while living in traditional villages and communities.
What originally brought researchers from the Zoo to this remote part of the Australasian ecozone was a species of tree kangaroo. Most people think of the red or grey kangaroos or wallaroos and wallabies when the term “macropod” is referenced, but of the 53 known macropod species as many as 14 are adapted for life in trees. Most are threatened, but only Matschie’s and Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos are represented in zoo collections.
I myself, had an opportunity to care for a breeding pair of Matschie’s tree kangaroo and a joey. Few babies are cuter than a tree kangaroo joey.
Although, primarily interested in tree kangaroo conservation, the Zoo realizes that the fuzzy charismatic mega-vertebrate serves as a flagship species and will draw attention to other threatened faunal and floral groups in the region.
Tree kangaroo conservation is a priority, but capacity building is a must to make it happen.
In the Yopno Uruwa Som (YUS) forests of Papua New Guinea’s Huon Peninsula, Woodland Park Zoo’s Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP) and Seattle’s Caffe Vita are brewing up something unique with subsistence farmers—the first coffee you’ll ever have the chance to drink from this region.
The Conservation Area is comprised of 76,000 hectares of lush tropical forest stretching from Papua New Guinea’s northern coast to the country’s interior mountains. Historically, the ecosystem barely provided subsistence farmers with the resources needed to to feed and service 10,000 villagers, but the coffee as a commercial product offers a more profitable and sustainable source of revenue. It is also home to the Matschie’s tree kangaroo and now will become known for exporting Farm Direct coffee.
The coffee, which is available in limited edition 12-oz. bags at all Seattle Caffe Vita locations, Woodland Park Zoo campus stores and online at www.caffevita.com is more than a tasty drink. Coffee sales will not only help conserve habitat for the Matschie’s tree kangaroo, but habitat for other endemic wildlife in the designated Conservation Area.
The local people have pledged more than 180,000 acres of their own land to permanent protection under the Yopno Uruwa Som Conservation Area (YUS CA). The protected Conservation Area–named after its rivers– is the first ever protected Conservation Area in the country. And the ecofriendly coffee is the first-ever direct trade cash crop in the YUS region.
“The YUS farmers have had so many challenges trying to sell their coffee in the past, but now they have reason for hope,” said Papua New Guinean Benjamin Sipa, TKCP Community Livelihoods Coordinator. “For the first time, these farmers have a real opportunity to earn the money they need to put their children through school and provide for their healthcare.”
“The mountainous YUS region is so remote—with no roads leading in or out and only irregular, prohibitively costly airfreight—that we knew this effort could only be possible with the guidance of an expert partner who could help us establish an infrastructure for transporting the coffee as well as a real market for the product,” said Dr. Lisa Dabek, Woodland Park Zoo senior conservation scientist and director of the zoo’s Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program. “Caffe Vita stepped up not only to provide the structure and market support, but they even came with us to Papua New Guinea to meet the farmers, train them on coffee cultivation techniques and help them improve their product to the sensibilities of the gourmet Seattle coffee market.”
With successful sales of the limited edition “PNG YUS” coffee available now, Caffe Vita and Woodland Park Zoo’s TKCP hope to expand the conservation coffee program to make the product available year-round.
“When you drink this coffee, you are taking a direct conservation action, supporting the farmers’ efforts to make a fair living while still protecting their land and the animals and people who depend on it from mining, logging and other environmentally destructive forest activities,” added Dr. Dabek.
Woodland Park Zoo has just completed a $1 million fundraising effort, which will be matched in full by a generous grant from Conservation International’s Global Conservation Fund, creating a $2 million YUS Conservation Endowment to ensure sustainable funding to manage the protected area into the future.