Photojournalist Roni Bintang risks his life to capture selfless volunteers feeding Mount Agung’s resident pets, even as the volcano threatens to erupt.
The world’s eyes have been on Bali since 22 September last year, when authorities declared the highest level of alert for Mount Agung and warned that the first major eruption in 54 years could be imminent.
Over the last five months, an estimated 140,000 people from over 25 villages have evacuated their homes. To date, the unpredictable volcano continues to spew columns of ash over the disaster-prone area that spans a 11km radius, which stops the residents from returning home. Adding to their worry are the furkids that they have left behind.
That’s where a group of animal lovers have stepped in to help. Almost every day, four or five volunteers load a car with donated pet food and drive into the danger zone from Bali’s capital, Denpasar.
FEEDING THE HUNGRY
Upon arriving at the desolate village, the volunteers place food in paper plates and the abandoned pooches start to appear. Throughout each day, the dedicated team meets more than 200 pups—some are shy at first and others are excited, but all are starving since ash has burnt away the remaining crops. The group has distributed more than seven tons of dog and cat food, which are all generously provided from anonymous donors.
“If there are still people in the village, they will feed the dogs and cats,” says volunteer Nana Prayoga. “But what if there are no more humans left? What happens to the animals left behind? We have to come and help them.”
This independent group of dog lovers spontaneously rallied together through Facebook on 23 September. Now, the group consists of around 35 regular volunteers, ranging from students to working adults. “I’ll help to feed the dogs and cats as for as long as they need help,” says volunteer Midori Okada, 50, a Japanese woman who’s lived in Bali for the last 20 years. The team coordinates their shifts through WhatsApp, and those who don’t go up to the danger zone keep the group updated on the latest weather reports.
RISKING IT ALL
The physical dangers are very real—ash clouds gush out from the volcano’s mouth and tremors from nearby earthquakes continue to strike the island. Volunteers can only stay 15 to 20 minutes in each village before moving onto the next village for fear that the volatile volcano may erupt. Yet, these selfless individuals only have the welfare of the forgotten pups in mind. “When I see the dogs approach us, I feel that they’ve put their trust in us,” says Kevan Cahyadi, 23, university graduate. “When I see how happy they are, I forget the danger of the situation.”
Joining Nana on the mission to the villages of Temukus, Besakih and Batusesa, which are located inside the disaster-prone area, is Ida Ayu Astiti, 22. The university student has been feeding the deserted dogs two to three times a week since September, when the village’s residents started to evacuate to the shelters. “I am so sad to see them starving,” she says. “The least I can do is fork out some time to feed them.”
CAPTURING THE MOMENTS
Photographer Roni Bintang explains his rationale behind capturing these volunteers’ work. “These individuals are doing dangerous work without any need for recognition or reward,” he shares. “They’re totally motivated and selforganised in wanting to help the dogs and cats. I felt this was a great story to bring attention to how this disaster is affecting the people, animals and environment of Bali.”