What if your home was destroyed by a natural disaster? How would you sleep? Would you and your family be able to survive?
Indonesian forests are home to orangutans, one of the world’s most intelligent and also endangered species. Orangutan habitats are being destroyed by deforestation and natural disasters, posing a major threat to these great apes. As a leader in global conservation, the Indianapolis Zoo recently began a reforestation project in Borneo, Indonesia, to help turn things around for orangutans.
As part of this conservation effort, Dr. Robert Shumaker, the Zoo’s Vice President of Conservation and Life Sciences, traveled to Indonesia to conduct a workshop on reforestation efforts in Kutai National Park in Borneo. Before Shumaker left, he had time for a quick Q&A about this important project.
Shumaker has been traveling to Indonesia and Malaysia on “orangutan business” since the mid-1990s.
“Since that first visit, I’ve returned a number of times and each trip expands my understanding of orangutans and their conservation,” he said. “I have tremendous respect for the hard working people who dedicate themselves to studying and conserving orangutans, all the while looking for solutions to the obvious challenges that exist.”
This latest journey, which started on June 8, took him from Indianapolis to California to Asia, where he made stops in Japan and Singapore before finally landing in Borneo. The final leg of the trip included a flight from Balikpapan to Sangatta on what Shumaker described as a “puddle jumper” plane. Flying low over the coastlines of eastern Borneo, Shumaker and his colleagues got an amazing aerial view of the vistas they plan to revitalize.
“Borneo and Sumatra seem like they’re just about on the other side of the world from Indianapolis,” Shumaker said after nearly two full days of travel. But he added, “It’s a privilege to do it on behalf of orangutans and their conservation.”
Upon arrival, Shumaker and the other researchers and conservationists participating in the workshop, met with government officials managing the Kutai National Park to discuss the many challenges to orangutan conservation.
“It’s easy to hear about the problems involved in orangutan conservation, and those challenges are certainly real. But, it’s so encouraging to be surrounded by dedicated people who are working tirelessly on behalf of orangutans,” said Shumaker. “These good people have made me feel so welcome, and they are all so appreciative that the Indianapolis Zoo is supporting the important work happening in Kutai. We are off to a good start.”
During the first days of the workshop, Shumaker and the other speakers, who come from all corners of the globe, focused on strategies for rehabilitating the forests that are home to orangutans and countless other species, like the proboscis monkey pictured above. The message Shumaker and his colleagues are presenting has been well received by both the people and the media in Indonesia.
Yet even with their support, major challenges remain ahead for animal conservationists. However, Shumaker said, “All of the speakers agreed that no matter what caused the damage, forests can eventually recover with time and proper care. This is great news for our reforestation plans at the Kutai National Park.”
Proboscis monkey photo by Mike Crowther. Borneo travel photos by Robert Shumaker.