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The Life of a Papua New Guinea Conservation Ranger

Posted by: Daniel Solomon Okena, Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program, a Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife

YUS Rangers conducting monthly patrol of the densely forested YUS Conservation Area. Photo: TKCP-WPZ.

Steep mountainous terrains, thick dense forest, and narrow walking tracks shifting due to landslides and floods. The environment I live in is extremely harsh and unforgiving, and may seem uninhabitable. But our people have been living here for many generations.

TKCP Research and Monitoring Coordinator Daniel Okena conducting survey of plant species in tree kangaroo ecological research site in YUS Conservation Area. Photo: Lisa Dabek/TKCP-WPZ

Here, we build a hut, plant a garden and hunt for our food. We collect our water, firewood, building materials and food from the surrounding land. We teach our children how to do the same. A great thing about living in this environment – everything is free! We pay no rent or water bills, we do not have to buy our land, and our food and building materials are simply free. All we need to do is manage these resources sustainably.

The concept of conservation is not new to us. Traditionally, our village chiefs and elders were entrusted to be the stewards of the land; a great privilege and honor. Some of the land outside of our villages is declared off-limits, or tambu. These areas are believed to be controlled by powerful unseen beings. Trespassers and their families will be cursed with bad fortune or death. These tambu areas then serve as reserves, regenerating and repopulating the entire forest.

It is a great honor to continue the legacy of stewarding my environment and its resources. Although the challenge is greater than it once was, Woodland Park Zoo's Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP) has trained me to monitor changes in my unique forest, with its incredible terrains flowing with breathtaking creeks and rivers. As a YUS (Yopno-Uruwa-Som) Conservation Area Ranger, I spend one week every month patrolling my environment. Equipped with a Global Positioning System (GPS) device, a pen and datasheet, safety boots, camping gear and rations, I look for the presence of some of our forest’s different animals. I also observe and record any signs of illegal activity within the YUS Conservation Area, and report violators to the landowner to take the matter before the local courts.

Community volunteers learn techniques for ecological monitoring in the coastal areas of the YUS Conservation Area, PNG. Photo: TKCP-WPZ.

Patrolling in the Conservation Area is no easy task. Some areas are very far from the villages, with steep hills and mountains, deep valleys, and no walking tracks. But, as YUS Conservation Area Rangers, we roam with the strong conviction that our efforts are for the long-term benefit of our people. We walk for miles through the wind, rain and cold, and under the relentless heat of the sun to fulfill our honorable duties. 

YUS Landowners and community leaders discuss local conservation and development priorities during community-based monitoring workshop in Yawan village, YUS, PNG. Photo: Trevor Holbrook/TKCP-WPZ.

Apart from our Ranger work, we also have family to look after. When we are not on patrol, we spend time with our families, tending our gardens and hunting in the hunting zone areas so that our families can enjoy life in this part of the world. Our patrol allowance from TKCP helps us to pay school fees for our children and support our extended family members. It is great to be a YUS Conservation Area Ranger, but it is not without its challenges. The area is quite big, and it can be difficult to cover our entire patrol routes each month. But with the help from community members across the YUS region, we can all contribute by respecting the protected areas and exposing any violations. We must urge our neighbors to adhere so that our children and our children’s children will have the privilege to enjoy the magnificent environment that we now enjoy. 

Certified community-based marine monitoring volunteers from Ronji and Singorokai villages along the coast of YUS, PNG. Photo: TKCP-WPZ.