Global conservation is an integral part of the Indianapolis Zoo’s mission. Through various programs, the Zoo reaches species and ecosystems from the plains of Africa with the Tarangire Elephant Project and the Cheetah Conservation Fund, to the ice caps of the arctic with Polar Bears International, and nearly every continent in between.
Sometimes, Zoo staff members are called upon to assist with projects in the field. So when Dr. Robert Shumaker, the Zoo’s Vice President of Conservation and Life Sciences, was asked to help plan reforestation efforts in Borneo's Kutai National Park, he was ready to jump the next flight to Indonesia.
Habitat loss is one of the biggest threats facing orangutans in the wild. The two species of this great ape — Bornean and Sumatran — are respectively classified as endangered and critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. And as conservation of these incredible creatures is among the programmatic goals for the International Orangutan Center, this reforestation project is likewise a top priority for Shumaker and the Zoo as a whole.
Shumaker will leave for Borneo later this week and updates from his trip will be posted soon. In between packing and planning, he had time for a quick Q&A about this important excursion.
Q: How do you feel about being chosen for this project?
A: I am absolutely honored to be involved with this important effort. I’ve worked with orangutans for about 30 years and have been able to support their conservation indirectly during that time. But this is my first chance to participate directly, and that’s a very satisfying feeling. I am supremely confident that through this long-term project, the Indianapolis Zoo will be able to have a real impact on orangutan conservation.
Q: What will you be doing while in Borneo?
A: During my visit, I’ll be participating in a workshop to thoroughly discuss and plan our reforestation efforts. Reforestation involves more than just planting trees if you want to be successful. We need to start by involving all of the stakeholders, including important government officials. We need to understand their perspective, and listen carefully to their concerns and advice. We will be consulting with botanists and other scientists who have experience with reforestation in tropical habitats. Reforestation doesn’t stop once seedlings are in the ground, they need care and attention to thrive and develop. This is a huge job. Ultimately, our goal is to set up a long-term collaboration to support the Kutai National Park. It’s an honor and a privilege to support this effort and work with our Indonesian colleagues.
Q: Why is this such an important effort?
A: It’s simple. Orangutans won’t survive without proper habitat. We can’t conserve orangutans without healthy forest. We know that orangutan populations are declining all over their range due to habitat loss, among other factors. We want to support the important conservation work being conducted in the Kutai National Park and do our part to help make sure they have a future.
Photos by Mike Crowther