Jim & Jean Thomas Visit Vertebrate Zoology

Capture1 | Bishop Museum

When it comes to protecting endangered species, some people “talk the talk”, while others “walk the walk”.  Jim and Jean Thomas definitely fall into the latter category.  They have dedicated their lives to saving endangered tree kangaroos in the Toricelli Mountain Range of Papua New Guinea.  Jim, Jean, and their son, Tadji, live in this region and their on-the-ground presence has been a crucial factor in their success.

Originally from Australia, Jim and Jean have always had a love for animals and a desire to preserve biodiversity.  To that end, they created Tenkile Conservation Alliance (TCA), which takes a very holistic approach to conservation.  Rather than focusing exclusively on saving protected wildlife, TCA simultaneously strives to improve the health and prosperity of the people that interact with that wildlife.

While TCA works with several different endangered animals, the flagship species for their organization is the tree kangaroo.  As their name suggests, these adorable marsupials are adapted for life in the rainforest canopy and are experts at climbing tree trunks and leaping from one branch to another, using their long tails for balance.  Their diet consists mostly of vegetation and fruit they collect in the trees.

Adult tree kangarooSandra Chung

Adult tree kangaroo

The two biggest threats to tree kangaroos are habitat loss and hunting.  TCA is addressing both issues by working with over 50 villages in their region to establish hunting moratoriums, as well as working with the government to designate the Torricelli Mountains a protected area.  By cultivating reciprocal relationships with local leaders and raising awareness of the mountains’ unique assemblage of animals, TCA is changing the perspectives of people who once hunted tree kangaroos to feed their families.  Now villagers see these animals as a precious resource and take great pride in knowing they can only be found in their rainforests.

Checking out drawers of mammal specimens with (from left to right) Jim, Jean, and Tadji Thomas | Bishop Museum

Checking out drawers of mammal specimens with (from left to right) Jim, Jean, and Tadji Thomas

Jim and Jean were in Hawaii to attend the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) World Conservation Congress that was held in Honolulu at the beginning of this month.  TCA is an official member of the IUCN; in fact, it was the very first organization to join from Papua New Guinea, one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet.

During their stay, Jim and Jean visited Bishop Museum to examine the marsupial specimens in the Vertebrate Zoology (VZ) collection.  Many of the species they are endeavoring to save are represented in the collection.  So, they were eager to find out when and where the specimens were collected and discuss potential research projects that could further their conservation efforts.

Female tree kangaroo and joey

Female tree kangaroo and joey

It was an honor to have Jim, Jean, and Tadji visit the VZ collection and to listen to them talk about their incredible projects.  Please visit http://www.tenkile.com/ if you’d like to watch a short film about TCA featuring Jane Goddall and David Attenborough!


Written by: Molly Hagemann, Vertebrate Zoology Collection Manager

Posted: 30 September 2016



















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