Kaijende Highlands Conservation Area
Enga Province Papua New Guinea
The Kaijende Highland Landowners; William Thomas Ph.D; and Porgera Joint Venture
The Kaijende Highlands consists of over 120,000 hectares of montane grasslands, forests and spectacular geologic features. Located in Enga Province south of the Porgera Station, these montane habitats (above 2,000m.) are the traditional hunting grounds of the Engan, Wage and Ipili speaking communities that live in the surrounding lower elevation land.
While the Kaijende Highlands are uninhabited, the region represents a habitat of global significance. The Cyathea savanna that is found between 3,000 - 3,400m is unique in New Guinea and is the dominant feature in this wilderness area, giving it global value and spectacular beauty (Richards 2007). The Kaijende Highlands are also home to four species of birds of paradise -- Brown Sickelbill, Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, King of Saxony Bird of Paradise and the Short-tailed Paradigalla --as well as other increasingly rare birds like the New Guinea Harpy Eagle and the Shovel-billed Kingfisher (Beehler 2007). During a recent rapid biodiversity assessment (RAP) of this region, sixteen species of plants and nine species of amphibians were discovered that were new to science (Richards 2007). In addition, three species of amphibians, six species of birds and twelve species of mammals were discovered that are regarded as a "species of conservation concern" (Richards 2007).
Since 2005, the Porgera Joint Venture (PJV) has worked with the local communities to develop a strategy for the conservation and sustainable use of the Kaijende Highlands. In 2005, PJV partnered with Conservation International, the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, the South Australia Museum and the PNG Department of Environment and Conservation to sponsor the above mentioned RAP. Once it was determined that the actual conservation values of this region matched those predicted by the 1993 Conservation Needs Assessment (CNA), PJV has partnered with Dr. William Thomas of Montclair State University to implement a bio-cultural conservation project called the Forest Stewards. Since 2005, the Forest Stewards have been working with the local communities to record their traditional environmental knowledge of the Kaijende Highlands. The fifteen men currently engaged in this process will constitute the core of the Rangers necessary to monitor the proposed Conservation Area. In the meantime, they, along with Dr. Thomas are in the process of developing a Guide to the Birds of the Kaijende Highlands. This guidebook is to be released in 2014 and will be written in both English and each of the three languages spoken in the surrounding communities. Since these books detail the impact of human activities on biodiversity, they will form the basis of the management plan for the region -- a management plan based upon the traditions and knowledge of the local landowners.
Given the pressures of impending climate change and development, it is vital that we designate the Kaijende Highlands as an internationally recognized Conservation Area while the funding and community and logistical support exist to conserve this unique resource.
The Kaijende Highlands should be a prime candidate for Conservation Area status and inclusion in PNG's national conservation inventory. It is a unique, biologically diverse landscape that is home to many species that are threatened in PNG. In addition, it is home to several species new to science. As you can see from the following graphic (Beehler et. al. 2011), the proposed Conservation Area contains the areas of the highest conservation value, with species and habitats unique to PNG and of international significance.
Relatively free of the impacts of modern land uses, conservation areas can provide sanctuaries for flora and fauna that local people depend on. Traditional owners want to protect their natural history and pass on their knowledge to younger generations. As there is substantial overlap between traditional land use and contemporary conservation management, the proposed Kaijende Highlands Conservation Area represents a considerable opportunity to meet the aspirations of both traditional owners and the broader public.
Moreover, the Kaijende Highlands do not suffer from the handicaps facing many of PNG's conservation worthy landscapes. Namely, while several communities claim the lands, their ownership is not contested. No one lives at this altitude and there are no competing interests mineral etc. A inter community conservation initiative (Forest Stewards Initiative) is currently underway and enjoys broad support. Finally, the establishment of a Conservation Area enjoys the support of the local tourism board and business community, namely PJV. Long-term funding options for this biodiversity conservation initiative, such as the UN Global Environment Fund and PJV's social/environmental closure initiatives are currently viable options.
In short, the Kaijende Highlands contain the scenic beauty and biological diversity to merit Conservation Area status. The social and economic climates in the surrounding communities are both conducive to the conservation of their cultural and biological heritage. If approved, this Conservation Area will have several years of logistical support prior to mine closure to facilitate and smooth operations.