Wednesday, July 9, 2014

big city of Bogor

Thank you to all who have posted comments. Very much appreciate the feedback.

You may notice that Kim is also listed as a contributor and has contributed thus far with ideas, feedback and photos. She is also writing - so keep checking back for her point of view.

Previously I have traveled to India, Nepal, Taiwan and Thailand and so I often place Indonesia within the framework of my experience of those countries. I can also contrast Indonesia with the only mainly Islamic country I have visited, Morocco. While there are certain similarities that Indonesia shares with each of the first four countries my impression thus far is that religion, while extremely important, is mostly a private matter.

Kim and I make an effort not to offend local customs but for the most part that is a fairly easy thing to do. The Burka is very rare here. Most women, at least in the area of Bogor, do not where a headscarf. While some do, from young school girls to elderly matrons, they seem to wear it naturally and are just as quick to smile or converse with me. In fact, while there are a few bold calls to get my attention when I turn to people with a smile I almost always get one in return. One thing I found remarkable is that I have received open, friendly smiles from people of every age and many different positions in society. School children, babies, Mothers, Fathers, Older people, market vendors, policemen, guitar playing punks, you name it, they were ready to interact.

I have only experienced a very small slice of Indonesia thus far so it would be too soon to make any sweeping statements. Comparing some impressions with other countries however is fair I suppose. The crowded, hustle and bustle of Bogor certainly reminds me of the chaos of India, although it is a lot more ordered here really. It is green and nature is omnipresent here in Curug Nangka where IAR has it's headquarters.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Farewell Indonesia

I am now writing from Montreal Canada where I am staying at my newly married sister and her husband's apartment.

The blogging was certainly sporadic - I wish we had had the time to be more regular but there was just so much to experience and do. That along with the on and off internet connections made it a little difficult but I hope the stories we were able to publish were informative and entertaining.

We may get the opportunity to publish more of our experiences online but we have both left Indonesia for now. After meeting so many fascinating animals, human and non-human, and becoming involved in their lives the desire to return is only going to become stronger over time.

I am beginning to work my way through the footage and interviews I shot during my time in Indonesia, letting ideas ferment. I hope to have a rough cut in two months time in which a cohesive story is told.

I really would like to thank all of the people who allowed me to film their work and were so forthcoming in interviews. I hope that once this documentary has been completed I will be able to follow up on events and stories there in the future and that the friendships made there will continue.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Toothless and Happy

Last week my close friend Karina and her fiancĂ© Jan came to visit us at the rescue center in Ciapus. They are on vacation and stopped by at the beginning of their 3 week trip through Indonesia. Luckily Karina is a dentist/orthodontist and Jan is a human doctor specializing in surgery. “Luckily” because we had a slow loris at the center, “Kim”, with a severe abscess between her left eye and the left upper jaw that was caused by an infected tooth. When slow lorises get caught from the wild to be sold on the pet markets the traders often clip their teeth so they cannot bite potential customers. The pulpa, especially of the canines often gets infected and can cause the animal to die. Even though this happens quite frequently there are not many people out there who know a lot about loris dentistry and there is very little to non literature about this matter. Especially when it comes to primates it can be very helpful to combine forces and consult human doctors and dentists. Karmele has treated this kind of infection before , but was happy to get a second and third opinion from Karina and Jan and so we did the procedure together. Karina pulled the infected tooth and Jan opened the abscess, drained it and used two stitches to keep the incision open until it starts to heal. The sad thing about this is that a loris with hardly any teeth left has little chance of being reintroduced into the wild. The good news is though that Kim is doing really well and has been introduced to a young loris male, “Chico”, who shares her fate and the two of them have fallen in love. They will be moved to a large enclosure at the center and will stay there – toothless but happy…

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Macaques - love thy neighbour

