Working life of a female conservationist in remote New Guinea
by Saina Jeffrey
My trip to TCA was to gain the knowledge about the work they do to save the critically
endangered Tenkile Tree Kangaroo, which may add value to my tree kangaroo
conservation work here in with the WWF Kikori River programme.
TCA is located in the vast Torricelli Mountains in the North West of Papua New Guinea
and is one of the mountain ranges that form PNG’s North Coastal Range. It is also a
home to many rare species of fauna and flora and is highly biodiverse.
Upon arrival at Limi, on a MAF Cessna, I was greeted by Alison Kufa, a loyal staff of
TCA, who was my tour guide and associate at TCA. Alison is from Maiwetem village and
works as a facilitator under their Rural Water Suppy and Sanitation Program. I found
Alison to be a motivated, enthusiastic and a resilient woman.
After spending 3 days at the base camp, Allison and I prepared for a field trip, one
that did not require a car or a plane but steer determination to accomplish. Our
destination Wikotei village, located north-west of the base camp. We packed all vital
items required for fieldwork in one bag with some food. We never planned for carriers
since we could have turns in carrying this load.
During our planning, I was told that if we walked quickly, we could reach Wikotei village
in 6 or 7 hours time. Well I didn’t imagine the challenges that await an outsider like
myself, nor the usefulness of carriers. It was only towards the end of trip that I was
embittered, realising that Wikotei village was the only village doing rabbit farming and
was not even close!
We left the TCA base camp at 9:00 am, walking northwest of the TCA base camp.
Instead of 6 or 7 hours of walk it took us 12 hours and approximately 20 km passing
through 19 villages of Lumi, Flobum, Otei, Metatei, Tawetei, Eritei, Wagoitei, Sigaitei,
Rauwetei, Mewautei, Wabutei, Sarboutei, Fatima, Kupoum, Tolgetei and eventually
Wikotei. It would have been easier if one of the first three or four villages we passed
did rabbit farming so that’s not the reality. Even the trek and the vast terrain was
My story is one of defying the odds in order to
experience and learn, as a female conservationist working
in remote Papua New Guinea. It would be tame not to
provide at least a brief account of my visit to the Tenkile
Conservation Alliance (TCA), located in Torricelli
mountains, a remote part of Sandaun Province.
2. I made up my mind not to sleep in any other villages but continued to trek until we
accomplished the misson, whilst making few stops when we met people, who gave us
betelnut or when we wanted to drink from freshwater creeks. At 6:00pm we arrived at
Kevangi creek where we had few refreshments. Then we continued again for another
kilometre, when dusk was fast approaching. Luckily we were met by a group of teenage
boys who were sent by a TCA staff Patrick Ikon. We soon arrived at Tolgetei village at
8:30pm, and were surprised by a mother’s group in their traditional costumes who
welcomed us in Torricelli style which made me in tears. I was rather confused if the
tears are expressive of my excitement or from the torment suffered from this long
walk. Actually the pain in my leg together with my weight was really an agonizing
experience that evening. My throat was getting drier and my feet were becoming
painful when we left Tolgete and coming closer to our final destination, Wikotei village.
I was upset that Wikotei was still a 2 km away from Tolgete village where we were
welcomed. Anyhow we finally reached Wikotei at 9:00pm and rested at Patrick Ikon’s
rest house in this village. The rabbit project was about 200 metres away from the rest
I got so tired, and also sore after all those travels for 12 hours. My feet started to
swell the minute we arrived at Wikotei, so went straight to bed after a warm bath at
the rest house and dinner, and I didn’t know what the food tasted like.The night was
not peaceful for me as my feet started to swell and ache increases and I did not sleep
well. Even though I was sick, I knew that I had to accomplish something before I
returned to Moro. I still had a chance to complete my mission. I was assisted by Patrick
to walk the rabbit projects owned by a local, Vincent Wengerbi and take a few photos.
I also had a chance to interview Vincent and gather technical information on rabbit
farming. After listening and getting all the notes from the discussions with the farmer
and other locals. That day I prayed continually "God, there has to be more to life than
this. I ask that you do whatever it takes to get me out of this place. If you have to
take all that I have away, then do it." After awhile I called our Port Moresby office to
let my bosses know of my situation. After getting the feedback I was so happy and
same time appreciate of their support. They did their best to get me out of Torricelli.
On the following day, a total of 12 men were arranged to carry me on a stretcher for 4
hours from Wikotei village to Fatima which was the nearest station where a vehicle was
arranged to pick me up. Early morning at 4:30am the next day, I was carried on a 2.5m
in length by 1m width stretcher by the boys from Wikotei village. The trip was 4 hours
and eventually we arrived at Fatima station at 8:30am. Because of the deteriorating
road condition, the vehicle arrived late from Lumi at 2:00pm. The vehicle was arranged
by the Senior Project Officer of TCA, Mathew Akon. The carriers and vehicle hire was
paid in cash by TCA and later reimbursed by WWF. I flew out of Lumi to Wewak the
next day and finally had peace in my heart. I slowly recovered for nearly three days
and returned to site in Moro. I have learnt a lot from this experience!
I now wonder “what would have happened to me if I had lost my nerves back then”