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Kaijende Highlands Conservation Area

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 communities.

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 as well as the dominant feature in wilderness area of 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 birds like the New Guinea Harpy Eagle and the Shovel-billed Kingfisher (Beehler 2007). During a recent rapid biological assessment (RAP) of this region, sixteen species of plants and nine species of amphibians were discovered that we're new to science (Richards 2007). In addition, three species of amphibians, six species of birds and twelve species of mammals were discovered each regarded as a "species of conservation concern" (Richards 2007).

Since 2005, the Porgera Joint Mining 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. 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.


Figure 1: Proposed boundary for the new Kaijende Conservation Area


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 (see Appendix 4).

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 Porgera Joint Venture. 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.


Headwaters of the Strickland Conservation Area

The Laigaip River

The proposed Headwaters of the Strickland Conservation Area encompass 200,000 hectares of sub-montane forest in the Laigaip River catchment. It is home to biodiversity that rivals that of the Amazon; is one of the least explored regions on earth; and part of the largest intact forest ecosystem in the Pacific.

The Headwaters of the Strickland Conservation Area is part of the limestone district that runs through the center of the island of New Guinea, extending from Kutubu in the east to the Star Mountains in the west. This is the largest tract of karst topography in Papuasia (Takeuchi 2011).

Stretching northward from the Central Range, this is a globally significant wilderness area located along the riverine systems that mark the intersection of the Central Range and the Star Highlands (Swatzendruber 1993). Here the Lagaip and OK Om Rivers combine to form the Headwaters of the Strickland, the major tributary of the Fly River. In 1993, an international team of conservationists, conducting a national Conservation Needs Assessment for Papua New Guinea (CNA) declared that this region is:

  • A “major terrestrial unknown” and a national conservation priority (Swatzendruber 1993: 11).
  • A “priority” for Biodiversity Conservation (Swatzendruber 1993: 15).
  • Vital to the health of the Gulf of Papua (Swatzendruber 1993:12).

This region remains virtually unexplored. In 2008-09, a Rapid Biological Assessment (RAP) conducted by Conservation International in conjunction with the Papua New Guinea Department of Environment and Conservation and the Papua New Guinea Institute of Biological Research, found 50 species new to science.

The discoveries of this RAP garnered international attention ( for Papua New Guinea (PNG). Since this was the first systematic scientific exploration of this region, there are undoubtedly more discoveries to be made and even more positive publicity to be generated for PNG.

The proposed conservation area is part of a rainy upland zone that is home to a society of shifting horticulturalists known as the Hewa. The Hewa number fewer than 2,000 people and are one of Papua New Guinea’s most remote societies.  Their low population and large tracts of homeland forest make the Hewa guardians to the richest forest biodiversity in Papua New Guinea. Since 2005, PJV has assisted the Hewa with the documentation of their traditional environmental knowledge through the Forest Stewards Initiative. The health of these forest is vital not only to the Hewa, but also to the continued viability of New Guinea’s coastal ecosystems and reefs—unique marine ecosystems that rely on the pristine waters delivered by these pristine uplands.

The forests that stretch northward from the Lake Kopiago are undoubtedly globally important for carbon sequestration, biodiversity and watershed protection. By establishing the Headwaters of the Strickland Conservation Area, Papua New Guinea (PNG) will not only make an invaluable contribution to its’ conservation heritage, it will also bring international recognition to this region.  Along with the Forest Stewards Intitiative, the conservation area will bring long-term benefits to the Hewa.

The recommended Conservation Area contains 200,000 hectares of the greatest rainforest wilderness in the Pacific

References Cited:

Swartzendruber, J. F. 1993.
Conservation Needs Assessment, USAID. Biodiversity Support Program. Washington D.C.

Takeuchi , W.  2011.
Vascular plants of the Strickland Basin, Papua New Guinea: Taxonomic and Vegetation survey. In A Rapid Biological Assessments of the Nakanai Mountains and the upper Strickland Basin: surveying the biodiversity of Papua New Guinea’s sublime karst environments. Richards, S. and B. Gamui (Eds.). RAP Bulletin of Biological Assessment 60. Conservation International pp. 119-157.


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