19 August 2014

International Orangutan Day 2014


Although today we celebrate the survival and resilience of critically endangered Orang-utan, the iconic flagship species and ambassador for the ancient forests of South East Asia, let's also acknowledge the deep loss of life this species continues to endure as human populations and economies develop in such a way that pushes them closer and and closer to the brink of extinction.

Orangutan supporters may have noticed lots of photo's in social media today of the lucky few orangutans who have been rescued - refugees of forests which often no longer exist, victims of industrial monoculture expansion - most of whom are now on their way back to the forest thanks to the tireless efforts of rehabilitation centers across Borneo and Sumatra.

Often the situation can feel so overwhelming that we forget to celebrate the smaller grass-roots victories, so today I want to share a unique story of an encounter with a young, fully wild Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii), just one of a few thousand individuals hanging on to survival on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia...

For the past 12 months I've been based in the most easterly section of the globally significant Leuser Ecosystem in North Sumatra - with the Orangutan Information Centre - we've been working on a Forest Restoration program, restoring and protecting a 500 hectares of the Gunung Leuser National Park which was destroyed by palm oil companies looking to expand into the last of Sumatra's lowland tropical rainforests. 

When one day the call came that their was an Orangutan just 100 meters from the restoration cabin - not far from the tent where I was sleeping the night before - a few of us eagerly took flight in his direction, bare-foot, quietly approaching in a state of sheer excitement..

A blur of deep maroon-red, and a sway of the branches in the canopy above, gave him away. I guess it's natural to presume that in bahasa orangutan he was thinking "who's that down there?"

Seeing wild orangutans in their natural habitat is an extraordinary experience - but seeing them return to a forest that is being actively restored and protected by a local grass-roots NGO is another experience altogether - it was the first time I'd seen them on the restoration site and the ultimate indicator of a healthy regenerating forest..

It was a fruiting Ternangka Tree (Artocarpus dadah) - a relative of the Jackfruit - that brought him so close to our cabin, and over the next few weeks we saw 5 more individuals (2 mothers and their young, one baby and one very curious juvenile) 2 of which had been trans-located by OIC-HOCRU from ever shrinking isolated patches of forest outside the national park. 

How they all knew about this fruiting tree is a mystery to me - as Orangutans are not usually very social. Some kind of advanced internal fruit mapping system...?

One afternoon I went down by myself to hide out by the fruiting Ternangka tree, I guess he knew I was there but accepted my presence without any of the earlier signs of distress (they usually make a kiss-squeak call if threatened).


Watching him eat was such a fascinating experience - my mind exploding with all kinds of thoughts surrounding plant-animal co-evolution, distribution and dispersal patterns, what and how exactly he is thinking...? with the occasional zen-moment of primate-to-primate connection, breathing-the-same-air which is coming-from-the-same-trees and all that jazz..

And then I witness something really cool, it was late afternoon and the light was beginning to fade, he decides it's time to find a tree to build his nest for the evening. Before heading off he grabs one more Ternangka fruit, 'one for the road'!

Incredible, I had know idea they did this.

In what I could only describe as some kind of primitive display of delayed gratification, he travels gracefully through the tree-tops, carrying his ripe fruit in one hand and comfortably cruising along with his other 3 hands.

Just as the last light fades away, and he skillfully sets himself up with a fresh nest about 100 meters from the fruiting Ternangka tree, there he hangs-out in his nest and enjoys a freshly picked organic Ternangka fruit as the sun sets over the forest. 

Suffice to say we collected and germinated the seed from this guys dung and are now planting these trees all over the restoration site.

As the fight for his species survival heats up to the north in the Leuser Ecosystem of Aceh (where 85% of the Sumatran Orangutans are found outside of the National Park), we are reminded that their is still so much to fight for and that collaboration is crucial in preserving these globally significant landscapes.

And finally I want to share this short little video clip which is a tribute to all the staff, students and global supporters of the Orangutan Information Centre (OIC) - grass-roots action inspiring a new generation of conservationists and earth lovers :)

4 October 2013

Forest Restoration with the Orangutan Information Centre (OIC)

Observing free living Wild Orangutans in their Forest homes is a truly beautiful experience. There is a grace and humbleness to our gentle tree-dwellin' cousins, whose very existence provides a living window into our not-so-distant forest-bound past..

