People of the YUS region in PNG are celebrating the first conservation area in the country with a sing-sing.

    Recognising that wildlife was ­becoming scarcer, clans from more than 50 villages have come together to set aside parcels of their own land for the protected area. On this land they have committed not to hunt, log the forest or extract resources. Such close collaboration with local ­communities is essential to set up and maintain protected areas, because more than 95 per cent of PNG’s land remains the property of the indigenous clans who inhabit it.

    Photo Credit: Mark Ziembicki

    YUS was created in 2009 as PNG’s first conservation reserve, and derives its name from the Yopno, Uruwa and Som rivers that flow through it. The protected area covers some 78,700ha of tropical rainforest along with village gardens, plantations and grasslands, as well as 46ha of ­­coral-studded coastal water.

    Photo Credit: Mark Ziembicki

    The YUS area is crisscrossed with undulating walking tracks that link 50 local villages and connect the region to the outside world. Over a distance of just 35km, the conservation area rises from sea level at the coast, to the 4000m peaks of the Saruwaged Range.

    Photo Credit: Mark Ziembicki

    Seen from the cockpit window of the weekly flight from Lae, the short airstrip at Yawan, in the heart of the YUS Conservation Area, slices through the village. 

    Photo Credit: Mark Ziembicki

    Although Huon tree kangaroos are considered endangered, recent monitoring surveys suggest populations of this species are higher in the YUS protected zones than outside of it. 

    Photo Credit: Mark Ziembicki

    Wearing headbands created from the tails of Huon tree kangaroos, young Yupno tribesmen from Tapmange village pose for a photo in their ceremonial clothing. 

    One of the primary aims of the YUS conservation project is to protect species the local ­communities rely upon for subsistence hunting. Therefore, the monitoring program has focused on assessing how well tree kangaroos, wallabies, possums, cuscus and cassowaries have responded to conservation measures, because they are important food, and ceremonial species.

    Photo Credit: Mark Ziembicki

    New Guineans are skilful gardeners who take great pride in the land surrounding their homes, which are made entirely of forest materials. PNG alone (the eastern half of the island) is home to more than 820 distinct languages – the highest linguistic diversity on the planet. The YUS region has seven languages, and with 11,000 people in 50 villages, this equates to about one language for every 1500 people. 

    Photo Credit: Mark Ziembicki

    Rangers of the YUS conservation area. Through the YUS Conservation Organisation, local ­communities have been empowered to work together to manage the reserve, and also develop projects such as health and education initiatives.

    Photo Credit: Mark Ziembicki

    The island of New Guinea is one the world’s great natural wonders. With less than 0.5 per cent of Earth’s landmass, it is home to some 10 per cent of its species, with many found nowhere else. It owes much of its biodiversity to its isolation and topography.

    Photo Credit: Mark Ziembicki

    A tilt-shift image of the Kumbul village in the YUS conservation reagion of PNG. 

    Culture remains strong in YUS, but it is changing as the outside world increasingly encroaches on this remote spot. People here want a higher standard of living and better schooling for their children, and are increasingly leaving for bigger towns. The old ways of life in the forest are being lost and with them go traditional knowledge and local languages.

    Photo Credit: Mark Ziembicki

    This spectacular individual is one of hundreds of new species of frog recently discovered in PNG. From 1998 to 2008 alone, some 1060 new species were identified across the island. It is estimated that more than half of the island’s amphibians are yet to be documented by scientists.

    Photo Credit: Mark Ziembicki

    Dense forest of the YUS conservation region. The steamy lowland forests harbour a rich array of birds, including palm cockatoos, eclectus parrots and hornbills. In the canopy, possums and cuscus feed on the leaves and fruits of the tallest trees, while scurrying and hopping throughout leaf litter is a variety of frogs, reptiles and insects.

    Photo Credit: Mark Ziembicki

    Striped possums are commonly hunted in the YUS region for food and ceremonies – their striking fur is highly sought after for costumes. Lifelong hunters don’t want to see PNG creatures disappear and are willingly part of the conservation project. 

     

    Photo Credit: Mark Ziembicki

    Only men can wear masks and they must have been initiated into the cults that produce them. Initiated wearers are said to become the spirits that each mask represents.

    Though birds of paradise are hunted to create these elborate masks, the rate is low because the feathers are treasured and looked after for years.

     

    Photo Credit: Mark Ziembicki

    Seldom venturing below the high canopy, a recently fledged Papuan hanging parrot is discovered near the ground by a local villager.

     

    Photo Credit: Mark Ziembicki

    Climate change, along with logging, mining, and the clearing of land for agriculture, is increasingly threatening the forests of New Guinea. Research into the effects of climate change at the elevational transect and elsewhere reveal that life is responding rapidly to the changes. 

    Photo Credit: Mark Ziembicki

    An understanding of traditional knowledge and local practices plays a pivotal role in Papua New Guinean conservation efforts. For example, most tribes have important sacred sites that are taboo – they are only visited for special ceremonies and hunting is prohibited. It felt natural to the local people, then, to include these sites within the formal YUS protected area. 

    Photo Credit: Mark Ziembicki

    New Guinea is as rich culturally as it is biologically. And, as its topography and isolation have given rise to its great diversity of species, they have also fostered the development of many distinct indigenous groups, each with its own language and culture. 

    Photo Credit: Mark Ziembicki

Gallery: Celebrating PNG’s first conservation area

By AG STAFF | April 24, 2014

An AGS-funded team is collaborating with locals to protect the wildlife of PNG’s first major conservation area. Read the full story in Australian Geographic magazine #120.