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One Health: Healthy village, healthy forests

Posted by Meghan Sawyer, Communications

In just a few weeks, Woodland Park Zoo Senior Conservation Scientist Lisa Dabek, PhD, will be back in Papua New Guinea to continue her work for the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP). During that time, Dabek will meet with national government officials and the U.S. ambassador to Papua New Guinea to discuss TKCP’s goals for 2019 and beyond, which include incorporating the One Health approach into existing local governments’ initiatives.

Young children (and future conservationists) celebrate TKCP's 20th anniversary in 2016. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo
“The health of humans, wildlife and the environment is all interconnected,” says Dabek.
Dabek founded TKCP, Woodland Park Zoo’s flagship conservation program, 22 years ago as a study on endangered tree kangaroos in Papua New Guinea—an island nation with immense biological diversity that is home to one of the last remaining intact cloud forests on the planet. But the same reason that the area is so wonderfully biodiverse and untouched also accounts for many of the issues that its communities face regarding health care. Without roads or electricity, access to remote villages is very limited, which also means those communities have inadequate access to doctors, supplies, medication and health education.

TKCP set out to protect the health of Papua New Guinea’s wildlife as well as its people. By working with indigenous landowners and the government, Dabek’s work has blossomed into a comprehensive program that today protects tree kangaroos and 180,000 acres of tropical cloud forests in the nation’s first Conservation Area (known as Yopno-Uruwa-Som or YUS), and also improves the quality of life for more than 15,000 people who live there.

TKCP has developed the ‘Healthy Village, Healthy Forest’ project. Partnering with PNG’s Provincial and District Health Departments, nongovernmental organizations, volunteer physicians and veterinarians, the project aims to develop systems to address the integrated needs for human, wildlife, and environmental health. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

Tree kangaroos live high up in the mountains, in cloud forests at elevations between 4,000 and 11,000 ft. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo
Matschie’s tree kangaroos are an endangered species with an estimated wild population of less than 2,500 individuals (IUCN 2014). Habitat destruction caused by logging and mining exploration is a danger to tree kangaroo populations. Tree kangaroos play an important role in the culture and diet of the indigenous people, and unsustainable hunting practices threaten the survival of tree kangaroos.
TKCP coordinates teams of doctors to travel to YUS to lead health trainings and workshops. Community participants travel up to three days by foot to reach the village for this valuable and quality training.

Dr. Rob Liddell of the Center for Diagnostic Imaging recently made the trip and brought a portable X-ray machine and portable ultrasound unit to YUS for the first time, helping the visiting physicians diagnose a wide range of health issues for patients. Liddell was one of seven TKCP health workshop facilitators, which included sessions on childbirth, reproductive health, nutrition, cancer and more. There was also an introduction workshop for One Health—a multidisciplinary approach that connects the health of people to the health of animals and the environment.

The beautiful cloud forests of Papua New Guinea. Photo by Alejandro Grajal/Woodland Park Zoo
“Because the YUS Conservation Area is so remote, most resources must come from the landscape, creating a close relationship among the health of humans, wildlife and the health of the environment,” says Liddell. “We want to develop local capacity to provide for basic health needs, and help show the links among human, environmental and animal health.”

Moving forward, the zoo has developed a partnership with the University of Washington Center for One Health Research and Dr. Peter Rabinowitz to implement the One Health approach in YUS. TKCP is also collaborating with the National Department of Health in Papua New Guinea to incorporate its “Healthy Island Concept” which aims to empower and equip individuals, families, and communities to take ownership of their own health and to seek community support for health improvement for humans and the environment.

Watch: A Life Among the Clouds: 

To learn more about the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program and follow Lisa and her team on their latest projects, visit 

Tree Kangaroo Update!

And, in case you haven't seen it, here's a little video of the zoo's newest tree kangaroo, Ecki, with mom Elanna. “Ecki” is named after a beloved elder from one of the remote Papua New Guinea villages that works with Woodland Park Zoo to help protect tree kangaroos and their habitat. Right now, our young tree ‘roo lives in a quiet, off-view area with mom. Ecki's birth is part of the Species Survival Plan cooperative breeding program for this endangered species.

Watch: Introducing Ecki:

Would you like to support the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program? There are many ways to do so, but here are three of our favorite.
  • Become a member, your membership directly supports conservation programs like TKCP. 
  • Join Woodland Park Zoo’s young professional network, Network for Nature, at Roos & Brews on March 13. At this after-work social, learn about the important role coffee plays in saving species like the Matschie’s tree kangaroo while sipping on a specialty coffee cocktail and chatting with the Director of the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP), Lisa Dabek, PhD. Buy your tickets now!
  • Pick up a gift at the ZooStore, ask the sales associates to point you to the tree kangaroo commerce, where a large portion of the proceeds go directly to support the TKCP program.
Ecki! Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo