By Dr Andrew Rylance
Chief Technical Advisor - Environment
United Nations Development Programme
Papua New Guinea
World Wildlife Day, on 3 March, is an opportunity to celebrate Papua New Guinea’s exceptional wildlife, and the forests that sustain our people and Planet.
Papua New Guinea is blessed with incomparable levels of diversity. On World Wildlife Day 2021 we focus on ‘Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet’, to highlight the central role of forests, forest species and ecosystems that sustain people globally, particularly forest communities.
Papua New Guinea’s forests are recognized as one of the most significant areas of intact forest in the world, significant for their role in absorbing greenhouse gases and regulating regional weather patterns to benefit all life.
The United Nations Development Programme, in Papua New Guinea, is implementing a national project that aims to strengthen the management of protected areas. Supporting Government and local communities to expand numbers and size of Wildlife Management Areas, and Community Conserved Areas, the project works to reverse decline of wildlife species, and degradation of natural ecosystems important to the country and local livelihoods.
UNDP conserving forests in Papua New Guinea
In the last five years UNDP, with the Conservation and Environment Protection Authority and other important partners, has supported the protection of nearly 270,000 hectares of land such as the YUS Conservation Area in Morobe Province, named after the Yopno, Uruwa, and Som Rivers that sustain fifty remote villages in the region.
Other projects include Varirata National Park in Central Province, and Torricelli Mountain Range Conservation Area, a stunningly important mountain range in Sandaun Province of north-western Papua New Guinea. The Torricelli Mountain Range is home to 50 % of all Papua New Guinea’s bird species, 65% of frogs and reptiles, and 40% of mammal species of which four are critically endangered. With three bird species also endangered, this rich biodiversity is worth protecting.
UNDP will support over 2.25 million hectares over the next five years, including Mount Wilhelm National Park, Kimbe Bay, and Sepik Wetlands. Mount Wilhelm is the highest mountain in Papua New Guinea at 4,500m at the intersection of Madang, Simbu and Jawaka Provinces. One of the world’s seven regions of highest plant diversity, Mt Wilhelm hosts a large proportion of overall diversity in Papua New Guinea, including important species of bats, mainland birds, ficus figs, butterflies, and frogs.
Save our frogs
Did you know a third of reptiles, and 77% of frogs, are endemic to Papua New Guinea, meaning they exist nowhere else on Planet Earth? Frogs are regarded as a good indicator species for environmental change, an early warning system, and these warnings have started. Eleven species of frogs are currently on the threatened species list due to population decline from large-scale land clearing.
Frogs of New Guinea island have so far escaped the amphibian chytrid fungus that has decimated global frog populations. In response to potential impacts of this infectious fungus, Port Moresby Nature Park’s successful breed-for-release programme aims to restore Papua New Guinea’s healthy frog population starting with green tree frogs.
Maintaining sustainable use of natural resources in wildlife habitats is critical to ensure nature’s ecosystem services are available for future generations. Over-exploitation of wildlife tips the scales where nature cannot recover – fish stocks decline, or food crops are not pollinated by bees. Currently, over 370 animal species in the country are listed as threatened.
People and forests
Nature and wildlife are deeply connected with culture and tradition. The two cannot be separated in Papua New Guinea. Forests and islands represent sacred areas, with traditions passed down through generations.
People are also dependent on natural resources for sustenance, with 1,035 different plant species known to be used for various purposes.
UNDP’s work supports value-adding for economic activities such as coffee and cocoa production, and fisheries management, in a way that enhances the protection of high conservation value areas, which at the same time supports livelihoods. This increases food security and income generation for many communities, particularly for women.
World Wildlife Day is a time to celebrate the connection between people and Nature in Papua New Guinea. It is also a call to action to ensure this connection remains strong for future generations.
 Steffen, 2015
 Allison & Tallowin, 2015
 IUCN, 2020
 Port Moresby Nature Park: Green tree frog breeding program. Media Release.
 Considered under the categories critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable (IUCN, 2020).
For web version:
Learn more about YUS Conservation Area: https://undp-biodiversity.exposure.co/a-generation-of-leaders
YUS & Tree Kangaroo Conservation: https://undp-biodiversity.exposure.co/a-home-in-the-clouds
Green tree frogs: The Park’s first captive bred GREEN TREE FROGS RELEASED into the wild (portmoresbynaturepark.org)