It's obvious why we are so fascinated by Orangutans! they are the only great Ape species, apart from Humans, surviving on this side of the world (South-East Asia).

Chimps, Bonobos and Gorillas  never left Africa!

Just look at the love this mother orangutan clearly has for her young.

Perhaps our fascination for Orangutans stems from a naturally anthropocentric world-view which makes perfect sense when you think about it... we share 96% of the same genetic code and have a recent ancestor just 10-14 million years ago when our evolutionary paths 'diverged'.

I suppose up until now in our evolutionary journey this human-centered world-view has been absolutely essential to our survival! However now it is clear we need to make the evolutionary leap from an anthropocentric or
human-centered world-view to a more holistic 'bio-centric' perspective that recognizes the inherent value of all living beings which form the living biosphere.

Sometimes I even feel like the focus on our red-haired cousins overshadows all the forgotten species of the rainforest who are often equally rare and endangered compared to the more charismatic mega-fauna which dominate conservation efforts (Tigers, Rhino, Elephant).

As an example, check out this awesome article 'Forgotten species: the overlooked Sumatran striped rabbit' describing one of the many rare and threatened species found in Sumatran rainforest.

What a funky little critter! I had no idea they existed until recently.

The beauty of Orangutan conservation is that if we protect and restore Orangutan habitat, we're automatically conserving a huge range of species which make up the super-organism of a Forest eco-system.. (not just animals.. also plants, fungi, bacteria, the whole web)

This is why we call Orangutans 'Flagship' species, they are ambassadors for the entire eco-system which form their habitat and can teach us humans so much about our own inter-dependency with ecological communities!

And now reporting from Indonesia...

First Meeting with the National Park and Restoration Field Staff

I've finally arrived in Sumatra for my 12 month AYAD assignment with the Orangutan Information Centre (OIC) and have just spent 2 weeks based inside the national park living with the Restoration team in the field cabin now surrounded by quikcly regenerating rainforest! (with primary forest just a few hundred meters away)

Life in the Forest - Top floor of the Restoration Hut - aka 'The Jungle Penthouse' 

The Team are successfully restoring 100's of hectares of degraded lands inside Gunung Leuser National Park which were illegally cleared by an Oil Palm company... Finally I get to see with my own eyes this amazing project in action.

As well as restoring forest ecology, the team have successfully re-established the authenticity of National Park boundaries. By working with local communities the Primary Forest within Gunung Leuser National Park is now a secured habitat for Orangutan and many other endangered species (including Elephants, Tigers and perhaps Sumatran Striped Rabbits). 
Below are some photo's taken from the OIC restoration site in Gunung Leuser National Park.. In the foreground is regenerating rainforest and in the background is the 'Primary' forest. 

Every morning we hear Orangutan, Gibbons, Hornbills and Argus Pheasants calling from the intact primary forest.. and not once have I heard the sound of chainsaws or bulldozers! Success! 

 BEFORE (2012 August)

AFTER (September 2013)

The Restoration Cabin 'Before and After' 

Panut Hadisiswoyo, Founder and Director of OIC planting a Tree with his son. Walking the Talk and educating the next generation on environmental stewardship.

As well as continuing to propagate plants in the nurseries and tree planting activities we are working together in improving the nursery systems and propagation methodologies as well as critical monitoring of biodiversity recovery. 

Thanks to a generous donation from school teachers in Sydney, Australia, we now have 5 high quality HD camera traps for biodiversity monitoring. 

Stay tuned for biodiversity reports and field updates!

The health of the regenerating forest is self-evident. Absolute abundance where Life creates the conditions that sustain more life! For me this is the real magic of Forest restoration, an evolved  mechanism for 'self-healing' the eco-system (or colonizing degraded sites such as volcanoes). 

In restoration ecology we are literally working 'with' nature!

Already species are beginning to flower and produce seeds, attracting seed-dispersing bird and mammal species which diversifies and speeds up the regeneration and habitat recovery process, it becomes a positive feedback loop and where nature does most of the work and the site is usually 'captured' (closed canopy) within a few years. 

The project gets a lot of visitors, locally and from around the world, who come to support the project and learn about Forest Restoration and Biodiversity Conservation.

