Here's a guest blog from Natasha at The Great Orangutan Project...
"Word reached us at Matang that a crocodile had been caught in an area roughly 90 minutes away from the centre. Though no known human had been eaten or injured, it had made a meal out of a VIP’s pet dog, and was therefore no longer welcome in the river next to his house. A humane trap had been set, and the crocodile caught within it successfully. The colloquial name, ‘salt water crocodile’ is misleading as this species dwells and hunts in fresh-water rivers. However, is able to travel through areas of high salinity due to special pores it possesses, leading to its name, and sadly leading to conflict with humans, as we are rather keen on fresh-water too.
Unfortunately, crocodiles are not welcome inhabitants of their natural territories should that area overlap with human settlements. It’s not surprising really – consider (I am a Brit) the British people’s aversion to pigeons. The pigeon’s only crime is to poop in places that we would rather not see it. And fly very close to our faces. For these acts, pigeons are rather mercilessly persecuted. It sounds dramatic, but it is sadly true. Now consider if the pigeon was 4 metres long, had dozens of re-growing sharp teeth and would eat us. It is not likely that we would stand for it existing in our country, and would certainly not allow it to inhabit our back gardens.
The rumour was that this dog-eating crocodile was 15 feet long – 15 feet! ‘No way’ we exclaimed, with arrogant surety, ‘the guys always exaggerate, the crocs are never that big’. We were guessing that the new arrival would be perhaps 6-8 feet. Then the truck arrived. Upon it was a crocodile that was perhaps not quite 15 feet long; 13 feet maybe. I have never seen such a large crocodile, though of course they can grow this big, and bigger. They simply continue to grow with age as long as they remain in good health, so we guessed we were looking at an old individual. With salt water crocodiles living up to 70-80 years, this one had to be older than 50.
It was rather obvious that the crocodile enclosure at Matang was not going to be suitable housing for this animal, not only because it would probably knock down the wall of the enclosure with one swipe of its 2-feet-wide, incredibly muscular tail, but also because it would no doubt treat the resident, 2 metre crocs as breakfast. Therefore, after numerous phone calls it was arranged to move this animal to one of the crocodile farms in Sarawak. Estuarine crocodiles are a protected species in Sarawak, therefore it is illegal to harm or kill them. When problem crocodiles are caught from the wild and transferred to farms, they are kept to be used as breeding stock.
We are hoping that the enclosure at its new residence was secure enough to house this guy in the long term. It was a shame we could not keep it, but we have to be realistic as to our logistical capabilities. For sure, it would have been a huge hit with tourists. However, after watching the local team here transferring and working with crocodiles on numerous occasions, I can’t help but feel Matang may have been continuing with one less keeper had this animal been handled here!"
"A brief intro into one of our most inspired volunteers. Owen amusingly depicted below, is a past volunteer and global traveller who spent time volunteering with orangutans (Or as he calls them, 'tans) in Borneo. He is currently writing a book about his travels, something that we here at The Great Projects are very excited about. Until his book is finished and published we hope you will enjoy this small blog below kindly written for us about his time visiting Matang and IAR's orangutan rehabilitation centre, Ketapang."
"The mysterious island of Borneo cast its spell over me from the very beginning; before the plane had even touched down we had to battle our way through a lightning storm as the island emerged from the shadows. We were greeted by our project manager Leo, a gentle giant of a man whose passion for conservation is evident from the moment you meet him. We made the long journey down through Sarawak, stopping off at the Matang Centre and meeting the famous Orang-utan celebrities such as Aman (the first 'tan to have ever had cataract surgery, before continuing by bus and then by ferry down to the small town of Ketapang at the most south western tip of the island, in the Kalimantan province of Indonesian Borneo.
There we joined the other volunteers and the rest of the crew, including the charismatic assistant manager Dominic and IAR representative Argitoe - a man small in stature but big in heart.
The work was tough; finishing the construction of a 3 storey high feeding platform for the infant 'tans as well as creating "Happy Sacks" - enrichment toys containing food that will allow the apes to test their mental skills and keep them active. We soon got to know our hairy charges and I look back in fondness at those loveable faces; Jo-jo, Cindy and Raja.
Our main reason for being at Ketapang was to assist International Animal Rescue (IAR) clear a new piece of purchased land to help in the construction of a new and much needed rehabilitation centre. The heat is oppressive and not without its challenges but the small community of Ketapang was full of smiling faces and children ran out of their houses to say hello as we walked to work.
When not working we would head down to the beach, work out in our custom made Do-jo or just relaxed on the balcony and watched the world go by.
Our housekeeper Ibu was another unforgettable personality; cooking delicious meals with a myriad of flavours when we were tired out and she kept the house spotless no matter how dirty our boots were!
