Sparking excitement in the scientific community, researchers from the Washington DC-based Conservation International recently announced the discovery of more than 50 animal species, believed to be unknown to science, in the highland wilderness of Papua New Guinea. News of the discovery has traveled quickly around the world and together with the news, so has the name of Montclair State University and William Thomas, director of the College of Science and Mathematics’ New Jersey School of Conservation.
Thomas, a 20-year veteran of field work in Papua New Guinea, was recruited by Conservation International to contribute his considerable experience and knowledge of the local people and environment to the project. His work there with Forest Stewards, an initiative he launched together with Conservation International’s Bruce Beehler to conserve the bio-cultural diversity of the unexplored heartland of New Guinea, has kept his connection with the country and the local Hewa people current.
“The Hewa have a wealth of knowledge about the environment, wildlife, and history of the area and it only made sense to tap into that source for a project like this,” says Thomas. “Members of the local community worked side by side with us during the expedition providing valuable information and vital assistance.”
Thomas’ long association with the Hewa and his understanding of the language, history, and customs of the area helped ensure the project proceeded smoothly. Since much of Papua New Guinea’s wilderness remains unexplored and nearly inaccessible, the assistance of the local people is crucial and Thomas provided the needed contacts and helped navigate the cultural and regulatory maze there. “We hope that we can build on our success with the Hewa to enlist more New Guinea societies in the conservation of their biological and cultural heritage,” he said.
Conservation International’s press release on the new species was picked up by media outlets around the world including the Associated Press, The New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune in the U.S., and internationally by The Globe and Mail (Canada), The Independent (UK), and The Star (South Africa) among others.