Love of Forests
Ever since I can recall I’ve had a love of animals. My earliest memory is chasing baby King Quail around my parents’ Melbourne backyard, as they had escaped through the wire, and being all so careful in picking them up before putting them back in the aviary with their parents.
Photo: Weimang Tree Kangaroo. PC Tenkile Conservation Alliance
Photo: Overlooking the Torricelli Mountain Range. PC Tenkile Conservation Alliance
Photo: Deep in the Torricelli Forests. PC Tenkile Conservation Alliance
From there I slowly built up a menagerie in my bedroom, keeping snakes, lizards, turtles, frogs, birds and fish. For hours and hours, I watched these critters as a teenager and I thought about their natural environments and where they all fitted in the web of life. At 18 I remember that I wanted to be able to put back into and protect the environment as part of my life.
The interest, perhaps some would say obsession, of conservation and putting back of biodiversity, has been a journey up to my now ‘magnum opus’ – protecting the Torricelli Mountain Range in Papua New Guinea, primary tropical rainforest.
As a young zoologist and conservationist in Australia, I attended university, worked with many species recovery programs and became established in the zoo system. These were great experiences for me, but I always felt so much more could be done and that I really needed to sink my teeth into a program I could lead and build on.
In 1996 I went on a field trip that would change my life and start me on the trajectory that I’m on today. I travelled to far north Queensland, Australia, where I spent three weeks with university lecturers and students. We learnt about rainforests, the immense biodiversity they hold and spent considerable time looking for tree kangaroos. Not long after I researched and collected the available literature on tree kangaroos and soon wanted to get to PNG and protect the Tenkile and Weimang tree kangaroos of the Torricelli Mountain Range.
By 1999 the Tenkile Conservation Alliance (TCA) was established in PNG to save the critically endangered Tenkile (Dendrolagus scottae) and Weimang (D. pulcherrimus). My wife and I started our journey in PNG in 2003 and for nearly 20 years now have been managing all things TCA and Torricelli’s.
PNG Tenkile. PC Tenkile Conservation Alliance
TCA has evolved from a species-specific non-government organisation (NGO) to a bottom-up and multi-pronged organisation that has developed a unique model for in-situ conservation and community development. My ‘love of forests’, in particular tropical rainforests, has helped build TCA into an NGO that encompasses everything. So that everything can be saved and replenished – to put back. TCA has its’ own web of life that brushes off pigeonholing or working in a silo. Everything within a forest is so interconnected, everything has a voice and a right.
Torricelli Mountain Range in PNG. PC Tenkile Conservation Alliance
In the Torricelli’s and with TCA that voice and right include that of tree kangaroos, tropical rainforest, culture, ancestors, landowners and community members, villages and all biodiversity. The management of the Torricelli Mountain Range Conservation Area (TMRCA) at 185,000 hectares, which is awaiting PNG Government gazettal, is now done so by the people – the clan leaders, landowners and community members. Each village, of which there are 50 with a total human population of 13,000+, has developed their own Land-use Plans, Conservation Area Management (CAM) Committees, appointed village representatives (one male, one female), Rangers (two per village) as well as many employed by TCA as administrators, managers, Project Officers and Research Officers – up to 40 full-time staff.
At the start of 2020, after 17 years full-time in PNG, I was burnt out from the constant travelling, micromanaging, being everyone’s boss and being away from family. Soon after, Covid-19 hit and we were forced to be based in Australia. The transition from Covid has benefitted TCA and gave me the opportunity to work from home, behind my computer and to concentrate on increasing the sustainability of the organisation.
How well we’ve done this I don’t know, but we’ve managed to keep programs going, obtain further grants and funding and kept communications regular and consistent with our staff in PNG. We’ve also established TCA as a charity in Australia, so that my wife Jean and I can remain with TCA for a number of years to come, working from Australia. As a man in his fifties, yeah, I’m old, this has been a welcome change and has resulted in our staff stepping up and taking on more responsibilities, with TCA now being run by Papua New Guineans in PNG. A fantastic result, one that I must keep trying to maintain until the day when Jean and I hand all of our responsibilities over.
We’ve got a little while yet and with TCA’s technology improving in the past year, we have a lot to do before being organised enough to pass on to the next conservationists. In late 2020 we were approached by an Application Developer who had watched our documentary ‘Into the Jungle’. He was impressed and wanted to help with our data and communications. He has now built TCA an online portal as well as phone applications that are being used by our staff. Communications have vastly improved since the inception of TCA’s portal ‘Mother Nature’ and the introduction of phone Apps. I am able to better communicate with my staff virtually due to improved technology. I can see surveys being uploaded to the portal in real-time, view the data uploaded and then comment to my staff on their efforts.
Our most recent application has been TCA’s Protected Areas Monitoring (PAM) App, which allows our staff to collect data (photographs, videos, GPS, elevation and time of day) on Biodiversity, Culture, Environmental damage and Villages. Our staff have already uploaded more than 7,000 surveys within a month – well done ‘Team TCA’. (Note: one of our mottos is TEAM = Together Everyone Achieves More.)
The results from our portal have opened doors for data collection and storage for TCA and the Torricelli’s, greater showing the beauty of the forests, the animals of the area and also on culture, spirit places and the people themselves. Technology has helped TCA transition to local management and increased commitment by the stakeholders to better protect the Torricelli’s.
TCA is now 21 years old and has become a great example of hope, protecting the lungs of the planet, forests, whilst empowering and building capacity of local people.
I hope you have enjoyed this blog on myself, tree kangaroos, the Torricelli’s in PNG and my love of forests.
Please visit our website www.tenkile.com for more information and if you’re keen please watch our documentary ‘Into the Jungle’.
Thanks for reading, all the best Jim.
Jim Thomas is the Chief Executive Officer of the PNG-based organisation the Tenkile Conservation Alliance (TCA).
TCA is a Member of IUCN.