I was offered a special opportunity to take a break and visit Camp Leaky; the site where Orang-utan conservation first began in the 1970's. A short plane ride and a 2 day riverboat trip later (spotting amazing local wildlife such as hornbills, cranes, proboscis monkeys and even a false gharial) we were amongst the buildings of the camp and Leo lent me his vast knowledge of the area. Tread lightly in these forests - the Orang-utans are beautiful but there lack of fear of humans can sometimes lead to the impression that they are tame. Never forget that we are guests in their world and should be respectful.
I was incredibly sad to leave the site - at Ketapang you may not always be around the Orang-utans but it is a project that desperately needs your help and support. With a bustling community next to the site, glorious sunsets, great friends (both local and international) and the having the knowledge that you are making a small positive difference in the lives of these beautiful animals' lives makes all the hard work worth while.
I don't know when I will have the chance to return but I know that if I ever go back to Borneo, Ketapang will be the place to go.
I am currently writing a book about my adventures around the world (of which Borneo was just one of the destinations) and once it is published I intend to donate some of the proceeds back to the Great Projects - to reach the Ketapang site.
Dan Murray, 30, is a support-worker from Liverpool who works with adults with learning difficulties. A couple of years ago he decided he wanted to go somewhere completely different, to do something completely different, and to work for a time with endangered animals. The trouble was he’d never even been through an airport before and, in an accident a few years earlier, had lost his left leg below the knee. We thought we'd catch up with Dan and he told us his story.
So, Dan, tell us a little about what you've been doing?
I’d seen photos and read about orangutans when I was much younger. I had dreamt that when I was older I would go and see them in the wild. I don’t really know exactly what it is but the orangutan just looks like such an incredible animal. I’d put the idea on the back-burner but had continued to read about their welfare and was increasingly alarmed by the impact poaching and an accelerating loss of natural habitat was having on them. I wanted to go and do something, anything, that would help. I knew Borneo was where most of the surviving 50,000 or so orangutans live but absolutely nothing else about the place. I didn’t even know anybody who’d ever been there. But I wanted to go.
How did you make it happen?
I’d never been on a trip anything like this before and couldn't really imagine how I could be away for a month and everything would just carry on. And when I first started thinking I might actually do it, all sorts of awful fears came into my head. I asked for the time off at work and, to my surprise, it was agreed straightaway. A friend was only too happy to look after my dog, and that was about it. When I got back after four and a half weeks, everything was pretty much exactly as it was before I left!
What was particularly attractive about this project?
I chose to go away and work with the Great Orangutan Project at Matang Wildlife Centre in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo for a number of reasons. Their website (www.thegreatprojects.com) had a few positive testimonials on it. I also did a few general searches on the internet. I realised that saving orangutans had to involve helping the local people feed their families in ways that didn’t hurt the orangutans and that was part of The Great Projects programme. I'm not usually suspicious but it was a bit daunting to be setting off on a 13,500 mile trip.
We couldn't help but notice that one of your legs is artificial. How did that factor in your thinking about what to do and where to go?
I didn't know how the heat and the humidity would affect my ability to work but I guess everybody must wonder about that. I thought I should just go, take everything as it came and do my best. It’s so easy to think of reasons not to do things. When I realised I was beginning to plan for things that were nowhere near the realm of the possible, I just decided to stop trying to plan and simply go for it. If I couldn’t cope with something, then I would find someone who would help me. To be honest, it was a relief when my cheque was cashed and I was definitely going. I wrote a list of all the things I needed and packed. Then I reviewed the list and re-packed. I must have done that 20 times before I left.
What sort of reception did you get at the project? Did anything come as a surprise?
Everyone on the Great Orangutan Project at Matang Wildlife Centre was so welcoming. I wore trousers the first day as I felt a little self-conscious. I was worried about people making presumptions about what I could and couldn’t do because of my leg. But it was just too hot so, on the second day, I wore shorts. All the keepers were more than happy to let me try whatever I wanted work-wise. The only people who were ever really curious were the kids - but kids are the same all over the world. They always make a beeline for anything a bit out of the ordinary.
How did you feel once you were settled in? Did you enjoy it?
There was work to be done and everyone seemed really nice, so it was pretty easy to get totally immersed. I usually just go with the flow in new situations. Our routine involved getting up around 7am, having breakfast and then helping to look after the various different animals. Lunch was between 1 and 3pm. In the afternoon, we’d usually do some construction or maintenance work around the park, stuff life sawing wood to be used for a fence or painting the cages. At night we'd usually have a BBQ, play board games, or just talk. It was all pretty carefree. I look back on it now as one of the best times of my life.
Was your leg ever a problem?
My leg was painful at one point and I just carried on working. I shouldn’t have done that. I wasn’t being much help. All I needed was to take a rest.
Is there any advice you’d give someone else with a comparable physical issue thinking about volunteering?
My message is simple - go and try your best. There are things that you'll be able to do, and things you won’t. It’s no different to the rest of life. Commitment and passion can make up for pretty much anything. My most embarrassing moments had nothing to do with my leg. I tried to learn a bit of the local language. One day I was feeling a bit tired and thought I’d tell people. I wondered why they kept laughing. Turned out I’d got the words a bit wrong and was telling everyone I had diarrhoea.
What do you think has been the most important lasting impact on you?
Since that first trip, I've volunteered in Kenya and have been back to the Indonesian part of Borneo to work with orangutans there. I can’t imagine a better way to learn about a country. I've met some incredibly interesting people and made some amazing friends. I can't imagine ever stopping volunteering now. It means more to me than I ever thought it would. Instead of visiting places and passing through, the places become a part of you. I got back from Borneo about a month ago. There’s now a climbing-frame there the size of double-decker bus that I helped build. That will be used by orang-utans for years to come. The satisfaction that gives me is something you can’t put a price on...
by Dan Murray | edited by Gapyear.com
"Wow Dan, I think you're a bloody legend! Well done to you, for contributing to Orangutan survival in any way you could. I'm a really keen volunteer (I even wrote a book about my experiences), and I love the fact that not only did you not let your leg become a barrier to prevent you doing this sort of work, but you even embraced it fully and have continued to volunteer! I rate anyone who volunteers as a bit of a hero, because I've done it and I know it's not a holiday. Far from it! But reading this post on your story made me suitably impressed by what you got up to in Borneo. Well done mate!
I'm off there myself soon, so I look forward to getting in on that particular piece of action!
All the best,
Tony James Slater"
As those of you that follow our facebook group will know, in November three of the younger orang-utans at Matang spent a week out in the jungle at the Piers Mott Ranger Station in Kubah National Park. Joining this trip were:
Ali – a 3 year old male who is very familiar with the jungle, having spent many days and nights in the national park here since his arrival to the centre in 2009
Simanggang – a 2 and a half year old male who has been at Matang since early 2009. He has been in our care since he was approximately 3 weeks old, so we have known him almost all his life. Though he has been practising some tree climbing in a small area of forest, this was his first excursion to the wider park.
Lingga – a 2 year old male who has been with us since 2010. Lingga was socialised with Simanggang not long after his arrival, and the two of them have become very good friends. In fact, they are close to inseparable. This was also his first excursion into the jungle at large.
With the exception of the injury to Apai Sandi (details of which I posted to our facebookgroup), the 5 days went very well. It is obviously only just the very first baby step, particularly for Simanggang and Lingga, towards rehabilitation and life in the jungle, and at this stage all we really hope for it that the orang-utans are simply comfortable in the forest. We do not expect them to, as dusk approaches, immediately climb up 30m and construct a perfect nest – indeed each night on this trip the orang-utan returned to a temporary cage that had been constructed at the rehabilitation site – or forage for natural foods all day, but if they can spend almost a week in the rainforest environment with no obvious signs of stress, through day and night, it is hugely encouraging.
Ali is a great mentor for the two younger orang-utan; he had more time with his mum before he was sadly orphaned at approximately 18 months old, so had already acquired a basic skill set for orang-utan life. He simply needs to regain confidence and slowly increase his independence. He is also incredibly sociable and friendly, and takes well to any orang-utan he comes into contact with. It seems that the amount of time they have with their mothers in the wild is an integral factor in their potential success as rehabilitants. It is also important for them to be mixed with con-specifics – there is not much that a young orang-utan can learn about being an orang-utan if the only role model is has is a human carer. The keepers for these young orang-utan provide an extremely important safety net and source of comfort if required, but if all is going well the orang-utan are encouraged to keep their distance from the humans, interact with each other and seize the opportunity to explore what it means to be an orang-utan.
The current plan is to have these youngsters spend at least one week in every month out in the forest, with day trips to the trees in between. It really is a landmark stage in their development, and has been particularly rewarding for Leo and me, having spent many, many a sleepless night caring for these three and seeing them through their most vulnerable stages. It is great that their first week went so well, and inspires hope for their potential to return to living in the forest.
Paloma updates us on the latest improvements to International Animal Rescue's orangutan centre in Ketapang, West Kalimantan.From The Primate Diaries
With 11 new orangutans arriving just last month, we have been making some improvements to the centre. As five of these orangutans are infants between 3 and 4 years old, it has been necessary to provide another area where they can play once they have completed the quarantine period. The new area is four times bigger than the baby school and it also has more trees.
However, the ground is wet, which is good because it makes them spend more time in the trees, but at the same time it is hard to build platforms and structures for them to play on.
During this entire month the plan has been to prepare this area for the new infant orangutans, although Melky, Bunga and Sindy are already enjoying the area.
The new play area provides the infant orangutans with more trees and space to explore
Thanks to the help of the first volunteer group from The Great Projects and IAR’s Ketapang team, the first platform has been finished. It has four floors and is very strong. The idea is to give the orangutans food on these platforms so they will get used to being high up and overcome any fear.
We still have a lot of work to do to make this infant area a great place which they can really enjoy, while at the same time training and improving their natural behaviours. It will be wonderful to see them all playing once it is finished!
Join the new volunteer programme at Ketapang to help rebuild the centre to house the influx of rescued and relocated orangutans and better the conditions of resident apes. Join us for 4 weeks in Borneo and help make difference to rescued orangutans. Visit IAR Project Borneo .
Project in Borneo sees Orangutans Relocated to IAR's Ketapang Centre.
At the request of the Forestry Department in West Kalimantan (BKSDA), IAR's team in Indonesia has relocated 11 orangutans from a rescue centre in Sintang to their own emergency rescue and rehabilitation facility in Ketapang. This raises the number of orangutans in the IAR centre to 38.
Although well fed and healthy, the animals were being kept without a licence from the Forestry Department which gave the authorities cause for concern over the orangutans' immediate security and their future long term care. All the animals had previously been rescued from captivity and some of them had spent years living in deplorable conditions.
Before the relocation went ahead, an IAR vet carried out a thorough veterinary examination and behavioural assessment of the orangutans to determine whether each animal was in a satisfactory physical and mental condition to be relocated to the Ketapang centre. All animals that are brought in to the facility undergo a period in quarantine before they begin the process of rehabilitation and socialisation.
The orangutans arrived at IAR's centre on 30 May after a 48 hour journey by road and by boat. Three rangers also made the trip which was organised and coordinated by IAR vets Dr Anita and Dr Adi, from sedating the orangutans before the trip right through to their arrival in Ketapang. Karmele Llano Sanchez, Executive Director of IAR Indonesia, said: "All 11 orangutans from the centre in Sintang arrived safely at IAR’s facility at 8am today. They are in good condition and look perfectly healthy.
11 relocated orangutans arriving at the IAR Centre.
"I would like to thank and congratulate our team from Ketapang for doing such a good job and showing such professionalism throughout the relocation. Now the really tough task begins with the rehabilitation of 11 more orangutans!"
Alan Knight OBE, Chief Executive of International Animal Rescue, said: "We now need to focus our efforts on building the best orangutan conservation centre in the world so we can give all the orangutans we rescue the greatest possible chance of returning to the wild.
"Our thanks go to our American partner Orangutan Outreach for meeting the costs of the entire relocation operation."
International Animal Rescue has started building a new orangutan conservation centre not far from the existing facility with funding from a generous UK benefactor. However, the charity still needs to raise significant sums of money to complete the construction and cover the project's running costs.
Blog by IAR - 6 June 2011.
An infant orangutan receives refreshment during the journey
Join the new volunteer programme at Ketapang to help rebuild the centre to house the influx of rescued and relocated orangutans and better the conditions of resident apes. Join us for 4 weeks in Borneo and help make difference to rescued orangutans.
Nicola Clarke (26 years), Project Leader for The Great Projects, shows us how to go from jewelry artist from Brighton University to ape conservation in Borneo. Watch her recent video at Samboja Lestari in Borneo or read below her journey into a career in conservation and making a difference to local people, vulnerable places and endangered animals.
Nicola Clarke's journey - tribes, orangutans, gorillas and more...
There are not many jobs in the world where you get the opportunity to make an impact as an individual and effect real change, while simultaneously working on something you are passionate about and which allows for travel to exotic destinations. This amazing career is a career in conservation. A career in conservation however, is not just a job. It is a life choice. And more often than not, you end up going into it head first!
When contemplating a career in conservation, there are many things to consider as it is a highly competitive sector with sought after jobs. In order to make it in this industry you have to be determined and have the ability to go the distance.
A degree in conservation is not a bad place to start. It demonstrates your commitment and interest in animals, habitats and conservation. It is a good foundation from which to build a career in conservation. A degree alone however, is not nearly enough.
I have always dreamed of traveling and have always had a passion for animals. So it may come as a surprise that I graduated with a degree in three dimensional design and photography and went on to become a professional jeweler and photographer. My passion for travel and for animals however, eventually led me towards a career in conservation. But it took a lot of drive, passion, a little bit of thinking outside of the box and hard work to get there. Today, I am very happy being a professional Project Leader for a multi-award winning responsible tourism company which is leading the way in endangered animal protection tourism in the global south. As a Project Leader I get to work behind the scenes at wildlife centres around the world that are closed to everyday people. This is a privilege and I use my photography to capture these magic moments to share with everyone. Professional photography and visual arts will always be a passion for me. And the chance to be a wildlife expressionist works in paralell to my job of looking after projects in rainforests of Borneo or Uganda.
One of my earliest experiences that convinced me a career in conservation was the way forward was a volunteering trip I took across south-east Asia post graduation. In particular, I volunteered on an orangutan project with The Great Projects where I worked at a national zoo in Malaysia before travelling on to Borneo to visit animal rehabilitation centres there. The project concluded with my living in the remote Sarawak jungle in Borneo with a local community, tracking wild orangutans and working alongside the community on animal protection issues. The experience affected me deeply and I knew that I wanted to do more. I knew that the beautiful people, animals and places that I had been so privileged to meet and witness would not be there long if nothing was done to protect them. I made the decision to abandon a planned postgraduate course in art and focussed my energies on conservation instead.
My journey however, has not been all about travel and adventure. When I finally began my career in conservation it was from behind a desk, in an office, learning about conservation tourism and animal welfare. I enjoyed my time spent at the offices of The Great Projects, often doing sales work, as it gave me much needed knowledge and experience. It certainly paid off as I went on to consult on the creation of new volunteer programmes for The Great Projects. Then came the big one – I was given the opportunity to travel to Uganda to put together a gorilla volunteer project, which in itself was a remarkable and life changing experience. It enabled me to screen gorilla conservation films to over 10,000 people in Uganda over 2 weeks. This was with our partnership with GAFI. Today, my role at The Great Projects, amongst other things, is to design volunteer programmes as well as to run volunteer them in several different countries across the world.
Here are 5 tips that helped me get a job in conservation.
Tip 1: Get behind the scenes experience.
My advice to someone at the inception of a career in conservation is first, to give their time to learning about the industry. Gain some experience and put theory into practical use. Volunteering is an excellent way to do this. Volunteering gives you insight into what it would be like if you were to work and live as a conservationist. A conservation volunteering experience is a taster of what it would be like to live as an animal keeper or conservationist on the field. Conservation volunteer programmes take you behind the scenes of wildlife centres and get you some hands on work. For 2 weeks or 4 weeks you can immerse yourself deeply into a new way of life and choose if this life is the one for you.
Tip 2: Think outside of the box.
The industry is highly competitive and capitalising on your strengths is a good way to set yourself apart from the competition. For example, I used my qualification in photography to capture the things I had seen on my first volunteer programme. I compiled all the images into a book and had the book published. I did this to raise awareness on issues affecting orangutans and their habitats, and to raise money for the orangutans. My efforts resulted my being offered a place on an expedition to east Kalimantan in Borneo to set up new orangutan volunteer programmes, including building climbing platforms and ‘islands’ for the orangutans.
The expedition was a joint effort between The Great Projects and Borneo Survival Foundation, and the new volunteer programmes being put together were aimed at providing support for the rehabilitation of some 225 orangutans.
Tip 3: Passionate about conservation.
Conservation work can be difficult and frustrating at times. You will often be working in environments that are fraught with cultural and political sensitivities. You will be faced with limitations and the changes that you seek can often be slow in coming. It is your passion that will see you through these times and keep you from throwing the towel in.
Tip 4: Be realistic in your expectations.
Everybody wants to work with the big animal species such as orangutans, gorillas, elephants and the like. Opportunities in areas of conservation involving these animals are hard to come by as they are highly saturated areas. Furthermore, these particular animals already have long standing experts on them. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work with orangutans and gorillas, but I would not profess to be an expert on either species. There are many experts on these animals and who have spent their lifetime getting there. It would be difficult for someone like me to offer a unique observation or perspective on these animals. My advice would be to focus on an animal or an area of conservation that has yet to be studied and to become expert within that area. In doing so, you will gain the necessary kudos within the world of conservation and will eventually be able to go on to work with another animal species of your choice.
Take Channy in Indonesian Borneo for example. A French man only in his twenties yet considered to be an expert on gibbons. He focussed on a species that had not been widely studied. His approach was to lobby the conservation world to redefine the status of the gibbon as a lesser ape to a great ape.
Tip 5: Do not give up.