A few days ago Karmele was contacted by the forestry department in Bogor who informed her of two pig tail macaques in need of rescue. At that time a Malaysian film crew was staying at the center which came to Indonesia to film 5 episodes of their documentary series “Keep It Wild” which will be broadcast in Malaysia as well as Indonesia. The director/writer, Siew Lyn Wong, told us that this series “…is making history…”, being the first of its kind produced in Malaysia featuring endemic wildlife to raise awareness about conservation and animal welfare issues. So the crew, and filmmaker Ethan Reitz, came along to film the whole experience.
Both macaques that we were going to pick up were adult males and had each been kept by their owners for almost ten years. The first one, Bobby, had been living in a small cage at the entrance of a large hotel. Now the manager wanted to get rid of him because a guest, an artist, had complained about Bobby’s erections and masturbation - I think: good on him! Not only is there not much else to do in the isolation of 10 years in a 4 cubic meter cage and is actually part of natural behavior – but if this is what eventually got him out of there – go Bobby! The other one, Bendot, had been a little better off. He had been kept in a larger cage, also in isolation but judging by his friendly reaction to his owner he at least had been treated kindly. Bendot’s owner seemed to be a wealthy man who readily told us that he used to own several exotic animals, including gibbons, orangutans and siamangs. All of which he was able to give to the zoo when he heard that these animals could transmit diseases to humans and started to get worried about his grandchildren – so the animals had to go. But it is not easy to find a place for an adult macaque because they are being sold everywhere and the buyers want babies. Luckily for Bendot this guy found out about IAR Indonesia. Sooner or later he would have probably been put down otherwise.
As opposed to Robin’s cage these cages had doors but it was not much of a surprise to find that neither owner had the keys to the locks that probably had never been opened in the past ten years. As to be expected from the two different situations and cages we found Bendot in a pretty good condition but poor Bobby was, in addition to his disturbed and aggressive behavior, in poor shape. His coat was filthy and he had eczema on several areas of his body. The long bones especially of his upper arms showed deformities as a result of rickets. Rickets is caused by a vitamin D deficiency, due to the lack of sunlight as well as a lack of adequate calcium in the diet. Even though I have seen worse cases of rickets in macaques at the center, it makes me sad to think that not only has he been kept with no direct sunlight and been fed deficiently but this might cause him to lose his chance to be released. But even if he can not be returned into the wild he will still have a much better life at the center in Ciapus where he can be socialized, move around in larger cages filled with enrichment, get a healthy diet and health care for the rest of his life.

Macaques are the most widespread non-human primate genus. The twenty-two macaque species currently recognized are ranging from northern Africa to Japan.
Macaques may easily be the most abused primates on our planet. Because of their evolutionary success, which led to their wide distribution and reflects their adaptability, many macaque species are not endangered. Very often they adapt by learning how to coexist with humans. Sadly this coexistence is seldom peaceful. When humans expand their habitat through growing cities, transmigration to uninhabited regions or the destruction of forest and other ecosystems for agricultural use, macaques, unlike many other species, which will simply disappear with their habitat, learn how to survive of human waste and crops. The invading humans however often feel like the macaques are the invaders and declare them a pest. In Indonesia for instance farmers will often get permits to kill the animals if they raid their crops. Ironically the similarities to humans read into animal appearance and behavior is what often triggers empathy which is called anthropomorphism. In the case of the macaques a lot of the similarities seem to trigger quite the opposite – fear and threat. Sadly it is the macaque’s survival skills, which makes them in many ways similar to humans that put them into an often lethal competition with us. The fact that they are perceived as pest in Indonesia is also reflected in the annual quota for capture of wild long tail macaques that was just last year raised by 100% and allows now for more than 5000 long tail macaques to be captured from the wild and put into breeding programs or to be sold off as pets. Officially only the 2nd captive generation can be exported to 1st world laboratories but in reality the bred and captured monkeys are being mixed and sold overseas. Several species of macaque are used extensively in animal testing facilities around the world.
For anyone who takes a closer look at macaques will quickly realize that they are intelligent, highly social and fascinating animals.
Even among primatologists macaques are not very popular. With their wide abundance and a lack of outstanding features such as size or a particularly “cute” face or belonging to the biological family Hominidae (great apes) along with humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans, macaques don’t exactly have a large fan community - except for with those who have worked with them. Karmele developed her deep appreciation for macaques while volunteering at the sanctuary for exotic animals, Stichting AAP, in Holland. When she came to Indonesia she volunteered and worked in different centers including for the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS). Karmele enjoyed working with orangutans but felt that they were getting a lot of attention and international support unlike the generally under appreciated and unprotected macaques. That is why the IAR rescue center in Ciapus is the only rescue center in Indonesia specialized in these primates.
As for me – I love macaques. I have to say that I knew very little about them when I came out here but the enthusiasm of Karmele and her staff has been contagious. Especially after getting to know a few of the groups and individuals it is very sad and concerning to learn about the threats and torture their fellows are facing worldwide. Aside from the animal testing macaques are very often kept as pets in Indonesia. They are not so much companions as status symbols and often sit in tiny cages, isolated from their kind, suffering from malnutrition, showing stereotypical behavior and aggression. Sooner or later they either die or bite their owners who will either kill them or give them away – hopefully to a rescue center. Most rescue centers will not take the macaques due to their low status and general lack of funding. Karmele made it her goal to rehabilitate the animals, re-socialize and release them - which is quite an undertaking I have learned.

