How to save a life

The Auck­land zookeeper fight­ing to save Su­ma­tran orang­utans, ele­phants and more

Nadia - - CONTENTS -

Imag­ine if your ad­ven­ture of a life­time ac­tiv­ity, re­move snares from the for­est, re­spond could help to pro­tect one of the most to con­flict be­tween wildlife and peo­ple (such as bio­di­verse ecosys­tems on the planet, when ele­phants wan­der into com­mu­nity home to crit­i­cally en­dan­gered gar­dens, search­ing for food) and col­lect data on orang­utans, ele­phants, tigers and wildlife sight­ings, tracks and orang­utan nests. rhi­nos. That’s the idea be­hind a tour (Did you know that apes make a new bed for run by Raw Wildlife En­coun­ters in Gu­nung them­selves ev­ery night?)

Leuser Na­tional Park on the In­done­sian is­land The rangers also ed­u­cate for­est-edge of Su­ma­tra. Amy Rob­bins, Auck­land Zoo’s team com­mu­ni­ties on the im­por­tance of pro­tect­ing leader of pri­mates, has been lead­ing trips in the the wilder­ness area and try to en­cour­age peo­ple threat­ened re­gion for five years. to move from un­sus­tain­able, il­le­gal em­ploy­ment Last year Amy launched The Su­ma­tran such as log­ging and poach­ing to more

Ranger Project (for­merly The Rangers of sus­tain­able ac­tiv­i­ties such as eco-tourism. Tangka­han) to help pro­tect the area. This Tangka­han, a for­mer il­le­gal log­ging com­mu­nity con­ser­va­tion ini­tia­tive (which is set­tle­ment where the orig­i­nal rangers are from, part of an In­done­sian NGO) was co-founded in is a model vil­lage for this tran­si­tion. The lo­cals its ini­tial stages with pri­mate man­age­ment worked in log­ging and poach­ing un­til they con­sul­tant Cas­san­dra Rowe. The project was made a de­ci­sion in 2001 to de­velop an eco­tourism es­tab­lished to pro­vide an in­come for pro­gramme and be­gin pa­trolling the com­mu­nity rangers who live and work in the for­est. Raw, an award-win­ning eco-travel buf­fer zone bor­der­ing the na­tional park. “The com­pany founded by Aus­tralian Jess Mck­el­son, rangers were part of a group of com­mu­nity has been help­ing to de­velop Tangka­han’s rangers that pa­trolled the for­est but didn’t get pro­grammes and em­ploy­ing lo­cal guides for paid for it,” Amy says. “I saw a need to utilise years. Jess, a for­mer zookeeper, is based in their skills.” The rangers mon­i­tor poach­ing In­done­sia and is the field co­or­di­na­tor for The

Above: A bridge in Batu Katak con­nects the Su­ma­tran vil­lage to the Gu­nung Leuser Na­tional Park.

Op­po­site, from top: A wild fe­male orang­utan in Bukit Lawang; rangers from The Su­ma­tran Ranger Project pa­trolling near

the com­mu­nity of Gel­ugur, which bor­ders the na­tional park.

On lo­ca­tion

Su­ma­tran Ranger Project. Rangers’ salaries are funded through Raw trips in the area, as well as do­na­tions and grants from or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the Auck­land Zoo Con­ser­va­tion Fund.

“I’m re­ally pas­sion­ate about Raw be­cause

I see the dif­fer­ences they’ve made. You don’t see that a lot with travel com­pa­nies,” says Amy. “Raw does its work for the ben­e­fit of these com­mu­ni­ties, with the ul­ti­mate ob­jec­tive of keep­ing the en­vi­ron­ment safe.”

Most Raw trips in Gu­nung Leuser last be­tween three and 10 days, and take groups of up to 10 peo­ple on foot through the jun­gle, ex­plor­ing caves and tub­ing down rivers. Guests are al­most guar­an­teed to spot orang­utans and other pri­mates such as macaques, gib­bons and mon­keys. “I love see­ing peo­ple’s faces when they see a wild orang­utan for the first time,” Amy says. “It is just amaz­ing. Peo­ple cry.”

