Zookeepers Jim and Jean Thomas braved the steamy jungles of Papua New Guinea to save a little known tree kangaroo from extinction. Only one hundred were left in the world.
Starring Jim & Jean Thomas and the People of the Torricelli mountains. Featuring Sir David Attenborough, Jane Goodall & Tim Flannery.
You might find it hard to believe, but some kangaroos live in trees! Tree kangaroos are one of the world’s best kept wildlife secrets. But in Papua New Guinea, they are struggling for survival: they are being hunted to extinction. A few years ago, the entire world population of the Tenkile, one of the rarest species, was down to just one hundred individuals.
Jim and Jean Thomas were Australian zookeepers when they found out about the plight of the Tenkile and decided to do something to save it. They travelled to the remote wilds of the Torricelli Mountains in Papua New Guinea.
When they arrived they were shocked. The people who were hunting the Tenkile were desperate. Still living the way they had for centuries, they were isolated from the rest of the country and had no access to electricity, clean water or any of the services most people would consider essential. They had also run out of animals to hunt.
Adapting to life in Papua New Guinea was tough for Jim and Jean. With no outside communications, they were completely isolated and struggled with a culture very different from their own. Despite numerous setbacks and hardships, they introduced the people to alternative food sources and worked with them to better manage and protect their environment. With funding from the European Union and WaterAid, they were able to provide clean water and sanitation to fifty remote villages. This had a huge impact on the health and welfare of more than ten thousand people across the Torricellis.
This in turn has helped the Tenkile. In the fourteen years since Jim and Jean arrived, their population has risen to more than three hundred. Healthy, well-fed people are far less likely to be driven to hunt.
But the work is far from over. Jim and Jean are now working to improve living conditions right across the mountains. More water supplies, tin roofs for houses and better agricultural practices are the next step.
Jim and Jean Thomas have taken a huge leap in pioneering how conservation is conducted in tribal areas. If they can get the support they need and it is successful, then this model could be used in South America, Africa and Oceania to stop further exploitation of natural resources.
From their first effort to save one creature, they could potentially impact thousands more animal species and human lives.
To find out more about Jim & Jean’s work at TCA or find out more information of tree kangaroos, click on this link to go to TCA’s website.
Grizzled Tree Kangaroos in PNG
JIM & JEAN THOMAS AT WORK
Shooting a village feast
Feature-length documentaries on Papua New Guinea are seldom made. The wild, remote locations and unpredictable climate and political circumstances present considerable challenges. So making a film like Into the Jungle provides a unique opportunity not only to profile the amazing work of Jim and Jean Thomas, but to get a rare insight into how life is for the people who live in the wilderness areas of this country.
As a small NGO, (non-government organisation) Jim and Jean have already been very effective in helping and educating a group of villages comprising more than ten thousand people. While that’s a significant population, it’s not so big that they need an incredible amount of money to be able to make a real difference. Their methods, so far very successful, have the potential to become a model for other communities and conservation programs.
As Jim said to me, conservation is 10 per cent studying animals and 90 per cent working with people, because it is the people who ultimately create or destroy habitat. And it’s the people’s circumstances right now that will make this documentary extraordinary. How will they move forward without destroying their cultural heritage and the incredible biodiversity of the jungle they live in?
People in Papua New Guinea have retained more of their original culture than most other tribal-based communities around the world.
But in the last few decades the rate at which they have had to change and adapt to outside influences has been astounding. Eighty years ago, most of the population was living as it had for centuries, with little change. Then the mining speculators arrived, followed closely by the missionaries. In really remote areas, village culture still hasn’t changed much yet. The forest is still their economy and their traditions are still their guides. But as population increases, so too will the pace of change.
The people want change and they know it’s out there. Every time a helicopter flies overhead they think that maybe they’re missing out on the real action.
This a story of the human condition at its most precarious, a huge turning point that will effect future generations of people, and many threatened species. As a filmmaker I find myself in a unique position where I can capitalise on the extraordinary goodwill that Jim and Jean have created in the wilderness. It means I have the people’s trust and can move safely and freely around their villages.
Into the Jungle will be a most fascinating documentary and accessible platform not only for raising questions, but for starting to get at some of the straightforward and achievable answers the people need.
But also not forgetting that the heart of it all is a little animal on the verge of extinction that is now bringing prosperity to people that just a few years ago, could never have been imagined.
Producer/Director Into the Jungle
Mark & his Quadcopter team in Mupun village
Mark Hanlin is an award winning filmmaker who has been working in the film and television industry for more than 20 years. He has written and directed short films, documentaries, television series and hundreds of television commercials.
In 2002, he also spent six months in the Philippines as part of an AusAid initiative, training government workers how to make mini documentaries to promote good governance. He’s also worked in America and Europe with international artists including Lenny Kravitz, Rihanna and Will I Am.