Wildlife exploitation in New Guinea forests

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from left to right: agardwood © WWF - Paul Chatterton / Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) © WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY / Hunter, Papua New Guinea © Brent Stirton/WWF-UK/Getty Images
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Undoing evolution’s wonders

A peculiar turtle, 2 crocodile species and a fragrant wood. At first glance, these species don’t appear to have much in common. But a closer look at their population status brings up disturbing evidence - all are threatened from over-exploitation.
Wildlife use and trade in New Guinea concerns several species that are in high demand either for local subsistence, or for export. As forests are opened up by logging and forest conversion for plantations, there is a risk that the scale of wildlife exploitation will increase significantly, with dramatic consequences for target species.

The problem with trading wildlife

Wildlife trade represents the second-biggest direct threat to species survival after habitat destruction.
 
The most obvious problem associated with wildlife trade is that it can cause overexploitation to the point where the survival of a species hangs in balance.

Historically, such overexploitation has caused species to become either severely threatened or extinct, and as human populations have expanded, demand for wildlife has only increased.

A closer look at…

A Lost Story Place: the fate of Tenkile
On a mountain summit called Sweipini, there is a small and circular lake. This place was once the most sacred place in the entire Olo Region of Papua New Guinea. People once believed that the lake is inhabited by giant eels that if woken, would cause terrible weather, destroying gardens and causing starvation. As a result, locals seldom ventured into this area, making it safe for a range of species. This included the tenkile tree kangaroo, and Olo people acknowledged that Sweipini was the last refuge for the species.

In 1990, a local man decided that the ‘devil eels’ should be exorcised by a Catholic priest, a decision that was duly acted upon. Suddenly, the ‘taboo’ for the area was no longer there, and people began hunting in the area around the lake.

One month after the ‘exorcising’, 11 adult tenkile had been captured in the area, including mother with young. By late 1990, tree kangaroos were a thing of the past in Sweipini.

Source: Flannery, T. 1994. The Future Eaters. Reed New Holland.

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