Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sepik River Crocodile Festival a success

Villagers from Puruknawi village along Sepik River carrying a saltwater crocodile during the third Sepik River Crocodile Festival


Five-year-old Lester Dominic from Emas Village in Karawari along Sepik River carrying a saltwater crocodile during the third Sepik River Crocodile Festival


Story and pictures by LYDIA KAIA of WWF
More than a thousand of dancers, singers, storytellers and community members from villages across the Sepik region gathered in Ambunti in East Sepik province for the Sepik River Crocodile Festival, on Aug 11-12, joined by visitors from across the globe.
The two-day festival is now in its third year, and has been growing steadily larger.
This year, about 40 international tourists and journalists met with locals for the event, which combines a celebration of the region's traditional culture and environment with an opportunity to share information with often isolated communities.
The crocodile is a key totem animal, symbolising strength and power.
"Some of the villages in the Sepik are so remote that people spent one to two days traveling in canoes to reach the festival; about the same amount of time that it takes a tourist from the United States to get there by air," Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) Sepik River programme manager David Peter said.
Peter said it was pleasing to see more interest from abroad in the festival, translating into more bookings for local ecotourism guides and lodges.
"Ecotourism has huge potential as a source of sustainable income for families and communities in this region, and the festival is a good way to showcase what the region has to offer," he said.
"WWF had staff on the ground working with communities and tourism operators to assist them to package their eco-tourism products, and then to promote their own operations and the region abroad.
“This is a good example of how conservation and sustainable development are mutually reinforcing.
"As long as it's well-managed and responsible, tourism can bring real benefits for local operators and communities."
A partnership programme links community-based organisations such as the Sepik Wetland Management Initiative and Help Resources with WWF, the PNG Department of Environment and Conservation and local-level governments.

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