Port Moresby Nature Park recognised internationally
Nicola Gage reports on the Port Moresby attraction that is receiving international accolades.
Surrounded by tropical plants and the calming hum of native birds, it’s easy to forget you’re in Papua New Guinea’s capital while exploring Port Moresby’s Nature Park.
You might encounter the endangered pesquet parrot or come face to face with a cassowary – in that moment, you could be lost in part of the country’s dense, untouched jungle.
The park has come a long way since 2012 when it transformed from the National Capital Botanical Gardens. Recently, it received international recognition for the second time from the Zoo and Aquarium Association of Australasia (ZAA) for its work.
“You can see now, all of the hard work is paying off,” the park’s general manager, Michelle McGeorge, says. “It’s really the first time that an institute holding animals in this country has received an award and been recognised internationally.”
It’s no secret that PNG has one of the most diverse and unique environments in the world. Despite the country making up less than one per cent of the globe’s land area, it contains more than seven per cent of the world’s biodiversity; more than 700 bird species and 20,000 plant types live here, with scientists continuing to discover more.
The nature park is a microcosm of the incredible PNG environment; a canopy walkway leads you through several exhibits where you can see tree kangaroos, a multitude of birds and countless other animals and plants. It runs a series of programs to teach people about protecting the environment – much of PNG’s land remains internationally unprotected.
“For us, the park is really about having a voice to promote those (environmental) issues and raise awareness,” McGeorge says.
“Tourism has been a fantastic benefit but the mission of the charity is to educate Papua New Guineans on their biodiversity, and for them to want to protect the environment.”
The park’s award from ZAA in May recognised this work – specifically, in educating
The nature park is a microcosm of the incredible PNG environment.
youth. Six years ago, a few thousand students were completing the park’s education program, learning about the country’s unique biodiversity. That number jumped to more than 19,000 children last year. It’s expected to rise again in 2018–19.
The park is somewhat of the quiet achiever of Port Moresby. Tourists often fly in, only to jump on another flight to the hotspots of East New Britain, Kavieng or Milne Bay. But managers at the park are slowly attempting to change this, encouraging tourists to spend an extra night in the nation’s capital, to learn about its fascinating flora and fauna.
In September, the park is going through ZAA’s formal international accreditation process, to be considered an international welfare-accredited zoo. This will be a huge feat not only nationally, but on an international stage; it will be the first time a developing country has ever sat a test of this calibre.
“Just the fact that we’re members (of ZAA) is still a massive achievement because we had to submit a whole lot of policy and show that we were operating at what they considered an absolute minimum level,” McGeorge says.
“When we have the accreditation, our welfare standards will be considered equal to Taronga Zoo (Sydney), Melbourne Zoo, all of the top zoos in our region.
“For us, it’s more about saying that PNG is the leader in this space.
“It also means that it opens more doors for us internationally with partnerships, with other zoos and even the UN, for example.”
This year, the park will see a new bird of paradise exhibit open, as well as a reptile precinct.
McGeorge thinks of the park as the gateway to PNG; tourists can visit and get a holistic taste of PNG, before heading off on their holidays elsewhere.
“I guess this is a bit like the teaser or the snapshot of PNG,” she says.
“You can come in and see different parts of the country, different artefacts and cultural displays. It’s that hope we have that we can at least excite in them (tourists) the desire to come back and travel further.”
Nature ramble ... a group of youngsters at Port Moresby Nature Park (above) and one of the feathered residents (opposite page).