Nature Park: More than meets the eye


IT is hard to believe that Port Moresby Nature Park is about to celebrate its fifth birthday next month.  In such a short time we have seen and heard of the continuous developments and expansions, attend public days (such as World Wildlife Day and World Environment Day) and we know it has become a must-see destination for tourists to our country.
But there are a few things that we may not all be aware of.
Nature Park officially opened its gates in June 2012, however, the story began in 2010 when Powes Parkop, the NCD governor at the time decided that the National Capital Botanical Gardens was no longer living up to the needs of the community.  He wanted something bigger and better that would bring real benefits to city residents with great recreational spaces but which would also provide community learning and educational opportunities and research and conservation work.  And not only that. He wanted a flagship attraction that would positively promote the rest of Papua New Guinea as a must-see tourism destination.
Through this vision and after two years of preparations, The National Capital District Commission officially launched Nature Park.  The park itself is a registered charity operating under its own trust deed and overseen by an independent board consisting of nominees chosen by the NCDC and POM Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  The Park relied on NCDC and corporate donations for all developments that have taken place since its opening.
Under the helm of general manager Michelle McGeorge and curator Brett Smith, Nature Park has grown from strength to strength.  The two have worked for zoos in a number of countries including Australia, Taiwan and China. The school excursion programme Come Explore With Us has become one of the park’s great success stories.  Developed in order to support the learning outcomes of the PNG curriculum, the park runs a unique programme for each school year, elementary to grade 12.  When the programme first launched in 2012 only 2400 students participated but by 2016, numbers had soared over 16,500 in that year alone, with a total of over 60,000 NCD students now having benefited from the programme.
On the success of the programme, McGeorge noted that in 2014, Ela Motors and ExxonMobil PNG jointly donated a PMV bus to the park which enabled it to bus in the students. Transport to and from had been the greatest hurdle for schools wanting to participate. Other sponsors, including Pacific MMI, G4S and NCDC Transport Division, provide ongoing support.
Another key element in the school excursion programme’s success is the development of a ‘sister-zoo’ partnership with Zoos Victoria (which operates Melbourne Zoo, Healesville Sanctuary and Werribee Zoo). This has enabled staff from each organisation to visit sister facilities and share ideas and skills.
In recent times, the park has ambitiously started a number of animal breeding and research programmes, including the commitment to take on 47 pig-nosed turtle hatchlings in 2015, from the Kikori Delta region to study the growth rates of this little-studied species.  The research project is being done in partnership with the University of Canberra and the Piku Pig-nosed turtle project through funding by ExxonMobil PNG.
The project is a ‘head-start’ programme, the first ever attempted on this species that is focused on determining the animal’s growth rates.  This has required the Nature Park’s Wildlife Department, coordinated by Wildlife Officer Susan Fari, to measure weekly the shell width and weight of each turtle for almost two years.  In the wild, newly hatched turtles have about a one percent chance of survival to adulthood.
At the Nature Park, the turtles have been safely growing in weight and size and the second part of the research project, expected to commence at the end of this year, will see the turtles returned to their birthplace to measure the success rate of survival.  It is hoped that as they will be too big to be eaten by common predators their survival rate will be closer to 30 percent.
Another research programme that the Nature Park has committed to involves Australia’s CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) and the study of the thousands of spectacle flying-foxes that migrate to Port Moresby Nature Park each year and spend a good eight months living in the grounds.  The study is focused on the genetics of the animals to determine where the animals are actually migrating from, with Australia and Madang among the top possible scenarios.  The study also seeks to examine the health of the animals.
Breeding programmes have also been a focus of the Nature Park as part of its commitment to sustainable management of its wildlife collection.  To date the park has successfully bred a number of species including tree kangaroos, birds of paradise, cuscus, gouria pigeons, and multiple parrot and wallaby species.  Most recently, the park successfully bred a blue-winged kookaburra, thought to be the first captive breeding of this species in the country.
Nature Park attributes its successes to a well-thought out vision, business and master plan and its commitment to meeting international standards in what it hopes sets a new benchmark for PNG.
In 2015 the Nature Park became PNG’s only member in the Zoo and Aquarium Association of Australasia (ZAA), the industry body governing animal welfare standards and practices of good zoos across the region.  Membership required Nature Park to meet a number of criteria, policies and procedures that demonstrated the park’s commitment to animal welfare, education and conservation and, for those of us in PNG, gives us great reassurance that Nature Park is truly worldclass and recognised on a global scale.
That the park is recognised internationally was further affirmed in May 2016 when Nature Park won a ZAA award (think the Oscars for zoos) in innovation against some of Australia’s and New Zealand’s big zoos for its establishment of the sister-zoo partnership programme with Zoos Victoria.  At the time, McGeorge said that it was a huge acknowledgment of the amazing work that the park’s staff are doing and something that PNG should be exceptionally proud of.
The future of the Nature Park is certainly something that the community is excited to witness, with the master plan outlining a number of new developments including new attractions for a number of animal species.
McGeorge is quick to note, however, that as a charity and as a community dedicated facility, the continued success and development of the park is only possible on the continued commitment of NCDC and the government, sponsorship support from businesses and visitation from the community.
She noted that a number of projects are ready for implementation but that full funding to commence are yet to be secured.
However, McGeorge said that the Nature Park would work hard to find the support it needed in order to see the projects completed for the benefit of the community, PNG’s natural environment and as a flagship tourism site for the upcoming Apec summit.
And if the response of the community is anything to go by with 125,000 people expected to visit this year alone, it is clear that we can’t wait to see what Nature Park does next.

  • Burgess Yopolo is marketing and communications manager, Port Moresby Nature Park.

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