Friday, June 27, 2008

News from Chiapus

Wednesday we accompanied Karmele, Iing, Asep and Acep up to Sumadang outside of Bandung and stayed at a friend of a friend of Karmele's way up in the hills. The house was owner built in the traditional style on stilts, with walls and ceiling from woven bamboo mats and a floor of flattened bamboo stalks laid out paralell to each other. It made for a nice flexible feel beneath your feet.

We were there to meet with the forestry department and some biology students from the university to discuss possible strategies to attack the trafficing in lorises. That is a story in and of itself.

We are at the guest house office here and it's been raining steadily for about an hour. A military helicopter went down in the mountains here and there has been search activity all day. I'm not sure what the status is at the moment but the weather is worsening.

The jungle territory beginning a few hundred meters from the IAR headquarters is extremely dense and if you don't know your way it is apparantly very easy to get lost. Although the jungle is brimming full with liquid and things to eat if you don't know how to make use of it you might just wander around until you die of starvation as several have done in the past. I spent my childhood in near the wilderness and have always prided myself for having a good sense of direction and being able to quickly get a feel for the lay of the land but on the day excursion we took, even though we only went one direction and almost always up the mountain I quickly had the feeling I wouldn't be so sure if I had to find my way back alone. That was just a short walk.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rescuing Robin Hood

(Story from Friday June 06, 2008)

There is a constant stream of communication going on between IAR workers, locals, the department of forestry, other rescue centers and anyone else with an interest about local events, developments, politics and the location of illegally kept animals. As an outsider who will only be here for a short time, doesn’t know the language and customs and is otherwise out of the loop it can be a challenge to keep up with what is going on. Luckily Karmele and the team have been very helpful with keeping me up to date, filling in the details and back story to different events and making sure I can come along and shoot. After that it’s up to me to make sure I get enough footage to tell the story. It can be exhausting trying to make sure the lens is clean, the sound is on, the iris is set, the shutter speed, the focus! Oh no! The focus! And then I forget to press the record button… damn! But I’m getting better and this Friday we had a really interesting case: a critically endangered Javan Gibbon was being illegally held somewhere in a village near the IAR headquarters.

Karmele had a contact, an address and we were going to go pick it up but then suddenly it fell through. She received word that the Gibbon was no longer there. There was a lot of frustration that the department of forestry had not acted more swiftly to either pick it up or authorize IAR to do so and now it was gone. She didn’t know if it would ever be located again.

Then suddenly she received a call on her cell phone and we were back in action. We jumped into two vehicles, the burgundy IAR mini bus and a truck for transport and took off.

Even with four batteries I am constantly running behind making sure I have enough charged. One of them doesn’t hold a full charge, two are larger and last longer and one holds a charge but is quite small. I find myself making frantic equipment checks along the way and thus far (knock on wood) haven’t made any really bad mistakes. The worst so far was I ran out of tape and had to overwrite something but I had already backed it up to disk so it wasn’t so bad.

We drove through a maze of back roads and about forty minutes later met up with Argito who directed us to the house of the man holding the Gibbon. He was apparently looking after it for his brother. Argito and Asman had spotted it and inquired about it and he had expressed a willingness to give it up. Perhaps he feared the fine that he could receive for holding a Gibbon captive.

Apparently the Gibbon had started behaving aggressively towards him so he had had it moved. He climbed into the mini van with us to take us to where the Gibbon was being held. I noticed the man, who I estimated to be around 50 years old, was wearing a grey “Polisi” (Police in Indonesian) t-shirt. I wondered whether this was meant to convey some sense of authority. When Karmele told him I would be shooting video he assured her in Indonesian that filming “wouldn’t be necessary”.

We turned off the pitted, pot-holed little road onto an even smaller, more decrepit one-lane road and drove for another 15min. or so to a small village. In a courtyard under a leafy tree there was a wood and chicken-wire, garbage strewn cage holding the Silvery Javan Gibbon, Robin Hood.

I’m not sure where he got his name from or whether those who gave it to him knew the story of the man who stole from the rich to give to the poor but I found it to be an interesting moniker for a captive wild animal held by what appeared to be a rather well-off man in a very poor rural village. In fact, recalling the “Polisi” t-shirt, it reminded me of Robin Hood’s imprisonment by the Sherriff of Nottingham.

The whole crew except for me got out and took stock of the situation while I stayed in the car, discreetly filming. After a few minutes Karmele came and told me to come out and film and just go back to the car if anyone made a stink about it. I came out and filmed and no one said anything. The man holding Robin captive looked a little nervous but with the whole village looking on he probably felt somewhat flattered at the attention.

He demonstrated how the children had tormented Robin Hood with bamboo sticks and how he had behaved aggressively toward them. I wasn’t able to follow all of this but judging from the filthy cage, purpose built without a door, and Robin’s underfed condition it was clear that we were rescuing him from a miserable situation.

