Tag Archives: forest

Fighting Fires in Tuanan – Urgent

This year is projected to be one of the worst on record for forest fires in Indonesia.  NASA reports that close to 8,000 fires have ignited in the forests and peatlands of Borneo, and some predict that this year’s El Niño weather cycle will continue into next spring, potentially matching the record-setting disaster experienced during the fires of 1997-1998.  Deadly particulates from the fires and the resulting smoke are threatening the health of people throughout SE Asia and also the wildlife in this region, including the endangered orangutan. The Tuanan Orangutan Research Project, run as a collaboration between Universitas Nasional Jakarta, University of Zurich, Rutgers University, and the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, is located along the Kapuas River in the Mawas Conservation Area. This area holds one of the largest populations of wild orangutans in the world and is isolated from major cities in the region.  We have been studying orangutan behavior, ecology and health in this region since 2003  and have accumulated over 50,000 hours of observational data collected by an international team of scientists (information regarding our projects can be found at the following pages:

http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~ev140/TORP/Welcome.html
http://www.aim.uzh.ch/research/orangutannetwork/tuananorangutanresearchproject.html  http://peatland.rutgers.edu

Because of our isolation and the government’s need to allocate resources to the more immediate threats to human health and safety in urban areas, it is very difficult for the regional government to deploy fire patrol teams to this region, and thus we primarily rely on people from the nearby villages along the Kapuas River working together with our research team to monitor and fight fires in this area.

The fires are currently active just south of our research area and are quickly moving northwards. We are working closely with local communities to mobilize firefighting teams, but resources are extremely limited in the face of this growing imminent threat. We desperately need your support to save this valuable peatland forest and the critical habitat it provides for orangutans. A small donation goes a long way, and in this crisis situation, every dollar counts. Your donation will contribute directly to supporting the fire fighting activities currently underway. You can follow our fire fighting progress at our GoFundMe site below

https://www.gofundme.com/tuananorangutans

Tuanan project assistants work on putting out the fires (by Perry van Duijnhoven)

Tuanan project assistants work on putting out the fires (by Perry van Duijnhoven)

fires in the north study area (by Perry van Duijnhoven)

fires in the north study area (by Perry van Duijnhoven)

Tuanan fire team pumping water out of the peat (by Perry van Duijnhoven)

Tuanan fire team pumping water out of the peat (by Perry van Duijnhoven)

 

TORP assistant monitoring orangutans in the smoke

TORP assistant monitoring orangutans in the smoke

Tuanan forest

Tuanan forest

Otto in the smoke (by Wendy Erb)

Otto in the smoke (by Wendy Erb)

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Tuanan Orangutan Research Project (TORP) welcomes a new member to the orangutan population – Meet Moby!!!

The Tuanan team is very excited about the latest birth in the population of orangutans that we study. Orangutans in Borneo give birth every 6-8 years, so they have what we call a very slow life history. It takes long-term studies to estimate interbirth intervals. We have been working in Tuanan since 2003, and we are just starting to obtain an understanding of their interbirth intervals (IBIs).

We first found Mindy in July 2003. At the time, she had an infant, Milo (a female)- we estimated her to be about 2 yrs old. Milo is now on her own and likely will have her own offspring soon. We have followed Mindy regularly since July 2003. She gave birth to Mawas (a female) in July of 2008, and thus an IBI of about 7 years. Milo soon was on her own although does come together with mom once in a while. Mawas is now about 6 years and 6 months old. The TORP team found Mindy on December 12, 2014 with what looks like a 2-3 week old infant. You can see the pictures below. Mawas is still with Mindy, and Mindy is very tolerant of Mawas being close to Moby.

This is a great indicator that our population is healthy, as our females continue to reproduce. Great news from the forest and to start the New Year!!!! And a big Thanks to Caroline and the TORP team for sending pictures and the news!

Moby clings to Mindy (Photo by Caroline Schuppli)

Moby clings to Mindy (Photo by Caroline Schuppli)

Mindy Inspects her new infant Moby (Photo by Caroline Schuppli)

Mindy Inspects her new infant Moby (Photo by Caroline Schuppli)

Big sister Mawas with mom and Moby (Photo by Abuk)

Big sister Mawas with mom and Moby (Photo by Abuk)

Tuanan Orangutan Research Project Brings the Classroom to the Forest! By Dr. Wendy Erb

This June, my colleagues and I from Rutgers University and Universitas Nasional Jakarta launched a new study abroad program aimed at building bridges between Indonesian and American undergraduates, while teaching students about the myriad conservation issues and challenges facing Indonesia’s unique and endangered plants, animals, and ecosystems. This program was part of a USAID funded initiative to train Rutgers and Indonesian students together in tropical ecology and primatology. With 20 students in tow, we trekked from Java to Borneo and back over the course of three weeks, immersing ourselves in each of the local cultures and habitats we visited. One of themes of the course was the role of local communities in conservation. At each of our stops, there was an active conservation program engaging local stakeholders, but the degree of their involvement and impact varied; and students wondered about how people could be encouraged to “care” more about the nature they lived right next to.

