Friday, June 18, 2010

Home Sweet Home

We have so much more to tell everyone about, but right now we are tired! We have finally arrived back in the U.S. and are very glad to see our families again. After 37+ hours of flights and layovers it is time to get some sleep.

We will discuss our travels, share pictures, and talk about what we learned at the upcoming “Swinging in the Rainforest” event at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo on July 10, 2010 from 6:30 – 9 p.m. Get your tickets online today!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Gunung Palung National Park and Flora and Fauna International

The situation in Indonesian Borneo appears to be very bad for many orangutans. Compared to Sumatra (also in Indonesia) and Sabah, Malaysia, Indonesian Borneo is going through a major conversion from forest to oil palm plantations on a massive scale. Sumatra and Sabah, Malaysia already went through this transition many years ago and have very few orangutans left as a result. There are 87 different palm oil companies in the Ketapang region.

Palm Oil as far as the eye can see.

Truck on scale to weigh FFBs (fresh fruit bunches of palm oil).

Our next meeting was with the National Park office which is a run by the Forestry Department. The forestry official we met with told us a lot about Gunung Palung National Park. The park was established in 1927 and was enlarged in 1990. There are 2,500-3,000 orangutans in the park, it is 90,000 hectares, and 6 rangers patrol and monitor the park via trekking, water boats and ultra-light airplanes. There are currently two ultra-light pilots, but recently an NGO gave them money and tools to train more pilots. The park official we spoke with thinks Borneo needs a good zoo so local people can see the animals and learn about them. He also said that there is too much forest being converted to palm oil. We were very surprised to learn that in 2008 there were 222 guests to the park, and in 2009 there were 488 guests. We expected this park to be a more popular destination.

Next we visited with FFI, Flora and Fauna International. A major project they are working on is HCV assessments for palm oil plantations. HCV areas are high in conservation value, and there are many factors that can lead to this classification. A few examples are:
• endangered species living in the area,
• land that has cultural significance for indigenous people,
• riparian areas

The reason for assessing HCV areas is that it is a requirement of the RSPO in order for a plantation to be a member of RSPO and to be certified as sustainable. FFI has many specialists that make up their HCV assessment team (bat specialist, bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian, etc.). An impressive part of this program is that the palm oil plantations do not pay for the assessments; they are funded by FFI and other NGOs so there is no question about validity or bias/influence.

The FFI Team

We met with a man named Fajri from Gemawan, an NGO that helps communities manage the local forests sustainably. They are working with twelve different villages. Of the many projects they are working on, one of the most unique is the collection of kopi luwak. If you have seen the movie “The Bucket List” this might ring a bell. This involves collecting coffee beans that are eaten then defecated by wild palm civets. This specialty coffee fetches very high prices and gives local people an incentive to protect the civets. (Yes, people pay a lot to drink this!) Of the twelve villages they are working with, conversion of forests to palm oil plantations has not been a concern near any of those villages thus far.

We visited a medical clinic that gives a large discount to patients who are not loggers. Also, if they are unable to pay with money then patients or their families can trade handicrafts for medical services. The photo below is of some crafts that were traded at the clinic.

A highlight of our time in this area was a hike and overnight stay in Gunung Palung National Park. The hike was steep but beautiful, and we slept on the upper levels of a giant complex tree house. While we slept a wild bearded pig came into the camp and ate all of the coffee, then splashed around in the nearby creek. The camping precautions we take to avoid conflict with wildlife in the U.S. could definitely apply to other parts of the world. (Not sure how to keep primates out of your supplies though, we’ll have to follow up on that question.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Jakarta and Meetings

A Journal Entry from our team:
We spent one day in Jakarta having two important meetings, one with The Nature Conservancy (TCN) and one with the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil). The RSPO meeting helped us understand more thoroughly the challenges and successes they have experienced. TNC has some interesting projects that are helping with orangutan conservation. We went to a nice mall and it was awesome to see a Baskin Robbins (we are getting a little homesick) which we enjoyed after our Indonesian lunch.

