Photo Credit: Ryan Hawk

Tree Kangaroo conservationist wins prestigious Whitley Award


In April 2016, Karau Kuna was one of two SOS Grantees who won the renowned Whitley Fund for Nature's Whitley Awards. Acknowledged for his passionate work strengthening biodiversity protection in the YUS Conservation Area of Papua New Guinea (PNG) through the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Programme (TKCP), Karau accepted the award dedicating it to his team and the communities with whom they work. 


Joining the TKCP as a research assistant in 2004, Karau has championed Matschie’s Tree Kangaroo (Dendrolagus matschiei) as a flagship species to protect PNG’s incredible diversity of wildlife through community-oriented Land-use Planning (LUP) models. “Realizing I could do more to save these fascinating animals, I began working closely with the communities in 2006 to set aside and protect crucial habitat for the species. To date, over 450km2 of pristine forest has been protected for threatened wildlife to thrive.”

Located on the Huon Peninsula in north-eastern PNG, the YUS Conservation Area was the first of its kind in the country. Named after the three rivers flowing through it – Yopno, Uruwa and Som – it covers 1,500km² of pristine habitat accessible only by foot, and extends from mountainous peaks to coastal reefs. This remote area supports unparalleled levels of biodiversity – including tree kangaroos and many species of birds of paradise. But it is also impacted by a growing human population. “Meanwhile pressure from logging and mining companies is putting traditional management practices at risk of being discarded in favour of short-term financial gain”, say Karau.

As such, the community-oriented LUP model represents an optimal solution in a country where 90% of the land is owned by indigenous communities. They would perform as an important planning tool helping project participants become better managers of their resources.

So far the TKCP is benefiting 12,000 people living within the YUS, and has generated a positive dialogue between landowners and conservationists. “We started developing LUPs at the ward (village cluster) level and the model has since been incorporated into PNG’s new National Protected Areas Policy, which will guide the establishment and management of protected areas throughout the country.”

Funding from SOS ensured the continuation and successful completion of the Land-use Planning phase. Today, all 18 wards of YUS are equipped with LUPs. This significantly increases the size of the protected area while decreasing the frequency of illegal and destructive activity, Karau elaborates. “It has enabled my project to gain national and global recognition and in the process attracted government and donor support for the implementation of the monitoring phase. SOS support has basically set the foundation from which more success stories will sprout from”.

What is next for TKCP? Karau smiles, “It pays off in the long run to spend time and resources to build trust and cooperation and explain a new concept explicitly when your audience are the key drivers of a community-led initiative”.

So Karau and his team will continue engaging indigenous landowners and local government in conservation planning and monitoring. This will include supporting communities to refine their Land-use Plans, while developing monitoring plans for the next five years to 2020. These will guide resource management, implement conservation actions and enable sustainable land-use zoning. And thirdly, the team will work to provide local rangers and community monitors with field equipment and specialised training to increase management capacity, monitor wildlife and respond to threats as they appear.

In this world of more than 7 billion people, we are facing an immense challenge to balance the needs of nature with our own. The Whitley Awards recognise and reward success among grassroots leaders who champion species conservation in such an increasingly crowded world.

This year, two SOS Grantees won awards - Karau Kuna was one. Another was Muhammad Ali Nawaz for his work protecting snow leopards by developing ways to reduce human-animal conflict, including incentives such as livestock insurance and vaccination schemes to reduce retaliatory killings of this supreme feline predator.

In celebrating their success SOS wishes to congratulate both Karau and Muhammad and all Whitley Awards winners for their dedication, passion and achievements in championing peace with nature.

Go to top