The in­ter­ac­tion with guides and vil­lagers is an­other high­light. Most groups will visit three or four com­mu­ni­ties and guests of­ten end up en­joy­ing mu­sic or play­ing vol­ley­ball with lo­cals. “Quite of­ten I find that peo­ple go on a Raw ad­ven­ture for the wildlife, but what re­ally hooks and con­nects them is the peo­ple,” Amy says. “The peo­ple and wildlife are why I do this.”

The area Amy works in is part of the Leuser ecosys­tem which spans North Su­ma­tra and

Aceh, the two north­ern­most prov­inces in Su­ma­tra. It’s the big­gest wilder­ness area in South­east Asia and one of the most eco­log­i­cally im­por­tant ecosys­tems in the world, due to its bio­di­ver­sity and ef­fect on the world’s cli­mate.

It’s the only place in the world where Su­ma­tran tigers, orang­utans, rhi­nos and ele­phants co­ex­ist in the wild. Mil­lions of peo­ple live in and around the re­gion and are of­ten in con­flict with wildlife and the en­vi­ron­ment.

De­for­esta­tion and poach­ing are the great­est threats to the area. In­done­sia has the world’s high­est rate of de­for­esta­tion, which is dras­ti­cally re­duc­ing wildlife habi­tats and ex­pos­ing an­i­mals to poach­ers. Mil­lions of acres of rain­for­est are burned an­nu­ally to ex­pand the log­ging and palm oil in­dus­tries.

“It’s re­ally im­por­tant peo­ple are aware of just how threat­ened the area is,” says Amy. “If the Leuser ecosys­tem goes, Su­ma­tran orang­utans, tigers, rhi­nos and ele­phants will be gone, and they’re al­ready hang­ing on pre­car­i­ously.”

All four species are clas­si­fied as crit­i­cally en­dan­gered. There are ap­prox­i­mately 14,600 orang­utans, fewer than 1000 ele­phants, around 400 tigers and un­der 100 rhi­nos left in Su­ma­tra. Al­most all the re­main­ing Su­ma­tran orang­utans live in the Leuser, most out­side the pro­tected ar­eas of the na­tional park.

Un­for­tu­nately, an­i­mals are be­ing trapped in snares and il­le­gally sold as pets or body parts on the black mar­ket. Snares are also set to catch food and de­ter an­i­mals from en­croach­ing on vil­lagers’ land and crops. “A herd of ele­phants can de­stroy an en­tire year’s in­come in a night,”

Amy says. For this rea­son she is train­ing a spe­cial­ist con­flict unit, which can be called when an­i­mals come into con­tact with peo­ple.

The Su­ma­tran Ranger Project has al­ready proved its worth. In just four pa­trols over less than a year, rangers re­moved 250 snares from the for­est. A sep­a­rate snare re­moval pro­gramme is now un­der way. The com­mu­nity of Batu Ron­gring has re­cently com­mit­ted to eco-tourism and seen an 87 per­cent de­crease in the num­ber of snares in the area be­tween pa­trols. “The com­mu­ni­ties can see that the eco­nomic ben­e­fits are far greater than if they were track­ing an­i­mals,” Amy says. Even­tu­ally she wants to de­velop pa­trol teams in all of the ar­eas which sur­round the na­tional park.

The Auck­land Zoo, where Amy has worked for 17 years, is sup­port­ive of her work. “It’s re­ally im­por­tant that some­one is main­tain­ing a pres­ence in Su­ma­tra,” she ex­plains. “Par­tic­u­larly with the ’rangs, they’re such a big am­bas­sado­rial species for Auck­land Zoo.”

Amy’s hus­band also works in the zoo’s pri­mate team. At some point the pair hope to re­lo­cate tem­po­rar­ily to Su­ma­tra with their fam­ily to fur­ther de­velop the pro­gramme. Cur­rently Amy vis­its the is­land three to five times a year. It’s an ex­ten­sion of her day job, she says. “For a lot of zookeep­ers, field work is our ul­ti­mate goal. We’re in this zoo game to spread aware­ness and pro­tect wildlife and their en­vi­ron­ment.”

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