Conservation efforts in PNG - volunteers needed! (Issue 3, 2013)

Jim-Thomas-alumnusA La Trobe University alumnus is seeking volunteers to work on his project – in bridging cultural differences and putting on the occasional puppet show – in Papua New Guinea.

Jim Thomas, who graduated in 1995 with a Bachelor of Biological Science, runs the Tenkile Conservation Alliance to save two critically endangered tree kangaroos from extinction in north-west PNG.

He leads a team and works with the residents of 50 villages in the Torricelli Mountain Range.  Jim is looking for volunteers to help with the cause for at least two months. They can be either Australian or international students.

‘The volunteers I'm looking for need to be able to work independently, be versatile, fit and willing to work in a remote area (with few comforts from home),’ says Jim.

‘Volunteers don't need to be from Australia, I have a German volunteer with me at the moment.’

‘I need volunteers to pay for their own flights (which adds up to nearly A$2000) and I'll cover food and accommodation.’

Jim says working with the local villagers has been very challenging, and remains challenging to the present day.

‘I feel we have bridged the cultural gap to the best of our ability. It took us a few years before we gained people’s trust and respect, once we showed people that we were serious about conservation and weren't there to make money.’

One of the ways they bridged the cultural difference was to put on puppet shows for the children.

‘The characters (Timmy Tenkile, Clemen Cocky and Rick the Rat) were also part of a radio show, which was aired for two years. Nowadays we only do the puppet shows on special occasions.’

Jim says his work can be hazardous, but with great success comes greater challenges.

‘Even many people from our project villages think that because I'm from Australia I have access to lots of money – and when I'm not able to deliver quickly they get very upset. There are many cultural differences that can cause frustrations and hazards.’

But despite the obstacles, Jim says volunteering is an experience of a lifetime.

‘The benefit of coming to the Tenkile Conservation Alliance here in PNG is that volunteers will see how conservation can work outside the lecture theatre – on the ground!’

For information or to register as a volunteer, email Jim Thomas at