By PISAI GUMAR
ONE cannot resist the fullness of wildlife within the artificial rainforest canopy of the Rainforest Habitat on the University of Technology campus in Lae.
The foliage is similar to thick greenery in the Bia-Waria jungles of Bulolo, Huon Gulf in Morobe or Sohe in Northern – places I have had the opportunity to experience.
The freshness here soon illuminates my mind with vivid memories as I step into the foliage and the mind wanders off into the soft air that nestles various wildlife species.
Within this environment, one can experience a new birth into a living hope that brings joy in the midst of tragedy we endure daily in our physical world.
The calmness it offers triggers the heart and brings peace of mind that relieves uncertainties and bad thoughts.
Sadly, however, this magnificent sanctuary has been neglected to deteriorate over time.
The wildlife within the artificial rainforest canopy comprises numerous species of trees, palms, fish, tortoise, freshwater crocodiles, birds in all sizes and species, insects, creeping plants, lizards and snakes.
Thoughts soon glide away into the fresh air encircling the canopy amidst the mimicking of of soft purikiko (melody) the tree branches create by rubbing at each other as the wind tosses them.
The whispering purikiko then leads the ears and eyes up the walkway up to the canopy rooftop.
This walkway takes you to sections of the habitat holding various tamed species that live in the artificial home with closeness to humans.
Then come the female Lesser and Raggiana Birds of Paradise dancing away with their magnificent feathers on tree branches near you.
Their tunes entertain and instill perfect peace.
The colorful fluttering feathers and wings of the Birds of Paradise should make one wonder why we take for granted the biodiversity in our land of thousand tongues that is our pride and identity.
After a tour of the enclosure, one can sit back at a café located below the eastern end corner for lunch before retiring. The couple of crowned pigeons (Goura) walks by to see if you are kind enough to share some left overs with them.
Then, stepping out of the main exit, your mind reverts to consciousness and reawakening your feelings of the challenges in the world.
It is sad to learn that about 200 rare animal species kept at the Rainforest Habitat have died because the custodians of the facility were unable to manage and maintain the zoo and sustain the wellbeing of the plants and animals.
The facilities have deteriorated over time.
The habitat’s interim manager Brian Baring and senior supervisor James Wak could not disclose the precise number animals that have died while in captivity.
The death of the animals and overall appalling state of the habitat was the result of constant changes in management over time.
Baring estimates that K150,000 is needed to give a new lease of life to Rainforest Habitat.
An overhaul of equipment and a facelift to the zoo, gift shop, guest house, function area, grounds, landscaping and orchid gardens are badly needed. Proper training and protective gear for rangers are also required.
The habitat was initiated in 1994 under the management of Peter Clark who worked in partnership with various government agencies and companies in Lae.
A number of companies had made committments to sponsor and maintain different sections of the habitat and specific animal species.
Rainforest Habitat is situated on 10 acres of land comprising a zoo, function area, general grounds and a guest house within the university campus.
Baring is determined to restore and improve the plants and the animals’ living conditions to expected standards. The habitat needs animal cages, and a continuous supply of food and water to mammals, plants, birds, the outer fish ponds, crocodile pools, and the tree kangaroo sanctuary.
The sanctuary was was established with the intention to conserve specific species of PNG’s flora and fauna that were faced with extinction due to an increase in logging and climate change.
These rare species of birds, mammals, butterflies and plants are also here to promote educational and eco-tourism, student research and excursions, wildlife management studies and World Environment Day celebrations. The habitat also attracted international tourists.
The habitat brings wildlife closer to people in urban areas and minimises travelling costs to rural areas to see the species or conduct research work.
Also urban families spend weekends in the zoo so children would get to know some of the types of animals, birds and plants in the country.
Rainforest Habitat also provides facilities to accommodate functions for companies, government agencies, church and women groups, and the public at large.
Unitech in its wisdom registered the Rainforest Habitat as a non-governmental organisation in 2017 purposely to manage its own affairs and generate enough money to cater for its needs including wages for the staff.
Most companies which had initally assisted the operations of the habitat have however, unplugged their support due to continuous mismanagement changes over the years.
Baring aims to restore that lost confidence and trust.
Regardless of the management issues resulting in the rundown facilities, Trukai Industries Ltd, Mainland Holdings Ltd and Zenag Chicken stood the test of time to assist wherever possible, even up to this day.
Baring needs 10 permanent ground staff but has only five at the moment.
The habitat needs K250 per week to feed the animals. Fresh foods such as pawpaw and pandanus, ripe bananas, frozen chicken and boiled rice are needed daily to feed the animals and birds.
However, Baring is underfeeding the animals at the moment because he spends K120 per week due to unsteady income.
When the habitat was operating well, K3,000 per month in internal revenue was generated by the guest house, however, there are fewer guests using the facility today than in the past years.
The guest house has 10 rooms comprising four family rooms at K165 per night, two single rooms at K85 and two twin share rooms at K125.
It has a common kitchen and shower including a conference room that can cater for 20 people.
It has two function areas provided with electricity, water and barbeque areas.
Companies are charged K500, families K300, and schools and church groups of less than 20 people K150.
It costs K1,000 to cater for weddings with bigger numbers of guests and Rainforest Habitat provides extra function areas and pot plants as complements.
It provides pot plants for hire as well.
Visits into Rainforest Habitat cost K10 for adults and K5 for children.
Baring aims to form a committee comprising representatives from Lae Chamber of Commerce, Lae City Authority and Lae Tourism Bureau to oversee the management and affairs of Rainforest Habitat.
The habitat has a long history and is known the world over.
It attracted student Johanna Strobel, 24, from Leipzig, Germany to ask Baring to do her internship through an arrangement with Morobe Development Foundation (MDF) Inc for two months.
Strobel will soon complete her bachelors degree in African culture and society studies and African development studies in geography at the University of Bayreuth in Germany.
She has a lot of questions concerning development politics and theoretical dimension of the work in development projects from conception, implementation and evaluation.
Strobel also gained practical experience in a field study conducted in Ethiopia and geological-environmental knowledge from a semester at the University of Iceland.
She is interested in the community-based development project of MDF Inc involving different work areas like in Kamiali Wildlife Management Area and Huon Gulf district to assist in reviewing previous studies in biodiversity.
Strobel also interested to participate in gender-based violence and women empowerment training and awareness along the Huon Gulf coast of Morobe.
“For my internship it would also be very valuable to participate in Rainforest Habitat and support by documenting through writing and also producing a promotional video about your facility,” Strobel said.
The current management of Rainforest Habitat, led by Brian Baring needs the backing of others to restore this iconic facility at Unitech.
It is sad that the animals and birds taken from their natural habitats have not been properly taken care of and some have perished due to human negligence.
Hopefully the habitat management would win back some confidence to restore the Rainforest Habitat and improve the welfare of the valuable animal and plant species held there.
By PISAI GUMAR