The city of Jakarta has a population of 9.5 million. It is sprawling and huge. The downtown area is modern, the outskirts seem very poverty –stricken. The overcrowding and conditions people are living in is eye-opening. It makes the average American home seem like a palace.

Next we flew to Pontianak and on to our destination of Ketapang. The flight to Ketapang was a little scary. Before we took off 9 people kept trying to fix the plane’s propeller. When they apparently fixed it, the mechanic went on the flight with us, and then he rushed out to examine it when we landed.

Our reason for going to the towns of Ketapang and Sukadana was to spend time with Yayasun Palung, an NGO (non-governmental organization) in west Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Mayi, Tito, Wendi and Wiwid explained to us about the projects they’re working on. We later visited their education center in Sukadana. They show local people some of the unique and special trees and plants found in the rainforest. They have also conducted classes to train local people how to make furniture out of bamboo (see photo below). This is a sustainable way to help them make a living. Yayasun Palung had also set up numerous meetings for us.

We also met with IAR (International Animal Rescue). This organization rescues and rehabilitates all sorts of animals from sun bears and lorises to orangutans. They see the worst of what is happening in Indonesia. The following example was very disturbing for us to see – the reality of what many orangutans are facing. A female orangutan had been wandering around a palm oil plantation (one that is not a member of RSPO) and was attacked by people there. Her hand was sliced with a machete and her baby was taken from her. Two weeks later (about two days before we arrived in Ketapang) she was found wandering again and was beaten by the people. She received a bad wound to the back of her head and was locked in a bathroom. IAR was called to rescue her and unfortunately she died an hour after rescuers arrived. During her necropsy they found that she was a lactating mother, so the search was on to find the baby. A tip came in that the baby was in a private home, so IAR located and confiscated the baby. We briefly saw the infant, he was in critical condition and he may not survive. Below is a photo of him. We hope that he makes it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

It’s Not all Paradise

Some of the amazing cultural and societal differences that our team noticed are described in the following journal entries from Tracey, Dina, and Mandy.

In a lot of ways Sukau is an animal lover’s paradise. The attitudes of the local people are very conservation-oriented in 2010, largely due to the influence of Dr. Isabelle Lackman and Marc Ancrenaz of KOCP. The one aspect of Sukau that is not “green” is that Sukau has no trash or recycling services. One option for local people to recycle and dispose of their trash would be to drive bins or bags of trash to Sandakan in their personal vehicles. This would be ridiculous due to the distance, road conditions and the fact that many residents of Sukau do not own personal vehicles. Another option would be to dig a hole on their property to create a small personal land fill on their own land. This option is extremely labor intensive and not a feasible long-term plan. Another method we witnessed was to carry large quantities of trash to the Kinabatangan River and dump it in to the river. Most people in Sukau do not do this, but there are some who do utilize this option to dispose of their trash and recycling. The most common method we observed is to burn trash, including plastic bottles, which releases toxic fumes into the atmosphere. It was very sad to see such a conservation-minded village have no choice but to pollute their river and environment.

The traditional bathing method in Indonesia and Malaysia is called a mandi bath. This involves using a ladle and pouring clean or river water over yourself instead of sitting in a tub or standing in a shower. Every bathroom has a drain in the floor so you just stand in the bathroom (or on the river’s edge) to take the mandi bath. We asked about the tiny structures at the river’s edge, in front of each house – what are those? They are for the women to change when they take a mandi bath!

Mandi bath.

Women's changing rooms at the edge of the river.

Probably the cutest tradition we learned about is that the youngest child of the household is supposed to kiss the hands of adults (friends and family). Here is a photo of Mincho’s twin sons kissing Tracey and Stephanie’s hands.

The five widows are a group of women who perform traditional music. They came to our home stay with their unique musical instruments and did a special performance for our group. The music was great and everyone had a fun time!

The Five Widows.

