The Bougainville monkey-faced bat - Vukere, as it is known in the Rotokas language - has not been seen by outsiders in nearly 50 years.
The Kunua Plains & Mount Balbi area on the island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea is a beautiful and amazing place that is home to the Rotokas Indigenous People. Part of what makes this region special is that the globally endangered Bougainville monkey-faced bat (Pteralopex anceps), critically endangered greater monkey-faced bat (Pteralopex flanneryi), and other amazing biodiversity call it home.
The Bougainville monkey-faced bat – Vukere, as it is known in the Rotokas language – has long been known to the Rotokas Indigenous People on the island of Bougainville. This amazing species has not been seen by outsiders in nearly 50 years, and now we reveal it to the western world!
In September 2016, our multinational team undertook a week-long trek from the east coast to the west coast of Bougainville to meet with clan chiefs and community members in the Kunua Plains & Mount Balbi Key Biodiversity Area.
Our objective was simple – we were there to listen to the Rotokas People.
With this, we wanted to develop a deeper understanding of their commitment to the environment, their concerns for the environment, and their concerns about outsiders violating and disrespecting the rights and authority of the clans. From this, we could effectively work with them to support their vision for living in harmony with the environment. We were there to share our ideas and together begin to develop the Conservation Management Plan.
It was through careful discussions that the team, led by Junias Repiriri and Pedro Uravutu of Rotokas EcoTourism, gained the trust of the clans and secured their commitment to working together. The clan chiefs and community leaders spoke with a common message:
- Amos Tevaria (Terra Council of Elders Chairman); Togarao Village: “The law to protect our land has been handed down by our ancestors, and these laws are not respected by the youth of today!”
- Chief James; Sisivi Village: “The custom for looking after our environment was developed by us, but this generation do not understand it well. We Clan Chiefs must grow strong and work together to strengthen the customs and laws!”
- Titus Blossom; Togarao Village: “We must have respect for sacred places and for tambu areas, and the young men must know about this. The Chief system must be restored or we will have a desert!”
- Chief Charles; Vuire Village: “I support the custom of Chiefs being the deciders and the gate keepers. We must take the message outside to the rest of Bougainville that we are working collectively within Rotokas, that is Kunua, Keriaka and Rotokas together!”
- Jackson Atae, Atao Village: “We used to hunt for possums (and bats) using sticks, and now too many are cutting down trees to get the possums. The axe is damaging our environment!”
- Chief Jeremiah; Asitaipa Village: “Asitaipa understand and know the manner of looking after the bush, however people come from outside and take (hunt) our animals!”
- Margaret; Asitaipa Village: “Land disputes (among the clans) have wrecked us getting on well as a community. All of the communities (clans) must come to one place and make the decisions!”
- Chief Ben Kikiviori; Togarao Village: “The boundary between Rotokas and the West Coast is a problem and Clan leaders must take responsibility and show leadership and work together to solve this problem!”
- Chief Francis; Sisivi Village: “We must put the ideas of Bat Conservation International together with Rotokas custom. We cannot stop with just talking, we must act now!”
The work to support the development of a unified vision for a Conservation Management Plan by the Rotokas People has begun. While there are many challenges both the team and the Rotokas People will need to overcome, the foundation of protecting the environment within the Rotokas culture is strong. With the leadership from the clans this important initiative is off to a promising start.