Admiralty Cuscus

Background - The Admiralty cuscus (Spilocuscus kraemeri) is endemic to the Admiralty group of islands which are located north-west of the mainland of Papua New Guinea. Over hunting and habitat loss has resulted in a decreasing population trend for this cuscus and it is now extinct on the island of Baluan. This is an important species for the people of the Admiralty Islands as they have little access to livestock and rely on the Admiralty cuscus as a primary source of protein in their diet. 

In response to the diminishing population of Admiralty cuscus and the need for sustainable harvesting of this species the WCS PNG program has begun collecting base line data on aspects of its ecology, as very little is known about this species apart from its taxonomy. Initiatives for Admiralty Cuscus Conservation - The principal threat to the survival of Admiralty cuscus is degradation and loss of habitat and over harvesting by indiscriminate hunting techniques. The loss of good habitat means that cuscus populations are pushed into ever smaller 'islands' of isolated habitat, making them more vulnerable to hunting and extirpation.  

These problems could become increasingly acute in the area surrounding the Ndrolowa Wildlife Management Area  south of Lorengau on Manus Island, which was supposed to contain both terrestrial and marine regions, and a further 240 km2  of land around Mount Dremsel, the highest mountain on Manus. These areas are now subject to a period of rapid change; improvements in the road network, human migration in from other areas, and an increase in commercial exploitation activities such as logging, mining and more recently plantations, all now pose a significant threat to the long-term survival of cuscus populations in the area. Mining and logging also brings additional threats to the Admiralty cuscus and other species in the area. 

Forestry companies construct roads to extract timber from their concessions, often opening up previously inaccessible areas to hunters and inadvertently facilitating indiscriminate hunting techniques to be used which now threaten the sustainability of a major protein source for the Manus rural people. Admiralty Cuscus Conservation Strategies – A Tambu is a traditionally managed conservation area which is seen as a good way to sustainably conserve populations of decreasing species such as the Admiralty cuscus.  Tambu or taboos exist in most cultures, they are forms of informal institutions, where norms, rather than written laws and rules, that determine human behaviour. 

Most areas in Manus impose tambu occasionally for customary obligations. A link between social norms and ecological knowledge of wildlife through science and research will harness the Tambu Management system to conserve the Admiralty cuscus and bring tangible benefits to local communities in Manus. Education and awareness about ecosystem services and importance of forest conservation are also crucial to conserving the Admiralty cuscus and other species endemic to Manus. Ensuring people understand that the sustainable harvest of cuscus can provide a long term food resource is important for building their support for Tambu Management areas and other conservation initiatives to ensure the viability of Admiralty cuscus populations.

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