Award winner 2010
Location: Papua New Guinea

Jean Thomas

In 2003, Jean Thomas left her job in Australia and embarked on an adventure to Papua New Guinea. Jean works hard at the Tenkile Conservation Alliance (TCA) to save the Tenkile from extinction. Tenkiles are also commonly known as the Scott’s tree kangaroos. These arboreal kangaroos are indigenous to Australia and Papua New Guinea. Hunted by local communities for their meat, their numbers had decreased to around 100 individuals left in the wild. Jean designed various training programmes, to reduce the hunt on the Tenkile, while at the same time safeguarding the livelihoods of local communities. Her programmes have led to community engagement and mobilisation among 50 villages in the most remote areas of Papua New Guinea, and to the protection of 200,000 hectares of rainforest.


Originally from Australia, Jean Thomas and her husband Jim worked as zookeepers at Melbourne Zoo. In 2003, they decided to leave everything else behind and move to Papua New Guinea to save the tree kangaroos, or Tenkiles, from extinction. Upon arriving in the Torricelli Mountains in Papua New Guinea, they encountered isolated, impoverished communities living off of Tenkile meat as sustenance. It was evident for them that this had to change. This was no easy job, however. Despite the hardships, they have since been working at the Tenkile Conservation Alliance (TCA) to improve the livelihoods of local communities in some of the remotest areas of Papua New Guinea. And saving the Tenkiles in the meantime!

Vision and Approach

Jean Thomas believes people are the key in achieving conservation. She hopes to motivate and inspire people to make changes in their behaviour, to protect species, their habitats and environments. The ongoing rise of the human population in Papua New Guinea resulted in a higher demand for animal protein. With limited access to food, people turned to hunting Tenkiles. This caused the Tenkile population to drop to dangerously low numbers. Jean knew that the only way to implement successful conservation strategies was to integrate and develop local communities. The TCA aims to assist these communities to manage their natural resources sustainably, whilst showing respect for their culture and customs.  Jean takes a holistic approach to conservation, which uses a combination of sustainable community development, awareness, and research. She provides locals with their own homegrown, alternative protein sources and helps the communities to develop their own water and basic sanitary infrastructures. To keep the work going, Jean designed, produced and managed various training programmes, which mobilised and engaged around 50 villages. Together, they have achieved the protection of 200,000 hectares of rainforest.

“The Award has given us the confidence to pursue our dream even further and persist in the protection of Papua New Guinea’s rainforest at the national level.”
Jean Thomas

Impact of the Future For Nature Award

  • With the financial support from the Future For Nature Award, Jean implemented a drama education programme on one of the villages, bringing support and understanding for her work.
  • Jean now runs a school fee competition to help local communities pay for their school fees and buy equipment for the local schools.
  • The award also provided important administrative support, providing training and employment opportunities during field research. This research showed an incredible increase in the Tenkile numbers, from 100 to 300 in just 15 years.
"Jean Thomas has shown exceptional dedication in making a long-term commitment to the conservation of two of the most threatened mammal species in Papua New Guinea. She is working in an extraordinary difficult place in which to achieve successful conservation results, but through working with local communities, empowering them, and seeing conservation as a long-term endeavour, she is seeing real results."
Mr. Simon Stuart, International Selection Committee