It is worth it when you get there. For me, being part of The Great Projects and seeing theimpact that it has made via responsible tourism has been a rewarding experience. I have had the opportunity to be a part of amazing projects and expeditions. This July 2011 I will be participating in a gorilla expedition to Uganda, led by the eminent Ian Redmond OBE. Ian Redmond is a tropical field biologist and conservationist renowned for his work with great apes and elephants. He is best known for his friendship and work with Dian Fossey and their work with mountain gorillas. He has been involved in more than 50 documentaries on the subject, including introducing David Attenborough to gorillas that helped soften the attitude towards gorillas.
Finally, I wish you all the best of luck. If you would like to gain some conservation experience and have the opportunity to work with a wide range of animal species, or if you would simply like to find out more about some of the things that I have talked about here, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
This year Nicola is leading the tours in Uganda called the Great Gorilla Project and stewards the volunteer programmes at Samboja Lestari in Borneo where over 250 orangutans are in care.
Its an image that would stir emotion in even the most hardened of hearts. What on earth would possess someone to do this to another living organism? This photograph (courtesy of IAR) was printed in yesterday's UK newspaper News of the World and is a clear example of man's capacity to harm in the most primitive way. I thought we were the primates with the greater intelligence? It beggars belief and is heart-breaking!
Human, wildlife conflict is a growing concern for conservationists in the field. As natural habitats shrink as a result of anthropogenic activities, the problem is exacerbated and endangered species are viewed as pests by local people, when they start to encroach on private land.
According to the Sussex-based charity International Animal Rescue (IAR), the starving mother and baby had been spotted in the village of Peniraman in Indonesia, after there was a landslide in the surrounding area. She was scavenging for food to feed her infant; but her appearance in the village was far from welcomed.
The charity says the forest surrounding the village has been converted into palm oil plantations and any small patches of remaining woodland are occupied by people. Forests are the last viable habitats for the orangutan species, but fragmented forests cannot support these arboreal great apes sufficiently and they are forced to the ground to look for food elsewhere.
A team from IAR says it witnessed unspeakable cruelty towards this pair before help arrived.
Vet Karmele Llono- Sanchez told the newspaper: "They laid into the mother with sticks until she fell on the ground, then tied her arms and legs with rope. As the mob tried to drag her off she fought back to save her screeching baby. So villagers threw a net over them, wrenched the little one away and tied her up too. Then they hauled the mother into a swimming pool and held her under till she passed out. They then dragged her into the makeshift cage. She was just about still alive but could barely sit up as they tossed baby Peni in with her. At that point the crowd grew restless again, yelling and poking the animals with sticks - luckily it was then that one of my colleagues arrived at the scene and managed to stop the torture."
The infant, Peni survived, the mother died 15 minutes later en route to getting treatment.
Peni is now nine months old and is still recovering from her trauma. She'll stay at IAR's rehab centre in Ketapang until a decision can be made on whether she'll be fit and able to fend for herself if released back into the wild.
According to the United Nations, the natural forests of Sumatra and Borneo are being cleared so fast, up to 98 per cent may be destroyed by 2022. These palm oil plantations cause enormous and often irreversible damage to the natural environment through cutting down and burning tropical rainforests. There is approximately 300-700 million hectares of abandoned land globally that can potentially be used for oil palm plantations instead of virgin rainforest; 20 million hectares in Indonesia alone.
A spokesman for IAR said: "There are still seven remaining orangutans living in unsuitable forests surrounding the village of Peniraman where this tragedy took place, including the male who came down to the village with the mother and Peni. IAR's team is committed to doing everything they can to rescue and translocate all these orangutans as soon as they can raise sufficient funds to do so."
Asha Tanna is a freelance journalist who is retraining to become a Primatologist. She writes a conservation blog http://whogivesamonkeys.com/ which looks at primate-related issues and is our guest blogger for The Great Projects.
MAKE A DIFFERENCE TO ORANGUTANS IN KETAPANG: The Great Projects in partnership with IAR is running a special volunteer experience to Ketapang aiming to rebuild the wildlife centre for orangutans. Join us this summer (June, July, August 2011) for 2 or 4 weeks in Borneo and help make difference to rescued orangutans. Visit "Build a Future for Orangutans".
Asha Tanna is a freelance journalist who is retraining to become a Primatologist. Follow her journey through the wonderful world of primates.
I'd like to think I'm not an 'over-the shoulder reader' when I travel on the tube. I find it really irksome when other people do it to me and I often want to turn and say, "Have you quite finished, can I turn the page now?!"
I always carry a book or pick up a free paper for my journey - there's plenty of them at most tube stations and depending on which line you use, some carriages are littered with dog-eared rags which have been re-read by at least three different people, according to some surveys. Someone pass me the sanitiser!
