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The Story of Tuke Rainforest Conservancy

In August 2016, three members of the Tuke community set out on a journey from their village in the Nakanai Mountains of New Britain in Papua New Guinea to the town of Kimbe on the coast on a critical mission. They walked for three days to meet a man that they had never met before, but had heard was successful in tourism.

Tuke village is set deep in the Nakanai Mountains of New Britain and is a treasure trove of natural beauty. Photos: © Tiana Reimann.

For months, they had watched the destruction occurring to the landscape around their village, an area in which their ancestors had resided for centuries. Enormous tracts of forest were being heavily logged and cleared for palm oil plantations. Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of valuable tropical hardwood was leaving the coast bound for distant shores. And soon there would be nothing left.

Images of cleared rainforest to build a road. © Luke McNee

The Tuke community wanted desperately to keep their way of life and protect the forest they had taken care of for thousands of years. They were looking for an alternative solution to the logging.

The man they had come to see was Riccard Reimann, born and bred PNG resident and owner of Baia Sport Fishing Lodge. Riccard listened to their story and began scoping the area, discovering how diverse and magnificent the inland mountains were and the importance of this area to Papua New Guinea. He also found a community with tremendous vision and passion for their rainforest and was determined to help them ensure it was protected forever. Riccard knew that they would need support in their mission and so called his long-term friend Mark Hutchinson from WildArk to ask if he could help.

Community members chat with WildArk co-founders Mark and Sophie Hutchinson and Richard Reimann of Baia Sportfishing Lodge. Photos: © Luke McNee

Mark and his wife Sophie did not hesitate and recognised the extent of the challenge that lay ahead. They immediately jumped at the opportunity to help this community and their friend. Mark and Sophie had been visiting Riccard for many years, and had also witnessed the once pristine coastline transformed into logging camps and palm oil plantations.

Upon arrival in New Britain, the Hutchinson’s along with Riccard embarked on a gruelling 12-hour hike to the village of Tuke. Trudging through knee-deep mud, across a decimated landscape of logs and roads that were once abundant wilderness, until they reached the Tuke village community.

The WildArk team embarked on a gruelling 12 hour hike to the village of Tuke, experiencing for themselves the remoteness of this location while witnessing the devastating impact of the
illegal logging that has taken place. Photos: © Luke McNee

Nothing could have prepared them for what they saw. Hundreds of miles of
pristine virgin rainforest, magnificent waterfalls, some of the world’s richest
biodiversity, and a village of smiling happy people living how they had lived
for thousands of years.

The combination of biodiversity on community-owned land; local willingness and visionary leadership; opportunities to assist with health, education, and employment and the ability to extend the conservancy significantly into the future represented everything WildArk stands for. Joining forces with Riccard and the Tuke community, WildArk have now created the Tuke Rainforest Conservancy and begun a journey to protect the people and forest of Tuke.

“I want to see this area protected forever, maintaining not just the rich ecosystem but as importantly the culture of the people — Riccard Reimann, Baia SportsFishing Lodge”

The project has kicked off in 2018 with research and planning activities that will provide long-term biodiversity protection around the region.

WildArk and Baia Sportsfishing Lodge will support a university led research team to map the biodiversity of the area, support the education and medical needs of the Tuke Community, scope the potential for hiking, bird watching, river and rainforest low-impact ecotourism, identify and train members of the Tuke community to monitor and report illegal logging activities in the area, assist in the development if subsistence agriculture, renewable energy and better health outcomes.

“When our forest is gone we will have nothing left” — Thomas Telgonu, Tuke Community Spokesperson.