Lisa Dabek: Thinking Long Term to Save Papua New Guinea’s Tree KangaroosDecember 30, 2013 By Schuyler Null
“I always say what brought me to Papua New Guinea is the tree kangaroo, and what keeps me there are the people,” said Lisa Dabek.
While steadily encroaching deforestation has significantly reduced forest cover in many parts of the world, about 70 percent of Papua New Guinea’s rainforests remain intact. This provides an opportunity for conservationists to save endangered species before it’s too late. The solitary Matschie’s tree kangaroo is one such example, endemic to Papua New Guinea’s Huon Peninsula. In an interview with ECSP, Dabek, the director and founder of the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program, explained how their efforts to save the kangaroo, which began in 1996, became an integrated program that also addresses the needs of people living in the area.
“The biggest challenge in working in remote communities, going in to save an endangered species, is building trust, and so one of the major things is we had to take the time to build relationships with local communities,” she said. “We got very good advice from some of the local leaders that if we wanted to create any change or make a difference for the wildlife…we needed to look at the needs of the people.” Lack of education is one of the biggest problems in the remote region, so helping to address that became one of the first goals of the program.
Dabek, who is also the senior conservation scientist at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, said they initially found support from other zoos, but later expanded their efforts to court foundations and private donors that understood the need to support communities around endangered wildlife.
“We took the time and that was definitely a risk in that we had to convince our donors that this was not going to be a 3-year project or a 5-year project but we were looking at 10 years, 20 years, long term,” Dabek said. “So it’s a very interesting process of convincing donors why they would want to support an integrated program as opposed to just supporting saving an endangered species.”
Sources: Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program.
Video Credit: Sean Peoples/Wilson Center.