The World’s Oldest Rainforest Was Just Handed Back to Its Indigenous Owners

The 180 million-year-old Daintree, which has come under pressure from climate change, mining and logging, will now be managed by its traditional owners.
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU
southern cassowary
The Daintree is home to more 

rare, threatened or endangered species than anywhere else in the world, including the Southern cassowary. Photo by picassos, via Getty

The world’s oldest tropical rainforest has been given back to its traditional Indigenous owners in a historic deal with Australia’s Queensland state government.

At a ceremony on Wednesday, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people took formal ownership of the Daintree, a world heritage-listed rainforest in northern Australia that has been under sustained pressure from climate change, tourism, mining and logging. The handover includes nearly 400,000 acres of land.

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The 180 million-year-old rainforest now joins the likes of Australia's Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Kakadu national parks as a UNESCO world heritage-listed site owned and controlled by First Nations communities – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples whose presence in Australia predates colonisation. 

“The Eastern Kuku Yalanji [people’s] ... culture is one of the oldest living cultures and this land handback recognises their right to own and manage their Country,” Queensland Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon said on Twitter. Ngalba Bulal (Cedar Bay), Kalkajaka (Black Mountain) and Hope Islands national parks were also included in the handback, and will all now be managed by the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people in partnership with the Queensland government.

It is the first time Queensland has transferred the ownership of a national park in the Wet Tropics region of the state's northeast to an Indigenous group.

“It’s a big thing for Eastern Kuku Yalanji people, for us bama, which means people,” said Chrissy Grant, a traditional owner and the incoming chair of the Wet Tropics Management Authority board, according to The Guardian. “Bama across the wet tropics have consistently lived within the rainforest. That in itself is something that is pretty unique to the world heritage listing.

“It’s an opportunity to work our way up ... we will be looking at long-term gains out of this, but we need to work our way up to get our people trained up confident.”

The Daintree is home to at least 44 rare, threatened or endangered species of animals – the greatest concentration anywhere in the world. Many of these are found nowhere else on the planet, including the Southern cassowary, the Northern quoll and the musky-rat kangaroo.

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