Garry Sundin from Orangutan Odysseys bring tour groups to the site for Orangutan education and tree planting.. what a fantastic business model for eco-tourism! (a portion of the tour cost goes directly towards the OIC reforestation program).

That's it from me, I hope to update my blog regularly and share with you all stories from inside the national park.. including any new species from the camera traps survey! 

If you want to help the project and make a donation I'm working with Kelvin Davies from the Rainforest Information Centre in Australia on the 'Orangutan Revolution' project and we have started a crow-funding campaign for planting more trees in Sumatra!

CLICK HERE to DONATE for this Critical Habitat Restoration Program..

7 August 2013

1 Million Trees planted in Sumatra

Soon I will begin a volunteer project as a Forest Restoration Officer with the Orangutan Information Centre. These guys have recently planted their 1 MILLIONTH TREE in Northern Sumatra (Indonesia). I can't tell you how excited I am to join this pioneering restoration team for a year long assignment based in Gunung Leuser National Park.

The Leuser eco-system in Northern Sumatra is considered by many ecologists to be the most bio-diverse ecological community in South-East Asia. It is home to 105 recorded species of mammals, 382 species of birds, and at least 95 species of reptiles and amphibians. It is considered to be the last place in all of SE Asia of sufficient size and quality to maintain viable populations of Asia's rarest and most charismatic species including tigersorangutansrhinoselephants, and clouded leopards.

Recent decades have seen unprecedented industrial-scale deforestation of Sumatran forests (including inside national parks) and it is clear that urgent action is absolutely critical to preserving what remains of this incredibly rich bio-diversity hot-spot.

Organizations such as the Orangutan Information CentreSumatran Orangutan Society and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program are collaborating to ensure the rarest great ape species in South-East Asia does not go extinct, along with their super bio-diverse rainforest eco-systems.

Check out this video below to see the inspirational work of the Orangutan Information Centre.

On the 19th of August it will be 'WORLD ORANGUTAN DAY'. This is a positive campaign and global collaboration of conservation NGO's working to bring much needed attention and awareness to the crises facing these beautiful red apes and their forest habitat. 

If you want to support this work, please make a Donation directly to the Orangutan Information Centre who are working on the ground in Sumatra within communities adjacent to Gunung Leuser National park to save the critically endangered Sumatran Orangutan.

To raise further awareness of this event you can also take a photo of yourself and your family holding a card that says "I LOVE Orangutans!" and share it on the official facebook page for World Orangutan Day! 

Below is a poster my partner and I made to contribute towards this positive campaign.

Please feel free to share around your networks.

For Environmental Educators or families who want to introduce their children to positive Orangutan conservation projects check out the 'SAVE ARMSTRONG' campaign by the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS). 

This video clip below illustrates the challenges faced by "Armstrong the Orangutan" (and yes, Orangutans do have very strong arms!) and the work being done to Restore a Forest eco-system for Orangutan habitat which is currently being implemented by the Orangutan Information Centre in Northern Sumatra.


And here is the latest 'Theatrical Trailer' for the documentary film, 
'Rise of the Eco-Warriors', about a conservation and community development project I worked on last year in West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

The film, produced by Virgo Productions, is set to be released in March 2014 in conjunction with a series of international film festivals and environmental education initiatives in schools.

It is my hope that this film can inspire a new wave of young eco-activists and positive change agents to get involved and support the many projects happening in Indonesian and globally aimed at conservation and community development.

And finally Here is a quote by Paul Hawken that articulates beautifully my own seemingly contradictory feelings of massive inspiration for the movement of people working to create change on our planet, despite harboring a very real sense of distress towards our current planetary predicament with this seemingly unstoppable trajectory of ecological destruction... *takes a deeeeeep breath*

"When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my

 answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what 

is happening on earth and aren't pessimistic, you don't understand 

data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this 

earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren't optimistic, you 

haven't got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are 

ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and 

incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, 

justice, and beauty to this world." 

- Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest

Check out this incredible video clip where Paul Hawken explains the movement that is underway right now all around the world, which he says is 'humanities immune response to heal the world'. deep!

That's it for me,

as they say...

'The Best time to Plant a Tree is 20 years ago.... 
...the second best time is NOW'