Despite this we found Robin to be surprisingly friendly toward humans. Someone had obviously at some point treated him relatively kindly, although in respect to the fact that he was being held captive at all he had been gravely abused. Gibbons live their entire lives in trees, swinging from branch to branch, flying meters at a time through the air with balance and elegance and putting them in a cage is torture.

I filmed as the IAR team lifted the cage into the back of the 4x4. We shook hands all around and the villagers gave us a wealth of brilliant Indonesian smiles. Then we piled back into the vehicles and drove off back to IAR headquarters with Robin nervously prowling his swaying cage.
Robin had developed diarrhea in his agitated state during transport. There was little way for him to know he was on his way to an improved situation and he was probably terrified. He was unloaded and left to calm down. During the course of the afternoon he received some enrichment in the form of leafs and branches, food and water and what little comfort people could give; we stopped by and he would hold out his hand to be held or present his back to be scratched. Gibbons form monogamous pairs in the wild and so he understandably craved some contact.

The next day he we would bring him to the Javan Gibbon Center where they specialize in rehabilitating, re-socializing and reintroducing Gibbons to the wild.

Bringing Robin Hood back to the Forest

(Story from Saturday June 7, 2008)

Because those who had built the cage had not found it necessary to give it a door Karmele decided to sedate Robin and then break the cage down. She told me she would wait until he offered her his hand, which he often did when people approached. Then she would inject him with the sedative. She requested that I wait around the corner until she had his hand as Gibbons are very sensitive and the presence of many people would alert him that something was going on. She said she would call me when she had his hand.

I waited with my camera on. She came back and said “Sorry! I already did it!” Once she had his hand she decided to administer the anesthetic quickly because after a failed attempt he might be very difficult to calm. I didn’t want Robin to experience any more stress than necessary so that was fine with me. I filmed him as his eyes glazed over and he slowly collapsed to the floor of his cage.

In fact administering the anesthetic had been no problem at all and he hadn’t even pulled away. He then reached out to people immediately afterward with little sign of fear or stress.

The keepers quickly ripped one of the walls away and Karmele carried him into the clinic for a quick examination. He was found to be in fairly good condition although very skinny. There had been other examples of Gibbons being held in cages so small the joints couldn’t properly develop or where calcium deficiencies caused horrible deformities.

He was then moved to an aluminum transport cage to wake up. I hesitated as long as possible to give my reserve batteries the chance to charge and when Karmele said let’s go and we loaded the aluminum cage into the mini-van to take Robin to the Javan Gibbon Center.

First we drove into the city of Bogor, then we took the highway North East, then on to smaller roads up to somewhat higher ground and we stopped at the gates of a resort situated at the edge of a National Park. From here we transfer to a 4x4 truck. The cage with Robin goes in the back of the canvass covered pickup and Karmele, Argito, Karthi and Kim sit on bench seats on either side. I follow in a smaller two seater 4x4 so I can film. We drive up through the resort and some farm land and then turn on to a narrow rutted track leading up into the hills. The road here gets so bumpy that I was usually either filming the floorboards or the ceiling and when I could focus for a moment or two to look through the windshield it was smeared with dust.

After a circa 30 minute drive we halted and the driver turned the pickup around and backed it up to the beginning of a foot path. One of the workers from the Javan Gibbon Center single-handedly lifted the aluminum cage with Robin in it onto his shoulders and we trekked through the forest to the Center.

The Center is situated in natural Gibbon habitat and captive Gibbons can hear the calls of their free roaming kin. The Center’s mission is to rehabilitate and socialize the Gibbons so that they can be reintroduced to the wild. For that purpose there are several stations, including quarantine, where Robin will have to spend his first 30 days, socialization cages where the Gibbons are introduced to each other in controlled circumstances, first having visual contact between separated cages, then contact with a barrier and finally sharing a cage, and lastly enclosures placed away from the center built around trees in the forest where the Gibbons can express their natural behavior in as close a simulation to the wild as possible before they are actually freed. A caged wild animal exists in a very unnatural setting which restricts and determines it’s behavior and it’s no different here for the Gibbons at the center. Here, however, they are on track to freedom and that makes all the difference. It is necessary to prepare them for living in the wild to first go through the sequential stages, starting with quarantine to make sure that newcomers don’t spread disease to the population, moving on to socialization so that they develop the necessary relationships and behavior to naturally cooperate with their own kind and finally the last stage where they can practice being wild Gibbons and the workers at the Center can observe and make the decision that the Gibbons are ready for freedom.