This afternoon I found myself not so much looking over the shoulder, but staring at the back page of a paper which was held up for all and sundry to view. There, in what was a half page ad, was the cutest photograph of a baby orangutan half smiling (in that anthropomorphic-way) as a blatant plug for an airline flying to South East Asia.
I'm all for a country embracing its local assets, but how local wildlife is protected and preserved through tourism is something of a hot potato, especially when it comes to endangered species.
Over the weekend my Irish friend, Bodhrán-Queen (BQ) was asking me about the different types of organisations that charge you for the privilege of being a volunteer in order to get up close and personal with the local wildlife. Some of these 'experiences' can be very pricey ranging from £1500 upwards and there's no guarantee you know where the money is going or how reputable the company is. You must do your own research and check! There's no overall eco-tourism ombudsman, so if in doubt try and cross reference with a reputable conservation organisation, if you're unsure.
However, one company I did suggest BQ look at is The Great Projects, which I have only recently discovered myself. Last week I was introduced via email to its managing director, Afzaal Mauthoor.
Last year the company - which has a base is Hertfordshire - was given a highly commended award in the category of best volunteering organisation for its Great Orangutan Project in the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards. The Great Projects has been going for more than six years and Mr Mauthoor has spent many years living and working in Malaysia before he decided to bring the concept to the UK. He told me: "We were so pleased to be recognised, we haven't bagged the biggie yet, which is the overall winner in that category, so it's something to aim for.
"When I started The Great Projects I wanted to build a company that would not follow the old dinosaur model of some NGO's. I used to work as a consultant at a time when eco-tourism was just starting to take off in Malaysia. There were lots of gap year students and people on career-breaks looking to do something different. I saw there was an opportunity and so I started looking at alternative ways of helping conservation while creating a meaningful experience for people."
Mr Mauthoor tells me the company tries to be more accountable to local people and the organisation is run like a business where 25 per cent of its total revenue goes back to local communities where the projects are run. Any profits made are then used to start other projects and run the various sites.
If done well eco-tourism can also be hugely beneficial to the indigenous population, who appreciate the influx of tourists spending their hard-earned cash.
He said: "In 2009, we received one hundred and twenty-one volunteers at Sarawak in Borneo for the orangutan experience. The money raised from those volunteers paying to stay, brought in more funds than ninety-five thousand tourists on orangutan holidays in the same area that year booked through travel agents."
The company is hoping by the end of 2012 to have hit the million pound donation mark which has gone towards animal conservation and developing the local community at different sites in Borneo.
As well as volunteer programmes there are also eco-tours available, and the variety of species is impressive - turtles in Malaysia; dolphins in Peru; Gorilla tours with Ian Redmond; Lions in South Africa. Mr Mauthoor added: "You'll find that more often than not a conservation project is built around a given species with the aim of protecting it.
"The tourism programme is designed around the project to drive much-needed funds to it. The volunteer or traveller also get an opportunity to personally contribute to projects through activities such as husbandry, infrastructure building, rehabilitation and release of animals, habitat restoration as well as community involvement.
"This tourism is in its most compassionate form and you can use your travel to express your responsibility to an endangered species or habitat. This makes The Great Projects a seriously good way to travel and make a difference abroad."
So if like BQ you're wondering what to do this summer and feel you'd like to contribute to conservation look into eco-tourism - you don't have to grow dreads and turn in Swampy to help wildlife and local communities who need our support.
Asha Tanna writes a conservation blog http://whogivesamonkeys.com/ which looks at primate-related issues. Asha is also a guest blogger for The Great Projects, so watch this space for more of Asha’s view on primates.
Leo Biddle - Head of Conservation blogs on his new challenge to build a new wildlife centre for orangutans in Borneo.
Over the last 6 years of coordinating The Great Projects orangutan volunteering programs in Borneo called The Great Orangutan Project, I’ve been continually surprised at how much can be achieved with the donations and illimitable enthusiasm that each one of you, the volunteers, has brought for improving the conservation or animal welfare goals of each project.In 2007, for example, Aman (the great alpha male) was the world's first orangutan to receive a eye cataract operation at the Matang Wildlife Centre; in 2009 female orangutans Chiam & Ganti with their orangutan babies were released and live free in the rainforest. The orangutans Ali and Ting San spend many of their days in the jungle soon to be joined by orangutans Catherine, George and one day Doris. The baby orangutans Simangan and Lingga have against the odds survived their machete and gunshot wounds and I am confident that when older they too will return to the rainforest.
I am in no doubt that the contributions you, the orangutan volunteers, all have made financially, and in your collective efforts to improve Matang Wildlife Centre, has enabled us to save the lives of at least 10 of the orangutan now at Semenggoh & Matang; along with the rescue and survival of hundreds of other endangered or protected animals.
