The Road to Wanang

25 05 2010

15 years ago, Wanang was a small village surrounded by vast lowland rainforests in the Middle Ramu valley of Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. A huge part of the Ramu Valley was designated to be intensively logged and for the majority of villages, the cash they would reap in return for their forests would be too much to resist.

George getting supplies at the betel nut market

In 2000, however, under the visionary leadership of Wanang’s ‘Bikpela (Big) Man’, Filip Damen, 11 village clans united to protect around 15,000 ha of their forest, which became the Wanang Conservation Area. They sought support from the New Guinea Binatang Research Center (BRC – where I’m based) among other partners and the area is now a model for progressive conservation in PNG.

Log stock pile on the road to Wanang

The collaboration has had a huge impact on the Wanang community – they now have a school with three classrooms, better transport and medical access, and employment as research assistants and carriers on pioneering tropical ecology projects, such as a permanent 50 ha plot for monitoring rainforest dynamics.

Carriers traversing a collapsed bridge

This particular trip was for the official opening of a new corporate sponsored field station at the Wanang 50 ha plot. Logistically complex to organise, it would involve important people, helicopters, vehicles, planti food & drink, dancing, drama, and several pigs. But more of that in the next post. We still had to get there and in PNG, that is never guaranteed.

Carrying supplies to Wanang

On rounding one of the many twists and turns in the logging road, we were suddenly in the way of a large and fully laden logging truck. Logging roads are generally wide enough for two but all vehicles hog the centre as the roads are ridged and fall away at the margins. Logging trucks, especially, do not budge. Without going into a skid, we just managed to careen into the roadside ditch before it blundered past. It was very very close.

Last year, vehicles could get to within a half hour’s forest walk of Wanang, but a wrecked bridge has added an extra hour on top, and on open road under the full force of the afternoon sun.

We had between 20 and 30 carriers to help with supplies and you know when you’re close thanks to the whoop-whooping of the Lesser Birds of Paradise, who have a display tree near the forest edge.

Wanang Conservation Area '09

After a few hours rest I had stopped perspiring and we put on a film for the villagers, projected onto a sheet hung from the football goalposts. Twas supposed to be Avatar, but there was a region code ‘issue’, so we settled for Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom… followed by Spiderman… followed by Tomb Raider.

The walk-in rainforest movies

Meanwhile, the men got on the pop ’till the wee hours!




4 responses

25 05 2010
Tiddly Widdly

Good story, I remeber the logging trucks displaying similar behaviour in malaysia. You get out of there way or die, I wish the rules also applied here! Good film choices.

25 05 2010

Scarey goings on keep off the roads, thank goodness you’re OK but glad the w/end was a success.

26 05 2010

That was so interesting including your brush with destiny. You have not lost your journalistic touch. Awaiting the tale of the dancing, drama, planti food and several pigs. Perhaps Avatar was not such a good choice – the story of a people rising up to protect their environment. Don’t Wwant to see anyone consigned to the cooking pot.

Love Wozzer.

26 05 2010

ps any chance of bringing back a carrier for Waitrose?

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