After years in captivity, most likely having spent their entire lives in cages which restrict their natural movement to next to nothing, it’s actually amazing that an animal could ever reach the point where they could survive in the wild. Watching the Gibbons here though as they swing elegantly through their large enclosures, performing feats of balance and acrobatics far exceeding the most accomplished human gymnast, I was convinced they had a fighting chance and that is, I feel, what everyone at the barest minimum deserves.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Out of the jungle

We went with Karmele, Argito and Pa Herry up the river into the jungle. It was quite an amazing trip. We're now back in Palangka Raya and staying once more with Argito's family. Internet is pretty sketchy so more later! :)

What killed a leaf monkey?

(Story from Saturday the 7th of June, 2008)

On the way back from the Javan Gibbon Center Karmele arranged via cell phone to pick up the body of a Leaf Monkey. Another rescue center operating in the region near Bogor had requested that Karmele carry out a post mortem on the deceased animal.

We waited in the parking lot of a gas station for a driver to come from the other rescue center with the frozen remains of the monkey.

Once the monkey was stowed in the back we continued on to the Botani Square Mall to purchase essential groceries like Nutella and white bread. After a decadent Starbucks cappuccino we finally headed back to IAR headquarters.

I was ready for dinner and bed but there was still the post mortem on the leaf Monkey. I had no idea where a post mortem fit in with my documentary but there was no way I was going to miss it, so I loaded a new tape and followed Karmele, Karthi and Kim into the clinic.

I got an official face mask for which I was immediately thankful as corpses, even frozen ones, develop quite an odor very quickly in the tropics. The results of the necropsy were fascinating even for the layperson. There were dark spots on the lungs, possibly collected residue from dust or exhaust in the air, similar to smoker’s lung and originating from living in a cage at a busy roadside. More dark spots were found at the beginning of the small intestine, some dead mucosal tissue. Under the microscope a parasite was visible but neither Karmele, Karthi nor Kim thought that was the cause of death.

The Leaf Monkey’s diet consists of, surprise, surprise, mostly leaves. For this purpose the Leaf Monkey, a “fore-gut fermenter”, has a special digestive system, with a large multichambered stomach, similar to that of a ruminant - for example a cow. Her stomach was severely bloated, a symptom of a condition similar to the colic found in cows or other ruminants, caused by ingestion of food containing too much sugar. Upon examination the contents of the stomach proved to be almost exclusively fruit. The bulging, reeking, stomach sack was filled with orange chunks of fruit instead of the green contents it should have had.

Rescue centers have a difficult time getting funding. When times are tough and money is scarce they may not be able to afford certain kinds of food. A cheaper, more abundant food may be substituted instead. It can happen that the special diet that a given species requires is more difficult to come by. Out of desperation the animals might be fed with what ever is available. A diet consisting mostly of fruit containing too much sugar probably killed this monkey.
Leaf Monkeys are social animals, usually living in large groups. There were only two in this rescue center so the remaining Leaf Monkey has been left alone. It’s sad to think her death might have been avoidable.

Friday, June 13, 2008


...long story short: too much to explain in detail at the moment but... we caught a plane (bucket of aluminum bolts) with Karmele and Argito to Argito's family's home in Palanka Raya in central Kalimantan. Karmele met a neighbour who had his eye on a tract of land at the headwaters of a river about a 5 hours' drive from here. He's been looking for support to have it protected. We're going to go up and take a look at the area, by 4x4 and then, if all goes well and there aren't too many logs in the river, by boat. We will hopefully be able to travel up to a jungle lodge he has built there and overnight in the area. If the area is anything like he has said then it is chock full of wildlife, plants, it is primeval forest, untouched but endangered by encroaching development.

At any rate - though we were able to drop in to this internet cafe here there probably won't be much opportunity to blog in the next few days. There are so many stories to tell and pictures to upload but that will have to wait until we are back in Chiapus.

Sorry about the irregularity of blog entries. We will try and make up for it in the coming weeks!

Monday, June 9, 2008


Ethan and I arrived in Indonesia almost 2 weeks ago but before I start writing about my experience here I would like to talk about what led up to me coming to Indonesia.

What happened…

For every vet student the “big externship” is the best opportunity to finally work in the preferred field, to confirm what one already knows or to try out something new before graduating and heading out into the working world. In Germany vet students have to get 16 weeks of work experience in their final year of study – 8 of which can be done in any field or institution as long as working with a vet (for example in a zoo) the other 8 have to be done in a vet practice (small or large animals) or at a clinic.
For me this is the perfect chance to finally get some experience in wildlife medicine. To make the most of it I started planning early – in May of 2006. I won’t bore you with the details of how I organized my externship but let me tell you it was a lot of work and I’m quite happy with the outcome: 8 weeks volunteering for IAR Indonesia working with Karmele Sanchez in the vet clinic of the rescue and rehabilitation centre, 1 month externship at Western Plains Zoo in Australia, 1 month at the Toronto Zoo and 1 month at the Calgary Zoo. If you do the math it is 4 weeks more than required – why? Simply because I can ;-) I would just keep going if I could but I guess that I will have to finish my studies sometime and start making money with what I do. All I’m trying to say is that there are so many good programs out there with passionate and dedicated people working for them. In my part of the blog I want to tell the story of one of this programs which I want to become a part of and contribute to for the next 7 weeks.


