Saving Papua New Guinea’s Wildlife One Cup of Coffee at a Time

Tree kangaroo joey Yawan in his mother's pouch, behind the scenes at Woodland Park Zoo. Copyright Dennis Dow, Woodland Park Zoo.

We are coffee crazy in Seattle so it is no wonder that one of the most promising ways to get our local community involved in a Woodland Park Zoo conservation effort is through their morning cup of joe.

In February 2012, Woodland Park Zoo and its Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program launched a much-anticipated conservation commerce product: the first ever coffee made available in the U.S. from a remote part of Papua New Guinea – the Yopno Uruwa Som (YUS) region of the Huon Peninsula.

The region is home to the endangered Matschie’s tree kangaroo (Dendrolagus matschiei), the little known animal that inspired the conservation effort.

So how did we get from ‘roo to brew?

To protect an endangered species like the tree kangaroo, you need to protect its habitat.

Huon Peninsula, Papua New Guinea. Copyright Ryan Hawk, Woodland Park Zoo.

As part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Tree Kangaroo Species Survival Plan® (SSP) and generously supported by many AZA institutions, Woodland Park Zoo’s Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP) has worked with Papua New Guinea villagers since 1996 on the remote Huon Peninsula to protect over 180,000 acres of their cloud forest to create the nation’s first Conservation Area. The zoo has just completed a $1 million fundraising effort, which will be matched in full by a generous grant from Conservation International’s Global Conservation Fund, creating a $2 million YUS Conservation Endowment to ensure sustainable funding to manage the protected area in the future.

But to make sure that land stays protected not just in name but in action, we needed to make sure the community has positive alternatives. In a partnership with Conservation International, James Cook University (Australia), and the German Development Bank, WPZ’s TKCP has been focusing on the people side of community-based conservation. We had to make it possible for these villagers to find an ecofriendly, alternative income source that would give them the money they need to send their children to school while protecting their land from destructive activities like logging and mining.

In comes the coffee.

Picking coffee cherries in the shade. Copyright Ryan Hawk, Woodland Park Zoo.

The villagers in this area have long farmed coffee, but their nearly impossible-to-reach location made it unlikely that their product would ever reliably be made available to any market. The mountainous YUS region is so remote—with no roads leading in or out and only irregular, prohibitively costly airfreight—that we knew this effort could only be possible with the guidance of an expert partner inside the coffee industry.

Caffe Vita brews samples of the PNG YUS coffee to test for quality and consistency. Copyright Ryan Hawk, Woodland Park Zoo.

The Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program turned to Caffe Vita, a Seattle-based coffee roaster, for that guidance. The exclusive coffee provider for Woodland Park Zoo concessions, Caffe Vita expressed great interest in the project, which aligned with their own mission to source the best coffees directly from exceptional farms that practice extraordinary levels of stewardship and sustainability. Caffe Vita was intrigued by the conservation story and the opportunity to link their coffee with saving an endangered species.

With Caffe Vita on board, we were able not only to provide infrastructure and marketing support to get the product exported to and sold in the U.S., but Caffe Vita was even able to come with us to Papua New Guinea to meet the farmers, help train them on coffee cultivation techniques and help them improve their product to the sensibilities of the gourmet Seattle coffee market.

The first shipment of YUS coffee arrived at the close of 2011 and Caffe Vita went to work roasting and packaging the coffee which is now available in 12-ounce bags being sold at Woodland Park Zoo’s ZooStore gift shops, as well as at Caffe Vita Seattle locations and through

This pilot batch is made up of the best in beans from several YUS villages purchased from a total of 54 Papua New Guinea farmers. It is the first-ever coffee from the YUS region made commercially available in the U.S. purchased directly from the growers at a fair price. Mellow and honey-like, the coffee has flavors of toasted hazelnut, orange zest, guava and sugarcane.

When you drink this coffee, you are taking a direct conservation action, supporting the farmers’ efforts to make a fair living and provide for their children, while still protecting their land and the animals and people who depend on it from mining, logging and other environmentally destructive forest activities.

Visitors to Woodland Park Zoo will learn about the coffee through docent “Conservation Connections” education carts developed around our Matschie’s tree kangaroo exhibit. We look forward to evaluating the visitor response and tracking if we can motivate these visitors to take action by purchasing the coffee as a conservation commerce product.

With successful sales of the limited edition coffee available now, we plan to expand the conservation coffee project to make the product available year-round so that every time a Seattleite sips their coffee, they have the chance to save wildlife.

Guest Bloggers: Dr. Lisa Dabek, Woodland Park Zoo Senior Conservation Scientist/Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program Director, and Rebecca Whitham, Woodland Park Zoo Digital Communications Manager

This entry was posted in Conservation, People, Wildlife, Woodland Park Zoo, Zoo and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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