Q&A: Scientist Tim Flannery
The internationally acclaimed scientist, explorer, conservationist and climate change activist is escorting a PNG cruise.
Q: You have travelled to Papua New Guinea previously. Can you tell us about those travels?
A: I made over 20 trips to PNG from 1981 to 2001. I was a mammal researcher at the Australian Museum at the time, and I visited most of the country looking for mammals such as tree kangaroos and kapuls. I spent the longest time in Sandaun Province, around Telefomin and Lumi. The region is so beautiful, with amazing mountain ranges, and it is the home of very interesting cultures. I travelled everywhere with Lester Seri, who is now a senior chief from the Wanigela area. We had a lot of fun, as well as making amazing discoveries.
Q: What were some of those amazing discoveries?
A: I discovered that many of PNG’s largest mammals had not been scientifically described. Earlier explorers had been reluctant to go into the bush for long periods with the local expert hunters, so these hardto-find species had been overlooked. They included three tree kangaroos (the tenkile, golden mantled and Seri’s tree kangaroo) and a wallaby (the alpine pademelon).
Q: What is taking you to PNG this time?
meet some people unlike anyone else we’ve met. And there’s always the chance that we’ll come across some unknown creature.
Q: What excites you about PNG?
A: I love the warm heartedness of the people, the beauty of the landscapes, and the excitement of being in such a poorly known place. There is nowhere else like it.
Q: Are there still new things to discover in PNG?
A: There are still many things to discover in PNG – even new mammals. Among the insects and plants there are many, many discoveries to be made. It will take the work of generations of scientists – hopefully Papua New Guineans themselves – before the nation’s biodiversity is documented.
Q: The Solomon Islands are also on the itinerary for your upcoming cruise. What do you look forward to there?
A: Papua New Guinea is already feeling serious climate impacts, with people being forced to flee their island homes due to rising seas. Sadly, unless Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, many native birds and animals are threatened with extinction. Thankfully, Papua New Guineans are real champions in discussions to address climate change. I watch at the international meetings in admiration as they argue, eloquently, from first-hand experience, of the need to tackle the issue. For a small country, they have a big impact. ■
The World Expeditions’ ‘Melanesia Discoverer’ cruise with Tim Flannery is from October 8–21. The itinerary starts in Madang, with fares from $US6995 a person for a triple cabin. Highlights include bird-watching, exploring the Sepik River, volcanoes and atolls. See worldexpeditions.com. Cruise passengers can connect from Port Moresby to Madang with Air Niugini, which flies there daily.