I’ve also been fortunate to see the significant development in the reach and impact of The Great Projects (aka WOX) to help endangered apes; from expanding our volunteering model to several other orangutan rehabilitation centres across Borneo as well as to working with animals abroad such as volunteer with gorillas and chimpanzees in Africa.
Despite the progress of our own organisation however one cannot ignore the fact that at the same time great ape populations have continued to diminish, perhaps none so alarmingly as that of the orangutan’s. Unfortunately experts aren’t making it up when they forecast their imminent extinction; likely to be the first of the great apes in recorded history.
The sustained genocide against our furry cousins continues almost unabated. Their habitat is still being burnt and converted at a catastrophic rate; adults are still shot as agricultural pests, while the meat of mothers is sold openly on markets as their orphans languish in cruel captivity for human amusement or profit.
Sadly the situation is not significantly improving; I fear it is actually getting worse. Given how low the orangutan numbers have fallen even minor levels of predation place the remnant populations under an ever increasing strain. If not for the existence of a handful of organisations working ceaselessly to safeguard fragments of habitat, or providing rescue & succour for the refugees of the forest, one wonders if there would still exist a sliver of hope for this ape’s continued existence.
Some of you will recall us saying that no matter how bad things were for orangutan within Sarawak, they were much worse in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) where the vast majority of the remaining wild orangutan remain. Below Sarawak lies the province of Western Kalimantan where I have personally seen many orangutan being held illegally during my time in Borneo. Until very recently there has not been anywhere to take these animals to, coupled with a relative lack of NGO presence to represent them.
Last year a UK charity, famous for ending the practise of dancing bears in India - International Animal Rescue, began to establish a base in Western Kalimantan near a town called Ketapang to temporarily hold rescued orangutan. They have already successfully rescued a number of orangutan; including one some of you might remember ‘Mely’ who’d been chained to a post in Sambas for 15 years.
International Animal Rescue are very focused on wanting to rehabilitate and return as many of the rescued orangutan to the wild as they can; as well as working to stem the flow of fresh ones from the wild and freeing the potentially hundreds of illegally held orangutan in the region. For me their entry into this area is one of the most needed and significant initiatives of the last decade in orangutan conservation and we have decided to throw the full weight of our orangutan project in support of them.
The reality is that we are only able to find so many volunteers for our working with animal projects each year and with our work in Sarawak, Sabah and in Eastern Kalimantan we are already overstretched. Consequently I have made the difficult decision to temporarily stop receiving volunteers at Matang in order to concentrate our efforts in Ketapang. Helping to build, from scratch, a new rehabilitation centre in Ketapang; on a project that both Natasha and I will be leading.
There obviously remains an immense amount of work that is still required at Matang and I do not pretend that rehabilitation and development at the centre will not stall whilst we send our volunteers elsewhere. However of all our project sites Matang is in the most robust position and we do feel that the local staff can maintain the centre as it is until our volunteers return. Eddie, Alvin & Richard will remain and we have set aside money for food and veterinary treatment as required for the animals.
Conversely by sending our volunteer’s enthusiasm, donations and labour to Ketapang I genuinely believe we will achieve the maximum outcome possible for orangutan and if successful be instrumental in saving the lives of one or more hundred orangutan.
Over the last 6 years I have never appealed to you all for more help, for us or the orangutan, as I already appreciate how much you’ve given and done. But this will potentially be the highest impact we can make in the shortest possible time and in my view is the most direct route to enabling people’s money or time help save as many orangutan lives possible.
If any of you are in a position to do so I would ask you to consider donating what you can to International Animal Rescue which will go towards building the new centre.
If your colleagues or friends are interested in maintaining a planet with orangutan please try to convince them to support the effort, perhaps some of you might have time to arrange a talk about your own experiences during a coffee morning or pub quiz etc and donate any proceeds or raise awareness.
If you find you’ve been missing leeches and humidity you would be most welcome to join us in this latest and challenging project as we literally lay the foundations for many orangutan’s future. The project will be different to Matang or Samboja and very focused on building; not for the faint hearted but definitely for those seeking the frontline of orangutan conservation. Click below for the new orangutan volunteer programme, and help us build a wildlife centre for orangutans in Borneo.
Build a Future for Orangutans
I hope that all of you are well and I hope that some of you will be able to help us in some way.I’m reminded that the future of the orangutan and other great apes will inevitably be decided within our lifetimes and that the only chance for a positive outcome will be decided by the actions of those that care for them. Hence I turn to those of you I know already care and thank you for your continued support.