BEAUTY IN THE FRIDGE

The law that gave a forest human status

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Te Urewera: New Zealand’s ‘living’ rainforest

(Image credit: Maria Ehlers/Alamy)

Te Urewera: New Zealand's 'living' rainforest (Credit: Maria Ehlers/Alamy)

In a world-first law, one of the world’s most remote rainforests has been passed back to its Indigenous owners and granted the same legal status as people.

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Rugged, immense, and intensely remote, Te Urewera is the largest rainforest on New Zealand’s North Island. Spanning 2,127sq km of emerald lakes, thundering waterfalls and a mist-shrouded canopy that is home to nearly every species of native birds in New Zealand, this sparsely populated, pristine ecosystem has been home to the Indigenous Tūhoe people for centuries.

In 2014, a world-first law brought an end to government ownership of Te Urewera National Park and recognised the rainforest as its own legal entity and the Tūhoe people as its legal guardians. It also gave the forest the same legal rights as a person. Ever since, many of the roughly 7,000 Tūhoe people who live near Te Urewera’s river valleys have been encouraging visitors to connect with their sacred land on a more meaningful level.

New Zealand’s sacred ‘living’ rainforest

By offering guided treks, off-the-grid bushcamp-style tent lodging, traditional home-cooked meals and the chance to participate in rainforest reforestation projects, Tūhoe-owned companies are not only hoping that tourists leave with a newfound appreciation of their ancestral home, but also a heightened sense of the ancient Maori practice of kaitiakitanga, or “guardianship”, in which people live in harmony with the natural world.

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