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Greetings from the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program!

Posted by Lisa Dabek, Director and Senior Conservation Scientist, with Trevor Holbrook, Program Manager, Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program

As we near the end of the most challenging year anyone could have imagined and look ahead to a hopeful new year, the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP) team would like to take this opportunity to wish you good health and safety and express our deepest gratitude for your continued interest and support. 2020 was a unique year for TKCP and the people and wildlife of YUS, Papua New Guinea (PNG). Our program continues to make significant impacts for conservation, and we are proud to share a few of our recent highlights.

Photo by Jonathan Byers/TKCP

Thrive Wildlife Heroes

We hope you will join us for an inspiring live stream event featuring Dr. Lisa Dabek as our keynote speaker and Conservation Leadership Award Honoree. Lisa brought the zoo-based knowledge of Matschie’s tree kangaroos to Papua New Guinea where no previous work had been done on this endangered species. She started the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program in 1996 in collaboration with the people of YUS and is considered a leading expert on tree kangaroos. 


Thrive will highlight Lisa’s groundbreaking conservation work, while showcasing the stunning imagery of the animals’ precious habitat—the cloud forests of Papua New Guinea. For a sneak preview of Lisa's work with the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program, please enjoy this 10-minute PBS video, A Life Among the Clouds.

TKCP's New Associate Director

In January 2020, TKCP welcomed its new Associate Director – Ms. Modi Pontio – to lead the team and the program’s implementation in Papua New Guinea. With more than 20 years of experience managing conservation and community-based programs in PNG, including with Conservation International and Wildlife Conservation Society, Modi brings a wealth of insights to guide TKCP’s efforts in the YUS Conservation Area—particularly in terms of partnership development and community-based natural resource management. Modi’s appointment also represents a major milestone for TKCP, as the program’s first Papua New Guinean leader.

Photo by Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program


While Papua New Guinea has so far managed to avoid large-scale community transmission of COVID-19, the virus is present in the country. Despite some scheduling interruptions due to domestic travel restrictions, TKCP’s efforts and activities in YUS are continuing with consideration for social distancing to ensure the safety of staff and community members. International travel restrictions unfortunately required the postponement of Woodland Park Zoo staff’s visits in 2020, including anticipated collaboration with the Port Moresby Nature Park. However, coordination with the TKCP team continues through close virtual collaboration.

Tree Kangaroos: Science and Conservation

In November, Elsevier is publishing a comprehensive book on tree kangaroo species, their relationship with humans, and the international efforts focusing on their conservation. Spearheaded by TKCP’s Lisa Dabek as lead editor, the book is being released under Elsevier’s “Biodiversity of the World” series. The book extensively captures the known ecology, biology, and natural history of the tree kangaroo, and documents the broad scope of approaches for the species’ conservation including the Tree Kangaroo Conversation Program's community-based model in the YUS Conservation Area.


YUS Conservation Area - Landscape Level DesignationTogether with the landowners and community members of YUS, and with the support of the Papua New Guinea government, TKCP facilitated in designating the YUS Conservation Area at the landscape level, effectively protecting more than 400,000 acres in accordance with Papua New Guinea’s Protected Area Policy and IUCN’s Category VI protected area classification. We are thrilled to have achieved this significant milestone, which further strengthens the YUS community’s efforts in managing their land and resources sustainably for the benefit of both the wildlife and people of YUS. Thank you to Rainforest Trust and GEF 5/UNDP for funding support.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

YUS Coffee

Through TKCP’s YUS Conservation Coffee initiative, farmers sold nearly 25,000 kgs of coffee during the last harvest season! The coffee is available now for online purchase from Caffe Vita. Since the first export of YUS Conservation Coffee in 2011, more than 145,000 kgs have been sold, generating incomes of more than $250,000 for YUS farmers and their families.

Photo by Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program

For the month of November, Caffe Vita will donate $3 per bag of PNG YUS coffee sold to Woodland Park Zoo to further the work of our conservation scientists who save species and habitats in Papua New Guinea, in the Pacific Northwest and around the world!


YUS Cocoa

To support community livelihoods among the low-lying, cocoa-producing coastal villages of YUS, following the arrival of the invasive cocoa bod borer pest, TKCP helped cocoa farmers develop a YUS Conservation Cocoa Business Plan which serves as a roadmap for the recovery and rehabilitation of cocoa production in YUS. To assist farmers in implementing their business plan, TKCP hired a full-time Livelihoods Coordinator focusing specifically on the YUS Conservation Cocoa initiative. TKCP and the YUS Conservation Cocoa farmers are collaborating with the local government, Papua New Guinea’s Cocoa Board, and established cocoa exporters to strengthen the area’s cocoa production capacity, quality and market access.

Community Land-use Management

To further strengthen the YUS community’s engagement in land-use management efforts, TKCP partnered with PNG-based Partners with Melanesians to incorporate the Participatory Three-Dimensional Modeling approach into its community-based Land-use Planning process. Over the past two years, TKCP and Partners with Melanesians conducted a series of six workshops in YUS which resulted in the creation of large 3D relief models of the local landscape. Together, the models depict the entire YUS landscape – enabling many different groups within the community to reflect and participate in decisions regarding land use and resource management. The participatory modeling process and the resulting models have been very well-received by the communities, and will continue to play an integral role in local land-use management.

Photo by Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program

Tree Kangaroo Research

Following the collection of extensive data in 2019 through the use of innovative research technology including GPS- and altimeter-equipped tree kangaroo collars and thermal aerial imagery, TKCP is collaborating with its research partners to analyze the data. Preliminary findings suggest that the home ranges and behavior of radio-collared animals are showing healthy populations in the protected area, with a notable increase in tree kangaroo sightings around TKCP's Wasaunon research site. The research findings will inform communities and YUS Conservation Area stakeholders in determining the status, needs and priorities for tree kangaroo conservation.

Photo by Jonathan Byers/TKCP

USAID Lukautim Graun Program

TKCP and the YUS Conservation Area are participating in the recently-launched USAID PNG Lukautim Graun Program, which aims to reduce threats to Papua New Guinea’s rich biodiversity through an integrated approach combining national policy reform and community mobilization in the areas of biodiversity conservation, sustainable land use planning and conservation-based livelihoods. Through this five-year multi-partner USAID Biodiversity program funded via Cardno International Development, the YUS Conservation Area is serving as a “Learning Landscape,” leveraging the experiences and lessons learned in establishing and managing the country’s first Conservation Area over the past 10+ years. 

Keweng was born in January 2020 at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

We are proud to share these 2020 updates with you and thank you again for your support of the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program. For more information or to find out how you can help us continue our work please visit


Anonymous said…
Lisa and her tree kangaroo work are inspiring and I'm always glad to see WPZ updates about the program. Not to detract from these successes, but I was hoping to see on this blog a tribute to Eric Kowalczyk, who passed away a few weeks ago. His work with hornbill conservation was no less inspiring. Perhaps this would be against his wishes, but from my outsider's perspective, it seems a bit of an omission for WPZ to not publicly acknowledge his passing and his hornbill work. (Unless I've missed it!)