KARAU Kuna, a long time staffer of the Tree Kangaroo Conservation program in Papua New Guinea, has been awarded a Whitley Award for his conservation efforts at a ceremony in London.

Including a prize of £35,000 for project funding, the award was presented for Mr Kuna’s work in bringing together landowners to ensure protection of the Yopno-Uruwa-Som (YUS) Conservation area.

Measuring 1,500 square kilometres in the Huon Peninsula, the conservation area is home to a series of endangered species and more endemic birds and mammals than any other like-sized area in mainland New Guinea.

It is one of only three major Tropical Wilderness areas worldwide and is so remote that it can only be reached by foot or boat.

Mr Kuna has worked with the Tree Kangaroo Conservation program in the area for over a decade – working with villagers who own the land to develop resource use plans that are now recognised in national policy.

Over the course of his work, Mr Kuna has developed Community Land-Use Plans (LUP) with 50 villages to ensure a consensus on resource use that takes into account both people’s welfare and conservation priorities.

With his Whitley Award money, Mr Kuna will create additional community plans to manage and carry out conservation actions in the YUS landscape to 2020.

Pressure from logging and mining companies is threatening the traditional culture of indigenous people and the project is working to help them to conserve their rich natural heritage for future generations and act as a beacon for other communities to emulate.

Founder of the Whitley Fund for Nature Edward Whitley said the award was about recognising and celebrating the small battles which cumulatively add up to significant change at the national level.

“In addition to the financial benefit of winning an award, our winners receive professional communications training to turn scientists into ambassadors, so they’re able to communicate what they’re doing to the public and to policy makers,” he said.