First I want to tell the story of how I ended up here. In February 2007 I joined an organization called ZGAP (Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations). This organization is dedicated to the conservation of species that would not make it on the cover of newspapers and magazines. Basically trying to safe the less popular less known species that hardly anybody knows of and not many people care about (In a way similar to the work of IAR Indonesia). I went to their annual meeting in the Cologne Zoo where Ethan joined me. I was very excited about Ethan coming with me and showing interest in something that is so dear to me. The meeting convinced me of their work. I am often very suspicious of organizations of a certain size that start of as an idealistic effort of few engaged people but sooner or later become institutionalized and suffer from corruption and power struggle. But despite having about 800 members (not 100 % sure if that’s correct) at the time the ZGAP still seemed to be very much driven by the idealism of a small group of dedicated individuals. One of these individuals is Roland Wirth who is one of the two managing directors. At the end of the meeting I got to meet him and I learned that Roland lived close to Munich with his wife Daisy and son Jonathan and he invited us to visit him some time. So we did. It was great I had hardly met anybody so knowledgeable about zoology and the conservation status of different species as well as zoos worldwide. I felt like I didn’t know a thing about these issues listening to Roland. We were invited into their beautiful mostly self designed eco friendly house and their hospitality easily matched Rolands knowledge. That day we were brainstorming because I wanted to get involved more actively and we were trying to think of possible projects for me. Roland then told me about conservation situation in Indonesia specifically Java. Telling me about the biodiversity of Indonesia it’s threats and hopes. He also told me about several rescue centers that had been funded by the “Gibbon Foundation” which recently went bankrupt. So now there were rescue centers full of animals some of which are critically endangered and no money to maintain them. Roland was in touch with the manager of one of the centers, Resit, and was hoping to be able to build a captive breeding program for certain species with the goal of releasing them into the wild eventually. He tried to put me in touch with Resit so I could plan to do part of my “big internship” there – which would be a great opportunity for me to get a feel for the situation, learn about the animals, meet people, make connections, learn about the national psyche, learn about the habitat and ecology and so forth. Resit never replied – neither to me nor to Roland regarding me. In May of 2007 I went to the annual conference of the EAZWV (European Association of Zoo- and Wildlife Veterinarians) in Edinburgh. Some of the people there were also members of the ZGAP and I talked about my plans regarding a project in Java. Ulrike Streicher, a German vet who used to work with primates in Vietnam and had recently transferred to WildAid Cambodia told me that she had the email address of a vet in Java and that she would give it to me. That’s how I got Karmele Sanchez’ email address. I wrote to her asking if I could to an externship with her in the summer of 2008 and she replied to me saying that she would be happy to have me but that I would have to talk to the head office of IAR for that is who sponsors her center. She gave me Alan Knight’s contacts and I got in touch with him. I agreed to meet with him in November when I had some time to come to Uckfield, UK. Between then and November I met with Roland a couple more times who was always very enthusiastic about the possibility of me contributing to a possible breeding project which he felt was of urgent necessity especially for the javan warty pig and the black winged starling. He was also back in touch with Resit and had somebody who works for the ZGAP in the Philippines fly to Java to meet with Resit and have a look and his Rescue Center, Cicananga. Some time later I learned that Karmele has previously been a volunteer there.


In November I travelled to Uckfield for an interview with Alan at the head office of International Animal Rescue. I was quite impressed with the atmosphere and friendliness at the office. There was a dog which was personally introduced to me and many friendly faces greeting me. Alan invited me into his office and started telling me about the work and history of IAR, the different projects and especially IAR Indonesia and Karmele. I could sense just how passionate he is about his job. He showed me a lot of photos from India, Malta and Indonesia. Talking about many different things we discovered that we have a shared passion for cetaceans as well as a strong believe in animal welfare. Listening to him talk about the worth of each individual animal and seeing the efforts that IAR puts into rescuing different animals that otherwise nobody cares about was very soothing to me after having been taught in vet school for several years that an animal is always worth what the owner is willing to pay for it. Alan is vegetarian and Karmele vegan - vegetarian food is part of the policy at the IAR Indonesia rescue and rehabilitation center. That within itself was quite convincing to me. Me being vegetarian myself off and on since I was 12 years old having struggled with the ethics of eating meat and/or animal products and which ones to purchase I have a deep appreciation for people who make a point through that. I might come back later to different thoughts I have on vegetarianism and veganism but for now let’s say the thought of vegetarianism as a policy simply gave me a good feeling. I think it’s safe to say that Alan and I hit it off and that my visit to the office really got me excited about my externship in Indonesia.

