IN the southwest of the island of Bougainville, Kainake village is home to virgin, lowland tropical forest inhabited by unique plants and wildlife – including the rare and elusive kamare and monkey-faced bats found only in this region dubbed as the ‘Galapagos of the Western Pacific’.
According to a statement from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) little is known from recent times of the Bougainville giant rat (Solomys salebrosus) – known as kamare in the local language – or the greater monkey-faced bat (Pterolopex flanneryi), both endemic to Bougainville and nearby Solomon Islands.
Both are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered and Critically Endangered, respectively, their numbers decreasing due to hunting and land clearing.
Monkey-faced bats are some of the largest bats in the world and are considered to have originated in this region.
The Bougainville giant rat, which weighs up to two kilogrammes and can grow up to a metre long (including the tail), has not been seen by scientists since 1937, according to the Australian Museum before an expedition sighting in 2016.
Biologist Dr Jeffrey Noro, who grew up in the forests that surround Kainake village, is co-founder of the Kainake Project which has the goal of protection and management of rare and endangered species endemic to Bougainville and the Solomon Island archipelago – a critical eco-region known for its high endemism and speciation.
Over 60 hectares of this conservation site in Siwai district make up the Kainake Community Conservation and Research Area.
Co-funded by the UNDP Small Grants Programme (SGP) in its initial stage, the Kainake Project is now being recognised by international and national academic institutions and the district’s local MP Timothy Masiu (South Bougainville).
Dr Noro, who champions conservation work in his community, explained that the site’s successful implementation had allowed several research opportunities – especially the conservation research and population survey of threatened mammals endemic to the Solomon Island archipelago.
“The giant tree rat is widespread in Bougainville, however sightings of this rodent are very rare. Its decline in population is mainly due to habitat destruction from agriculture and is also hunted as a source of protein,” said Dr Noro, who attained his PhD in microbiology and molecular biology from the University of NSW, and now is director of policy for the PNG Science and Technology Secretariat.
He said the conservation of these two mammal species would have immense impact due to their cultural significance and their critical ecological roles as seed dispersers for ecosystem maintenance.
The Kainake Project’s work is also empowering the community by providing them with different types of training to improve personal and livelihood choices and, at the same time, highlighting the importance of sustainability.
The research facility has become a learning hub for locals to learn life skills training and potential income generation for communities through opportunities such as vanilla farming. This essentially relieves pressure on the area, in terms of logging and hunting wildlife.
In September 2018, the community launched a book called Kuna Siuwai Pokong – Medicinal Plants from Siwai at the Jarvis Dooney Galerie in Berlin, Germany, during the European Month of Photography. This endeavour to record indigenous knowledge of traditional plant-based medicine – and to keep alive the region’s traditional oral culture – has seen the project grow significantly over the years.
This approach to conservation has gained further international recognition illustrated by a recent collaboration with the Australian Museum for the preservation of the monkey-faced bat and giant tree rat species.
The conservation area is currently being managed and regulated by the Kainake Village Assembly made up of all the land-owning clans that have rights over the conservation area.
The Kainake Project operates as a community-based organisation that supports the work of the Kainake Village Assembly, a third tier of government under the Bougainville Council of Elders Act 1997. – UNDP