Woodlark Cuscus habitat threatened

The EDGE Team has just received an urgent memo from concerned researchers working on Woodlark Island (Muyuw) in the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea. The government of Woodlark Island has recently granted permission to Vitroplant Limited to convert 60,000 hectares of the island into oil palm plantations. This is catastrophic news as the island itself is only 85,000 hectares in total. Leases for the oil palm project will cover almost the entire eastern half of Woodlark island, as well as large a proportion of the western half.

These disastrous developments would not only have devastating effects on the environment and forest eco-systems but could potentially have dire consequences for the endemic Woodlark Cuscus (Phalanger lullulae) as the eastern side of the island is the stronghold for Woodlark cuscus populations.

The Woodlark Cuscus (Phalanger lullulae) is a medium sized marsupial that is highly adapted to arboreal life. A modified long prehensile tail with a naked end assists in gripping branches and facilitates locomotion through the forest canopy. The Woodlark cuscus is a solitary species, sleeping during the day in tree hollows and coming out at night to forage in the tropical forests.

Although considered Least Concern on the IUCN RED List due to its moderate abundance in the eastern part of the island, this species is potentially extremely vulnerable due to its limited range. Habitat modifications would have severely detrimental effects on this population and could lead to local extinctions. The Woodlark cuscus is extremely evolutionarily distinct, and if it became critically endangered it would be high on the EDGE Top 100 mammal list. Considered a flagship of endemic animals in the Milne Bay Province, the Woodlark cuscus desperately needs concerted conservation efforts to ensure its survival.

Watch this space for information on how you can make a difference to ensure the Woodlark Cuscus and other endangered species on Woodlark Island are preserved…..


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  1. Astrid said,

    on November 13th, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    Interesting news item! Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

  2. Rita said,

    on November 13th, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    I guess this highlights once again the tension between economic development and environmental preservation. Please can you post more information on the development – who does it benefit etc. Is the palm oil plantation being developed to support local communities? Are there more sustainable alternatives to palm oil in the region? I would be very interested to learn more about the relationship between industry and environmentalists. There could be some interesting lessons on how to curb the threat.

  3. Nadia said,

    on November 29th, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    There is an interesting article on mongaybay (http://news.mongabay.com/2007/1112-hance_woodlark.html) that went into more detail following the edge blog on the woodlark cuscus.
    With regards to the relationship between industry and environmentalists, the ZSL have a project that works with an oil palm company to find appropriate management solutions with regards to tiger conservation http://static.zsl.org/files/jambi-tiger-leaflet-40.pdf

  4. Leka said,

    on January 2nd, 2008 at 6:58 am

    i am from woodlark island, living and working in port moresby, the capital of papua new guinea. my fellow collegues and i have been petitioning our government for the withdrawal of the project because we that there will be very little or no socioeconomic benefit to the islanders however the disadvantages and adverse effects of the project will be extremely significant. thank you very much for the support by the international community on this issue, esp, the NGOs

    for more information on the issue we will be most happy to provide.

    thank you so much once again.

  5. David said,

    on January 16th, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Might be safe for now? :
    _Palm oil developer abandons plan to log 70% of Woodlark Island_

    Leka – do you know more about this?

    Ecological Internet is running a protest on this page, where you can email your comments to the Papua government:

  6. Paul said,

    on October 2nd, 2008 at 3:38 am

    I was doing some research (mainly on the internet) on community based eco-tourism products in Milne Bay Province and stumbled on this website. I am fascinated by the report on the Woodlark cuscus. I personally believe that Oil Palm project is not the answer for Woodlark people. It will be detrimental to their cultural, social and environmental welfare. Also the value of economic benefits derived from the oil palm will be less than their traditional economic systems.

    There are better and sustainable options for economic development, like eco-tourism, than the OP project.
    I hope the Woodlark people reject this project.

  7. Sally Wren said,

    on October 3rd, 2008 at 9:45 am

    Hi Paul,

    I am pleased to be able to tell you that the Milne Bay government did pull plans to allow Vitroplant to log 70% of Woodlark Island for palm oil plantations, after objections from local people and the international community – a great success for the people and wildlife of Woodlark!

    You can read more about this in an article on the Mongabay website:

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