Music night with The Five Widows performing for the group.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Insights of a Local Community Leader

In the process of planning our trip we had told Dr. Isabelle, a world renowned French primatologist and Director of Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project (KOCP), that we would like to speak with a community leader if possible. She arranged for us to meet with Suali bin Adai, the Muslim leader in Sukau.

We quickly learned why Suali bin Adai is considered a wise man. We asked him many questions about what he has experienced with the development of oil palm plantations in Malaysia over the years, and also the changes he has seen since KOCP and Red Ape Encounters were established. The biggest changes he has seen since palm oil plantations replaced some large forested areas are obviously loss of habitat, increase in high winds (which is not normal for these areas), and he said “it is much hotter than it was in the ‘old days.’” When asked if peoples’ attitudes about orangutans have changed since KOCP has been active for the last twelve years, he had this to say:

Years ago we saw orangutans sometimes but it was just an orangutan. We did not have an intention to kill them (note: Muslims do not hunt orangutans for food). After they came (Dr. Isabelle and Marc) we found out that it is important for them to be here. It is good that they are here.

Mr. Adai is a dignified man who was easy to talk to (with Mincho interpreting) and he has a great sense of humor. He has embraced eco-tourism, and when asked if he thought that more visitors should come to Sukau he said, “Yes! They should come!” Mr. Adai’s answers were very insightful and helpful in our understanding of the realities people face in Sukau.

While we do not have a picture with Mr. Adai, this is a picture with Mincho, our guide.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Jenny and Mallotus

We would like to introduce you to a couple of the orangutans we had the opportunity to meet on this trip. Jenny is an older Bornean orangutan in the KOCP research site. They are not exactly sure how old she is but they think she may be in her 40s. Her son, Mallotus, is almost five years old and is starting to become more independent, although the researchers/observers told us that he still sleeps in the nest with his mother every night. Jenny has become somewhat habituated over the years and is tolerant of researchers watching her. One day per week (at most) Red Ape Encounters and KOCP bring eco-tourists to the study area so they can have the rare experience of seeing an orangutan the wild. We were lucky enough to see them foraging and moving around the forest. Mallotus drank water out of a tree cavity then played with the water for a while. We were so grateful for this wonderful experience!

Jenny climbing above us.

Jenny’s son, Mallotus, peeking through the trees.

We also experienced interesting forest bridges, leeches (it was a team effort to keep them off of each other, but they’re not as bad as we thought they would be), and saw elephant prints and dung! There were about 100 elephants in this area only 2 weeks ago. It has been quite an adventure and we are learning so much.

Elephant dung with mushrooms and plants growing out of it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fire Hose Bridges in the Rainforest

This is a journal entry we received from Dina Bredahl about some of the amazing uses of fire hose in the forests for the orangutans:

BCT (Borneo Conservation Trust) has constructed several fire hose bridges across rivers in the Kinabatangan area. Several primate species regularly use the bridges to cross between formerly isolated areas; orangutans have been seen using them as well. (See the photo below of the fire hose bridge with the macaque crossing)

Note: many zoos in the US, including Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, use fire hose donated from fire departments in their primate exhibits as well. Fire hose is an economical, sturdy, long-lasting and safe way to furnish exhibits for these athletic, arboreal great apes.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Reforestation Experience

Dina Bredahl sent this special experience for us to share with you.

Each of us has been very affected by things we have seen and experienced on this trip. One thing that really hit home for some of us was having the opportunity to plant a tree as part of the reforestation project. The gravity of habitat loss issues facing orangutans can seem overwhelming at times. The chance to plant a tree and have a positive impact was extremely special. We each named our tree. One of the trees was named “MaryAnn” to honor a former staff member of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Mary Ann O’Connell, whose passion for reforestation of orangutan habitat and research skills have made their mark with orangutan conservation at CMZ.

We saw reforestation sites that were in different stages of maturity, and we learned so much about the investment each tree requires. It is a relief to know that the KOCP reforestation team will monitor, care for and protect each tree we planted during the next several years. We saw trees that were planted two years ago and some were over twenty feet tall! Their protective electric fence (to keep elephants at bay when the seedlings were small) is gone now and the team will continue to remove strangling vines over the next couple of years.

Seedling nursery for reforestation.

Mary Ann O'Connell

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why the Team Came to Sukau

Dr. Isabelle Lackman, a world renowned French primatologist and Director of Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project (KOCP), visited Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and other zoos in the United States last October. She presented to CMZ staff about her work in Sabah, Malaysia. We were very interested in the projects and so impressed that Isabelle does not have a doom and gloom attitude about orangutan conservation. We asked her what we could do in the U.S. to help wild orangutans, and one of the things she said was that we should really come visit Sukau. Amazingly we were able to make this happen thanks to CMZ’s Q4C (Quarters for Conservation) program!

Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project (KOCP):
At the headquarters, Isabelle presented to our whole group about the many ways KOCP has improved Sukau and the surrounding forest. Isabelle and Marc Ancrenaz started working in Sukau in 1998. Here are just a few highlights of their work:

• Educating and influencing local people about the value of the rainforest, and the Kinabatangan River biodiversity. When Isabelle and Marc first arrived in Sukau the people were almost at war against animals, the rainforest, etc. Now they truly do seem to value it.

• Helping the local people find ways to make a living without harming the rainforest or rivers.

• Giving guidance, as needed, as the local people established Red Ape Encounters, an ecotourism company.

• Setting up a research station to study orangutans and their behavior. Due to their research, we now know that orangutans can thrive in secondary (recovered/replanted) forests.

• Helping local people find ways to live in harmony with the local Borneo elephant herds. They have established an elephant conservation unit that monitors elephant herd movement, helps put up electric fences as needed and prevents conflicts between people and elephants.

•Buying up land and building corridors and firehose bridges with organizations such as BCT, Bornean Conservation Trust.

•Creating a reforestation team – they hired a team of four local women to plant and care for seedlings in the reforestation areas. These areas need to be monitored, protected (from elephants) and maintained for several years after planting.

•Rainforest seedling nurseries – training many families in the community how to sustainably harvest and grow some key rainforest tree species; the forestry department pays for the seedlings, about fifty cents per tree, and will order thousands at a time as the need arises. Twelve families have set up nurseries and are supported by this sustainable income.

We were amazed at the effectiveness of these projects in changing the attitudes of the local people.

Note: KOCP is funded by Hutan, an NGO based in France. Funds come largely from donors, including some zoos in the U.S.

Our group with Dr. Isabelle and the Reforestation Team

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Journal Notes from Tracey Gazibara

June 3
I tried sending pictures a few days ago through the phone, but it does not appear that you received them. We will be back in town tomorrow night. I will try to send pictures then.

June 4
It’s 6 a.m. and I just got back from a walk. I have been trying to get a picture of a red leaf monkey that we keep seeing…no luck this morning.

I really love it here. We went on an amazing night boat ride last night…it has been a long time since I have seen so many stars. Beautiful! We saw a flat headed cat, which is very rare. Our guide had not seen one in 3 years. I’m feeling better about solutions (to the palm oil crisis), and I have had a lot of time to think about it. I do miss the zo

For more details on the flat headed cat click here.

June 8
We just arrived at our last destination. We spent last two nights in Jakarta, a city of 9 million people.
(See map below.) It is HUGE! We had several good meetings, but I am glad to be out of the big city. We tried sending photos yet again and only a few went through. We will have limited service the next several days, if we have service at all, but we will try to send updates. Hope all is well.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Wilmar’s and what they are doing about Palm Oil

We spent almost a whole day traveling to, touring and meeting with the staff at one of Wilmar’s plantations and mills. Wilmar is one of the largest palm oil companies in the world. This plantation is RSPO certified as a sustainable producer of palm oil, and Wilmar is in the middle of the lengthy process of acquiring certification for the rest of their plantations. (RSPO stands for Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.)

Callie Beamish, Wilmar’s conservation director, explained in detail about Wilmar’s conservation initiatives. We learned a lot about RSPO criteria, and how the governments in Indonesia and Malaysia are quite different in many ways.

At Wilmar's palm oil mill.

Read more about Wilmar's stance on sustainability.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

More Adventures and Animals in Malaysia

For reference, our team was located in Sabah (the red “A” on the map) for 5 days (from June 1-5). This is where they stayed with their home-stay family and experienced several meetings and tours of the region.

Here is a journal entry we received from Dina Bredahl about their adventures and the animals they saw in the Sabah region.

During our time in Sabah and throughout northern Malaysia we went on several river boat tours in the evenings, early morning and late at night. With Mincho as our guide we saw the most amazing array of animals. A few highlights were:

• Crocodiles (one tiny and one huge!!!)
• Storm storks
• Stork-billed kingfisher
• White-bellied fish eagle
• Mangrove snake
• Monitor lizards of all sizes
• Rhinocerus hornbills
• Bushy-crested hornbills
• Black hornbills
• Wrinkled hornbills
• Pied hornbills (our guide told us we were SO lucky to see so many specie of hornbills!)
• Brahminy kites (chased a fish eagle away from their territory)
• Purple heron
• Gray-tailed racer snake
• Stork-billed kingfishers
• Blue-eared kingfisher (SO tiny and beautifully colored)
• Buffy fish owl (HUGE yellow eyes, saw it late at night)
• Flat headed cat! (looks similar to a domestic cat, also saw late at night, they fish along the river so we saw it right at the water’s edge)

Some of the most interesting animals we saw were the primates, as we were able to observe wild behavior and intricate social interactions.

• Orangutan foraging in a tree near the river!!!
• Silver leaf monkey
• Long-tailed macaques (also called crab-eating macaques)
• Pig-tailed macaques
• Proboscis monkeys (see pictures below)

The macaques seem pretty habituated to human presence due to the frequent riverboat tours, so they were hanging from branches and grabbing fruits that were touching the water, very close to our boat. Crocodiles are a danger to the monkeys near the river, so they would quickly scamper back up in to the trees. There were so many babies!

The proboscis monkeys were fairly easy to find right before sunset, along the river in sparsely leafed gigantic trees. The monkeys would settle down for the night toward the ends of branches so they can see or feel a clouded leopard approaching in the night.

It was fascinating to see the dominant male, with his gigantic nose, big belly and confident poses; also the young males practicing their open-mouth threats and postures. The proboscis monkeys did not spend much time low near the water, but we did see them take the most incredible leaps from one tree to the next, planning each leap to land much lower in the next tree.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Journal Notes from Dina Bredahl

When we were in Kota Kinabalu we not only met with John Payne but also with Mr. Nabuo Nakanishi of BCT, Borneo Conservation Trust of Japan. He shared with us their goals to raise funds to purchase key areas of land. These key areas will be important corridors for orangutans, elephants and other animals to travel between isolated fragments of forest along the river.

We flew to Sandakan and were met at the airport by Mincho, who would be our guide for the next five days in Sukau. Sukau is a village of 1,200 people, 150 families, along the Kinabatangan River. He is an honorary wildlife warden and works for both Hutan, an orangutan conservation organization, and Red Ape Encounters, an eco-tourism company in Sukau.

Our first destination between Sandakan and Sukau was Sepilok, the oldest orangutan rehabilitation centre in the world. We attended a scheduled feeding and were surprised at the number of people that were there…hundreds of people were crowded onto observation decks. Some were international visitors but many were Malaysian. It was so good to see that some Malaysian people are interested in orangutans. Three young orangutans came out of the forest to a feeding platform where they took food and milk from the staff. After a few minutes the three orangutans shimmied away on cables, back into the forest.

Macaques waited until the staff were gone then swarmed on to the platform to finish off the fruit. Here is a picture of long-tailed macaque we saw:

Next we drove to Gomantong Cave. After applying lots of mosquito repellent, we walked for a while on wooden boardwalks through a rare primary growth forest. We were warned, prior to entering the cave, that there would be bats, guano, cockroaches and swiftlets everywhere. Swiftlets are small insect-eating birds that are important to the economy of this region. The indigenous people have been harvesting the nests of several swiftlet species for generations. The nests are a delicacy in China and are served as bird’s nest soup. The bamboo ladders and methods of collecting the nests are incredible feats of engineering, reaching the tops of caves that are up to 90 feet in height. The mountain of guano in the middle of the cave was unbelievable, and the boardwalk was slippery with guano. The nests are so valuable that people live in the dark caves 24/7 in order to guard them.

After the cave, as we were walking back through the forest, we had the unexpected surprise…we saw three wild orangutans!!! Two of them seemed to be traveling together, and adult female and her subadult daughter. Since it is one of the only primary growth forests left in Malaysia the trees were quite tall. It was interesting to see the orangutans disappear and reappear over and over again as they moved through the forest. Another rarity in Malaysia is dipterocarp trees, which are only found in primary growth forests. We were lucky enough to see a strong wind come up and blow numerous dipterocarp seeds out of the massive tree. They spun slowly to the ground, dispersing in different directions, it was amazing! The seeds are similar in size and shape to a badminton birdie.

Next we drove to our home stay in Sukau. We stayed for five days with an amazing family; Harizah and Samsudin are the mother and father of six children ranging in age from about 8 months to 18 years.

Harizah cooked so many delicious local dishes for us, such as giant prawns, fried whole fishes, Sabah vegetables, stewed jackfruit, curried chicken, lots of rice. Noodles, eggs and fried bananas are a traditional breakfast in Sabah. It was crazy to sit on their porch in the morning and see a rare Mueller’s gibbon or maroon leaf monkey swing by on the electric lines!!

We hope to send more updates later about the several river boat tours we have done and the amazing animals we have seen so far!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Journal Notes from Tracey Gazibara

With limited access to internet, we have received a few notes from Tracey and some pictures via text message. Here is what we've heard:

May 30, 2010
We are leaving early tomorrow morning and may have no service for up to 5-6 days. We had several interesting meetings today…there are no easy solutions…seems to get harder as we learn more. I’m trying to just take it all in and worry about a plan later, but the wheels keep turning. The remote area that we are going to is supposed to be beautiful. I look forward to being there.

June 1, 2010
We can actually use the phone but no internet. The home-stay is quite a wonderful experience. We saw lots of monkeys today and some cool hornbills. We are learning a lot about Hutan, they have done some amazing work here. It is beautiful here…amazing sunset tonight. I will try to send more tomorrow.

June 2, 2010
Photos from our home-stay:

Dina and Lapinem, the cat.

Outside the house.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Harvest Festival in Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu City Harvest Festival
The Ka'amatan (harvest) Festival is celebrated as a thanksgiving in honor of the bambaazon (rice spirit) for a good harvest by the Kadazandusun and Murutic communities in Sabah. This is the city-level Ka'amatan celebration which include highlights such as the most anticipated Harvest Beauty pageant or the Unduk Ngadau, sugandoi (singing) competition featuring Kadazandusun songs, drinking of rice wine (lihing) competition, local food tastings, traditional dancing and many more. Since 1987 Kota Kinabalu Yatch Club has hosted yacht and boat races during the festival. The races are an opportunity for sailors to meet other sailors and the races facilitate international participation in the festival proceedings. All are welcome to join the city dwellers in the merriment, Sabahan style!

Our team had the great fortune to be in Kota Kinabalu during the Harvest Festival and shared what they said:

Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah. We visited Sabah on a holiday called Harvest Festival. We visited the Sunday morning market (see photo) and it was SOOOOOOOO busy. You could buy anything from live rabbits to handicrafts to clothes, pots and pans or books. We also saw a beautiful fish sculpture near the sea (see photo).

We are heading to Sandakan, Sepilok and will be staying at a home stay for 5 nights and may not have internet until we return to Kota Kinabalu. We are really enjoying our travels through Malaysia.