Kikori Basin, Papua New Guinea

In the land of sleeping volcanoes and tropical rainforests

 / ©: WWF - Paul Chatterton
River, Kikori Basin, Papua New Guinea.
© WWF - Paul Chatterton
Lush mangrove wetlands? Check. Alpine grasslands? Present. How about extinct volcanoes? They’re here too, along with vast plateaus and great rivers.

Kikori, a land of plenty

The Kikori Basin is all that, a river catchment area with a dizzying range of landscapes features that make for a complex identity.

Stretching over almost 23,300 km2 in Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Southern Province, this vast area ranges from sea level to over 3,000 m in altitude. It is remote from urban centres, densely forested but sparsely populated, with an intricate system of rivers but very few roads to talk about.

The Kikori Basin’s wide range of ecosystems is particularly broad because of the altitude range. In tropical contexts, there is usually limited altitudinal and habitat variation.

Here, with increasing altitude, both animal and plant species diversities decrease, to produce the striking contrast between the luxuriant growth of the lowland rainforest where species diversity is highest, to the scant, slow-growing vegetation of the high plateau where trees are stunted or absent.

Kikori, a land of opportunity

In the area, a number of oil exploration ventures have been operating for 5-10 years.  PNG’s first commercial oil deposits were found there by the Kutubu Joint Venture (KJV). This company has constructed a pipeline to the Gulf of Papua and is actively extracting oil from the region.

Wildlife

WWF studies show that some 60 species of mammals are present in the area, representing almost half of all the mammals found in PNG.

The Kikori region contains an extremely rich array of birds of paradise, cassowaries (Casuarius species), New Guinea harpy-eagles (Harpyopsis novaeguineae), and vulturine parrots (Gypopsitta vulturina), and is home to one of the world's rarest birds, the greater melampittas (Melampitta species).

The world's longest lizard, the Salvadori monitor (Varanus salvadorii), the world's second largest butterfly - the Goliath birdwing (Ornithoptera goliath) butterfly – have all elected to populate different habitats in the Kikori Basin.

People

Few people live in the Kikori Basin. Those that do live a life of isolation, poorly serviced by government services such as roads, education, health care or development programs. As a result, local people have traditionally been self-reliant.

Approximately 60,000 villagers live in this region, primarily subsistence farmers and hunters. But as they are more exposed to outside influences and the cash economy, their ways of life are changing and this affects their impact on the environment

Threats

Logging is currently the largest threat to the long-term sustainability of the environment in Kikori. The local people are tempted by access to the cash economy that aggressive large-scale loggers offer them if they sell them rights to their land. However, other unsustainable uses of resources, such as the overfishing of lakes, also threaten the biodiversity of the Kikori basin.

What WWF is doing

In 1994, WWF initiated the Kikori Integrated Conservation and Development Project, which promotes well-managed forestry and community development activities.

In an effort to conserve the biodiversity and social stability of the region, WWF and the Kutubu Joint Venture (KJV) have partnered, with the KJV providing funding and WWF executing the project.

In 1998, Kikori's Lake Kutubu was designated as a RAMSAR site, which highlights the area's important wetland values.

The proposed partnership has proven both farsighted and practical in meeting the need to integrate environmental conservation and rural development in the vicinity of PNG's first commercial oil field.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required