Uckfield No 2

One of the things left to do before taking off to Indonesia was going back to Uckfield for Ethan and Alan to meet. I had tried to time that with a presentation by Roger Payne and Lisa Harrow which was scheduled for May 16th in at the Eden Project in Cornwall. Roger is a world renown biologist and whale expert and Lisa an accomplished actress originally from New Zealand. The presentation is called “Seachange - Changing the Tide” and is a synthesis of Roger’s scientific expertise and Lisa’s talent as an actress to address environmental issues. It was going to be their only performance in Europe and I was looking forward to it for months. I had previously volunteered for Roger’s NGO the Ocean Alliance on their research vessel “Odyssey” and was lucky to have met Roger and Lisa in the Seychelles. Having met them and having read their books “Among Whales” by Roger and “What You Can Do” by Lisa I knew that the performance was going to be brilliant. Unfortunately the show got postponed until sometime this fall :-( We rearranged our time in the UK and at least now we had a bit more time for preparation back in Munich. But before returning to Munich we went to Uckfield to meet with Alan. My father drove us to the airport to catch the 6:50am plane to London Stansted. From there we made our way to London Bridge train station and hopped on the train to Uckfield to meet Alan at the IAR head office. The 2nd time was just like my 1st impression – the atmosphere in the office was friendly and hospitable. We went into Alan’s office got the updates on international animal welfare issues and saw a lot of impressive and some really horrid pictures. Alan told us everything we needed to know about our trip to Indonesia including how loud tree frogs can be at night, the best vegetarian restaurant in Bogor, how much it rains in Ciapus, about Indonesian mentality and different ways in which we could help the IAR Indonesia. After that Ethan did a short interview with Alan and then we were off back to Germany with our carry-on bags full of dog toys that would serve the macaques as enrichment and some headlamps that would be helpful in one of the many power cuts. Of course I had to explain that to the security person at the airport who looked at all those pink and blue rubber toys with suspicion. I’m not sure if he believed me when I told him that they were enrichment items for monkeys but eventually he waved me through with a skeptical smile on his face.

The journey

The last days in Munich were stressful – trying to arrange everything for the next half a year, packing, clearing the room and sending off the applications for the scholarships. Finally my close friend Mark drove us to the airport after storing our personal belongings in his basement. The trip was comparatively smooth and uneventful. Ethan is not a big fan of flying so when we finally reached Jakarta airport I could feel his relief. The same kind of relief that I had already felt after checking in at Munich airport. It’s that kind of feeling that whatever you forgot to bring or do (unless it’s your passport or ticket) there’s nothing you can do about it and you’ll manage without. Arriving in Jakarta on the other hand was quite exciting. Ethan and I had let go of each others hands on the airplane and had agreed to respect the Muslim culture by not showing public affection – which is something to get used to. After some troubles finding the people from IAR who came to pick us up we eventually managed to meet up and were driven through a buzzing Jakarta. It was about 7:30pm and already dark. I had forgotten that it was that way close to the equator. But I am happy to trade a few hours of daylight for the warmth and color of the tropics. Ethan and I kept falling asleep on the 2 ½ hour trip to Ciapus. All the impressions raining down on us were obviously too much for our tired brains that decided to take a break and process. Arriving at the guest house of the center we were greeted by a security guard, five dogs and Marlene – a biologist from Denmark working in the education department. We sat down with her and talked for a little bit. She had been here for a month and gave us an introduction and a brief rundown on all important things to know and possible difficulties that we might encounter. We were very happy to find out that we would share a room (even though we aren’t married yet) and to have running water and our own bathroom with a toilet – with seat :-) . Eventually we fell into bed - anticipating the weeks to come.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Eyes in the Dark

Yesterday evening I met a slow Loris for the first time. He required de-worming and so we made our way down to the Loris enclosure. They are nocturnal so the only chance I’ve had to observe them so far is sleeping. The first time all I saw was his bushy bottom sticking out of a box hanging in a tree. We spoke in whispers and observed his lower half. The second time I filmed a hairy ball with his tiny hands around the bars of his enclosure, sleeping the afternoon away in the warmth of the sun.

This time around we approached with headlamps with red gels which are easier on their huge yellow eyes. Filming was difficult but it was a treat to see this little creature. It’s very easy to see why they are popular as pets as they have all those “cute” attributes that humans adore. With huge, round eyes into which one can project all the innocence of the world, long soft fur, tiny soft hands with a grip like that of a human infant and a musky, infant like smell, slow Lorises look like sweet little aliens who just whirred in on a flying saucer from a jungle planet.

