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Junior Rangers of YUS: Conservation Heroes

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications

These are the conservation stewards of tomorrow and we salute their dedication and passion for protecting endangered species like the Matschie’s tree kangaroo. Photo by Chris Banks, Zoos Victoria
Young people are the future of our communities and the future stewards of our planet. There is no better example of this than the Junior Rangers of Papua New Guinea. An integral part of the success of Woodland Park Zoo’s Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program, these youth are the real conservation heroes who are learning about and working towards a sustainable and balanced ecosystem in their own communities.

Looking to the future with Junior Rangers. Photo by Lisa Dabek, Woodland Park Zoo.

Photo by Chris Banks, Zoos Victoria
The Yopno-Uruwa-Som (YUS) “Junior Ranger Program” is based around activities designed specifically for children who live throughout the YUS Conservation Area, a protected area on the Huon Peninsula in Papua New Guinea which Woodland Park Zoo helped to create. To ensure they become empowered community members, and lead through future conservation stewardship and sustainable community development, the Junior Ranger program links indigenous knowledge with citizen science through hands-on approaches and engagement in ecology. This deeper understanding of conservation and educational opportunity leads to increased success of conservation efforts and positive community development.

We chatted with Gibson Sil Galla’h from the Papua New Guinea Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program’s Education and Leadership team to learn more about these incredible kids and the successful community programming that inspires us all.

Gibson at GUA Junior Ranger School. Photo by Chris Banks, Zoos Victoria
WPZ: The goal of the Junior Ranger Program is to foster an appreciation for the environment and instill the value of stewardship among the next generation of leaders and decision-makers in YUS. Who are the participants and what projects are they working on?

GSG: Most of the participants are ages 3–10. Currently, there are about 500 Junior Rangers in YUS. We work with kids in pre-k, elementary, primary and even postprimary. Children come to join this program through their communities, so sometimes it’s parents encouraging their kids to participate, but it is up to each child to determine how much involvement and ownership is suitable to them— this program really leaves it up to the kids in the community who have a desire to take part. Most participants choose to join because they love the games, poems, songs, and the activities conducted both indoors and outdoors. The Junior Ranger Program is about fun and learning and this is the reason why most kids want to be part of it.

The special topics for their projects currently include Indigenous Agriculture and Junior Ranger Clubs including fishing, research, coffee farming, agriculture, tree planting, and the Farming and Land Use project which is focused on forest stewardship, gardening, local farming heritage and its management for biodiversity. The Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program staff supports by providing training and materials for the volunteer Junior Ranger teachers, equipment and scientific gear, while the parents and community members contribute to support the volunteer teachers through monetary donations and volunteer time.

WPZ: How does being a Junior Ranger affect their role in the community?

GSG: Junior Rangers bring community members to a place where they can share ideas, listen to new voices and plan for their future together. Junior Rangers have shown themselves to be a good way to build ties with the local communities. The resulting protected landscapes can reach a sector of the
community that is otherwise difficult to link up with, build support for the long-term, raise awareness and invest in the future and strengthen relationships.

The Junior Rangers feel proud of their participation because when youth become engaged in community activities they develop the skills needed to be an effective leader. The lives of more than 150 youth who did not have the means to continue their education have been transformed by the opportunity to develop useful skills in stewardship and leadership and to contribute to their community’s conservation efforts. This is the foundation for the Junior Ranger Program. From conversations with hundreds of children, youth, and community members we have heard that the Junior Ranger Program allows them to develop the skills which could help them to become positive members and leaders in their own communities.

The Junior Rangers prepare for a celebration in YUS. Photo by Chris Banks, Zoos Victoria
WPZ: That is an extremely positive outcome for the participants. Can you speak more about how youth have been personally motivated?

GSG: With the young people involved, it is not just about the acquisition of knowledge and skills. It is also about developing as a person, meeting new people and practicing good communications, sharing experiences, gaining a sense of ownership and satisfaction from the work, seeing your enthusiasm reflected in those younger than you, and inspiring your peers and really feeling that
they are the narrators of this program and this landscape. It’s very powerful.

