Zoo conservation scientist returns to PNG

Dr. Rob Liddell demonstrates the use of a portable ultrasound machine and discusses fetal development with local volunteer midwives in Sapmanga village, YUS

Woodland Park Zoo Senior Conservation Scientist Lisa Dabek, PhD, is back in Papua New Guinea to continue her work for the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP). Over the next few weeks, Dabek will meet with national government officials and the U.S. ambassador to Papua New Guinea to discuss TKCP’s goals for 2019 and beyond, which include incorporating the One Health approach into existing local governments’ initiatives.

“The health of humans, wildlife and the environment is all interconnected,” says Dabek.

Dr. Carolyn Marquardt consulting with a patient and advising Community Health Workers regarding patient's x-ray image in Sapmanga village, YUS
Dr. Carolyn Marquardt consulting with a patient and advising Community Health Workers regarding patient’s x-ray image in Sapmanga village, YUS

Dabek founded TKCP, Woodland Park Zoo’s flagship conservation program, 22 years ago as a study on endangered tree kangaroos in Papua New Guinea—an island nation with immense biological diversity that is home to one of the last remaining intact cloud forests on the planet. But the same reason that the area is so wonderfully biodiverse and untouched also accounts for many of the issues that its communities face regarding health care. Without roads or electricity, access to remote villages is very limited, which also means those communities have inadequate access to doctors, supplies, medication and health education.

TKCP set out to protect the health of Papua New Guinea’s wildlife as well as its people. By working with indigenous landowners and the government, Dabek’s work has blossomed into a comprehensive program that today protects tree kangaroos and 180,000 acres of tropical cloud forests in the nation’s first Conservation Area (known as Yopno-Uruwa-Som or YUS), and also improves the quality of life for more than 15,000 people who live there.

TKCP coordinates teams of doctors to travel to YUS to lead health trainings and workshops. Community participants travel up to three days by foot to reach the village for this valuable and quality training.  

Dr. Rob Liddell of the Center for Diagnostic Imaging recently made the trip and brought a portable X-ray machine and portable ultrasound unit to YUS for the first time, helping the visiting physicians diagnose a wide range of health issues for patients. Liddell was one of seven TKCP health workshop facilitators, which included sessions on childbirth, reproductive health, nutrition, cancer and more. There was also an introduction workshop for One Health—a multidisciplinary approach that connects the health of people to the health of animals and the environment.

“Because the YUS Conservation Area is so remote, most resources must come from the landscape, creating a close relationship among the health of humans, wildlife and the health of the environment,” says Liddell. “We want to develop local capacity to provide for basic health needs, and help show the links among human, environmental and animal health.”

Moving forward, Woodland Park Zoo has developed a partnership with the University of Washington Center for One Health Research and Dr. Peter Rabinowitz to implement the One Health approach in YUS. TKCP is also collaborating with the National Department of Health in Papua New Guinea to incorporate its “Healthy Island Concept” which aims to empower and equip individuals, families, and communities to take ownership of their own health and to seek community support for health improvement for humans and the environment.

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