This young male weighed approximately 650grams – big for his age and well on the way to his adult size of around a Kilogram. Karmele gently pried him from his branch to inspect him. He seemed quite comfortable on her arm. She then held his head in one hand and orally administered the de-worming medicine with the other with a simple syringe.

Had his canines not been cruelly removed, likely by way of pliers and without any anesthetic, she would never have been able to handle him this way, she explained.

Lorises are omnivorous, hunting insects and small animals as well as consuming some fruit. Although we might project cuteness onto them they are wild animals and to fulfill their Loris existence they need to roam and hunt at night.

Lorises are aggressive, territorial and equipped with sharp canines for ripping and tearing flesh. This makes them remarkably ill-suited to be pets, all big-eyed cuteness aside, and this becomes apparent as they grow up and give their captors a nasty bite or two. In much the same way as baby Macaques are seen as ideal pet material and later grow to be an unpredictable, irritable nuisance, so it is with Lorises and thus the torturous tooth -removal.

Lorises end up at the rescue center when people no longer want to keep them or they are confiscated by the police or forestry. Like many wild animals Lorises are losing their natural habitat to development and logging. In addition to their being used as pets they are hunted to be used as an ingredient in a traditional aphrodisiac. The goal at IAR is to rehabilitate and reintroduce them into the wild. Unfortunately those without canines, or lacking the necessary skills to survive in the wild may have to be kept their life long in captivity.

On a more positive note, Lorises seem to retain their instincts in captivity and are good candidates for reintroduction to the wild. That’s supposing they have suitable habitat to return to.

Raising awareness of indigenous wildlife and their needs is one of the goals of the educational programs at IAR. They hope that an increased awareness will put an end to the market for Lorises and Macaques, among other wildlife, as pets.

While it’s a pleasure to be have the opportunity to film a Loris in his spacious enclosure it would be a far greater pleasure to see him zip off out of sight into the jungle. When she feels he has the necessary survival skills that’s exactly what Karmele plans to do.

Monday, June 2, 2008

There is still no internet today. I’ve used up all the space on my portable hard drive and have arranged for a new one to be sent here. My gear is holding up very well so I’m pleased with that. (knock on wood)

Today I interviewed Marlene, who is here to set up an education program for IAR Indonesia. She studied biology and environmental education and works at a zoo in Denmark. She has some interesting insights into the dynamics of education and environmental awareness in Indonesia. There are specific differences between European and Indonesian school students which need to be taken into account in order to effectively communicate and evaluate the process.

My plan is to take what we’ve written to the warnet – internet cafĂ© - and upload it this evening as we really have no idea when there will be internet.

Which brings us to today... we are here at the internet cafe about 10km from Curug Nangka which we got to via Angkot.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

just talking

Today Kim was feeling ill. I ended up hanging out at the local warung – a little shop which sells Nasi Goreng – spiced fried rice with egg – coffee, soft drinks and other snacks, and talking with Gunawan and Asman. From Gunawan I heard more stories of the rescue centers in Indonesia, some of the reasons behind political unrest in Indonesia and got to know him a bit better. Asman and I also talked a bit about this and that including the average age of marriage in Indonesia and Canada. He’s said he wasn’t yet married but at 23 has a little while. The average age according to him is 25 for men and 20 for women.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Into the jungle

International Animal Rescue Indonesia is located in Bogor, in the village of Curug Nangka in the foothills of Salak Mountain. Today we hiked up into the mountain national park with the guide Senin, Karmele, Marlene and Kim. We saw a lizard and two eagles but none of the wild Macaques which live there. I suppose it's not too surprising since there were so many of us and we weren't being that quiet.

On Kim's back you see a bag full of trash which we found littering the trail. The jungle is deep, wet and lush and everything grows and decays at an astonishing rate; if a landslide opens up some raw soil or a tree is uprooted moss and ferns grow over it in no time. Maybe this is why it seems like a little garbage is harmless. In a place where natural forces like volcanoes, tsunami, typhoons, earthquakes and landslides are so much more common and have such immediate consequences for peoples' lives a little litter may seem insignificant. Of course plastic wrappers, rubber, alluminum, glass etc. will not decay but accumulate and pollute.

This is another situation where it's easy coming from a rich
industrial country to condescend. I wonder how much of our own pollution is either exported or swept under the landfill carpet, to still have almost as much negative long term effect on the environment as open sewers and burning garbage. I try to keep that in mind and be as sensitive to my own state of hypocrisy as possible. Still it's easy
to be frustrated when people spraypaint grafitti on the rocks next to the jungle waterfall, toss plastic bags of waste by the wayside and burn batteries and styrofoam in the gutters.