WPZ: It’s easy for us to see, but how do the Junior Rangers perceive their role in conservation?

GSG: As the kids practice new skills, Junior Rangers begin to see their role in conservation, and are starting to understand the leadership role in teaching their communities about the value of sustainable habitat with pride as future decision makers. The Junior Rangers see themselves as future conservation stewards and leaders of their landscape. Basically, they see themselves in conservation as leaders of tomorrow and partners of today.

WPZ: How has working with these kids inspired your work, your life?

GSG: My perspective and expectations have changed completely after working with these kids, especially within their different age levels. I have a youth activism background as volunteer for 12 years at the international and national level, but my experience with the YUS Junior Rangers changed from looking at these programs on a policy level to feeling the impact of these real issues on the ground. I have become more responsible. As of now my goals are to provide a good environment for these kids and be a good mentor and role model. It is an important and lovely phase in life. There will be time in the future once these kids grow up where I can think more about myself, but now I feel nothing is more important than working with these kids and I love spending time with them. 

I envision a generation of leaders raising up as warriors, stewards of their land, sea, river and wildlife.

The Junior Rangers program links indigenous knowledge with citizen science through hands-on approaches and engagement in ecology. Photo by Chris Banks, Zoos Victoria
WPZ: That is a beautiful vision. What is the most rewarding part of working with the Junior Ranger program?

GSG: Helping children and youth is the most rewarding job I can think of! Knowing that my job is to help kids achieve their full potential and to help them feel happier and better about themselves in conservation, brings a huge smile to my face and helps me feel proud of my job! Children are, by nature, very curious. With all the questions they ask, I constantly find myself looking for answers in books and the training materials. Children make me a well-informed person: As kids often expect me to know exactly what they are talking about. They keep me on my toes!


WPZ: What can we learn from the success of the Junior Ranger program?

GSG: By observation, theirs is a level of success. We know that focusing on strengths and dedicating time and attention to youth programming can have a huge impact on the community’s environmental literacy and awareness that protects so much more than wildlife. The educational environment has provided great opportunities for young people in YUS by being inclusive of people living with different abilities and interests. In order to achieve success in any project, we need a system that understands the uniqueness and diversity of its participants.

WPZ: What do you hope to see in the next 5 or 10 years, either from these students or from the program?

GSG: I want to see a generation of leaders, stewards of their landscapes. I want to see parents engaged in supporting their children in local conservation initiatives. I wonder what it would look like to have an increased focus on nature as children enter elementary school. To see the community
look to the youth and invite them into the decision-making process. More outreach programs to build our capacity to involve more youth and be inclusive of more communities.

My dream is for an inclusive, peaceful, and healthy YUS where young people are partners in sustainable development and conservation actions.

 Photo by Chris Banks, Zoos Victoria

Thank you, Gibson, for sharing your work with the Junior Rangers and introducing us to these inspiring kids!

The Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP) is Woodland Park Zoo’s flagship international conservation program, focused on conserving the endangered Matschie’s tree kangaroo and the habitat in which it lives. Over the course of more than 20 years, TKCP has evolved into a holistic program supporting habitat protection for a wide range of threatened species, as well as initiatives to enhance local community livelihoods and access to government services. With more than two decades of effort and experience, TKCP continues to shape the concept of conservation for the country, setting a benchmark to which other national protected areas can aspire.

Visit zoo.org/tkcp to learn more.

Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP) Junior Rangers.  Photo by Chris Banks, Zoos Victoria
Tree Kangaroo Coloring Contest

Help us thank the Junior Rangers! Check out our summer art contest, the Tree Kangaroo coloring contest. All artwork will be sent to the Junior Ranger Program in Papua New Guinea to show our appreciation for the Junior Rangers and their commitment to saving wildlife and protecting habitat. Gibson will be visiting Woodland Park Zoo this summer and we'll hand off your artwork so he can bring back our gratitude to the Junior Rangers on his return home. The art contest ends July 10, so get creative now for a chance to win fabulous tree kangaroo-worthy prizes!

Welcome artists of any age—enter to win some tree kangar-iffic prizes!
Visit https://www.zoo.org/magazine for details!

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