 

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Teachers, students, and Tuanan staff for study abroad program “Primates, Ecology, and Conservation in Indonesia” (photo courtesy of Erin Vogel)

This question led us to some lively discussions in which both Indonesian and American students shared personal stories about the development of their own “eco-consciousness”. For most, their interest in conservation was rooted in one or more first-hand experiences connecting with nature. Hearing the students’ stories reinforced one of my personal beliefs – that to truly appreciate and understand the natural world and our connection to it, one has to see it, feel it, and experience it. The nature we learn about in the classroom and from books is otherwise an abstract concept, and one that often emphasizes the division between humans and the natural world – culture versus nature, rather than part of it.

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Chatting about orangutan family relationships at camp

 

These experiences and observations inspired me to see what would happen if I brought a bunch of Indonesian school children to the forest. I’d already been teaching kids at the local elementary school near the Tuanan Orangutan Research Station about forest conservation over the last year, but we had never ventured into the forest together. So, this August I discussed the possibility of bringing the Tuanan Elementary School students to the forest on short hikes with the local environmental education program teacher, Ratna Wati. She was very enthusiastic about the idea, and promptly (once we had permission from their parents) hiked the whole class into camp early one morning. We started the day with a brief discussion about the ecology of peatland forest, and why it’s such an important ecosystem to protect. We also talked about the behavior and ecology of orangutans, and students learned about the family relationships among the orangutans at Tuanan, including the mother and daughter (Mindy and Mawas) we were going to follow that day. The students were engaged in the discussion, but I could tell they were eager to start our adventure together.

 

So once they were briefed on forest safety and etiquette, we suited up and headed out – me in front, Ratna in back, and the kids lined up between us in two neat rows with the “buddy system”. We had to take the long, slow, roundabout path to our destination, while we waited for an agitated flanged male to leave the vicinity of Mindy and Mawas. Even these gentle giants are sometimes known to throw branches and push over dead trees when stressed or disturbed, and we didn’t want to take any chances with the little ones. Besides, they were already terrified by his long calls – each one resulting in a chorus of screams, and the rapid formation of a tight huddle around me. While we waited for the green light from the research team that was following the orangutans, we wandered the trails in search of orangutan foods to identify and taste test. The kids really enjoyed this activity, eagerly grabbing for every leaf, flower, and fruit I picked up. But the amazing thing was how quickly they assimilated the names of these plants, and how excited they were to point out the ones they’d learned. They were really connecting with the forest, beaming with smiles and brimming with excitement – and it happened within a matter of minutes!

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Catching a glimpse of wild orangutans, for some, for the first time

 

By the time we got to the orangutans, they were still excited, and really did seem delighted to see mother and daughter up close (especially when it was their turn to try the binoculars). But the orangutans offered little entertainment during their midday siesta, and when the kids started to get antsy, we decided to head home. On our return to camp, I spotted a giant millipede resting on a tree trunk, and gently picked it up to show the kids. They immediately panicked, screamed, and again moved into a tight huddle – only this time away from me. I calmly explained that this was a harmless creature, that its tiny mouth couldn’t bite them, and that its intimidatingly numerous legs actually provided a nice massage. With a bit of coaxing, the first kid approached to nervously just-barely touch the millipede, accompanied by a shriek of fear and excitement. Within moments, the rest of the children were approaching to try the experiment too – gradually extending the duration of contact with the massive arthropod, until they were ready to hold it themselves. They giggled and squealed with delight as its undulating appendages tickled their skin. It was incredible to see how quickly their fear vanished, replaced by curiosity, awe, and affection. As the kids headed home, I asked them each to draw me a picture depicting the day’s experience. Although a few drew orangutans, and some drew their friends, all but the youngest of them drew their up-close encounter with a giant millipede!

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Some brave souls try their hand at petting a giant millipede

 

After the success of our inaugural run, we decided to try again, this time inviting more children and recruiting some of the local research team members to join us. Once again, the children filed into camp bright and early, and we started with a chat about peatlands and the orangutans – the veteran kids showing off their knowledge to the newcomers. And once we were in the forest, they were so proud to identify the trees we had learned on our last excursion. But they were thirsty to learn more, stopping at every other tree and liana to ask what it was. Some of their inquiries exceeded my own botanical knowledge, so I was grateful that two of the community members had joined us, and could pass on this local knowledge directly to the children. Once again, I was awed by the rapid transformation of the first-time kids: the forest had all at once evolved from an uninteresting, irrelevant, and scary place into one for exploration, discovery, and inspiration. We are very encouraged by these first two runs, and hope to implement regular forest trips into the curriculum, and to invite more children from additional communities to join.

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We love exploring the forest together!! Dr. Wendy Erb, Charles, Idun and Suwi (TORP Assistants) take the kids into the forest again!

 

My colleagues – Drs. Erin Vogel, Jito Sugardjito, and Suci Utami-Atmoko – and I were recently awarded a grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund to support activities aimed at supporting environmental education and engaging the surrounding communities in conservation. We are very much looking forward to getting our hands dirty in the forest with these amazing kids! Stay tuned!