Words by Smiley Team
Cute and cuddly but also critically endangered, tree kangaroos could be the key to conserving New Guinea’s nature and wildlife, conservation scientist Dr Lisa Dabek suggests.
In an interview with environmental news outlet Mongabay, Lisa explained how this separately evolved species to standard kangaroos helps promote biodiversity in rare rainforests of Papua New Guinea.
“Tree kangaroos really are the flagship for forest conservation,” she said.
Their importance is primarily based on their ability to spread plant species around forests.
Jim Thomas, the CEO of Tenkile Conservation Alliance has been working with communities to protect this endearing creature for 19 years. He agreed with Lisa, adding: “Tree kangaroos are highly significant for the rainforest because they are incredible sea dispersers. They're responsible for moving different seed species around rainforests and helping to keep the rainforests healthy.”
This is especially the case for a rare kind of rainforest called cloud forest. Growing at high altitudes, it accumulates water in the air as dense vapour, creating conditions for an incredibly important habitat.
While cloud forests make up only 1% of global woodland, they are home to 50% of certain bird and frog species. Papua New Guinea’s northern region is one such habitat, which Jim says contains 10% of the world’s overall biodiversity.
To protect this biodiversity, tree kangaroos play a central role, making their survival all the more important.
The species is so elusive that it vanished from the scientific record for nearly an entire century before being rediscovered in 2018. Today they are increasingly recognised for their role as forest conservationists, as well as their cultural importance.
“Tree kangaroos are very important to the local people, both for hunting them for meat,” Lisa said. “You often see tails as headdresses or the whole pelt being worn in singing sessions or celebrations, and there are so many stories, dances and songs about kangaroos.”
To conserve the species as well as forests, Jim believes it’s vital that local people rally behind conservationists and defend the species against hunters or industrial activities in the region.
“We say to them, it's no good if this animal just becomes a picture in a book,” Jim explained.
With this message, he and others at Tenkile Conservation Alliance have managed to mobilise 50 villages in northern Papua New Guinea to protect tree kangaroos, connecting people with local nature.
DONATE: To help conserve rare rainforests and tree kangaroos in Papua New Guinea, donate to Tenkile Conservation Alliance.