Editor’s Note: Dr. Rob Shumaker, the Indianapolis Zoo’s Vice President of Conservation and Life Sciences, recently returned from a week-long trip to Borneo where he and other conservationists participated in a workshop about reforestation in Kutai National Park. This is the third blog detailing Shumaker's trip. Read the Q&A as well as the mid-trip update. This project and others like it are essential to efforts to save orangutans, which are endangered in large part because of habitat loss.
I started travelling to Indonesia and Malaysia in the mid 1990s, and have returned numerous times over the years. Without exception I’ve always felt “at home” but could never understand exactly why. But, I think this recent visit has provided some clarity.
Every trip I’ve made has revolved around orangutans in one way or another, and nothing could be more familiar for me. Orangutans have been a constant in my life for over 30 years — they captivate me as much today as they did when I first started working with them, perhaps even a bit more. That makes it all the more meaningful to engage in a project devoted entirely to the conservation of wild orangutans.
Despite the obvious challenges involved with orangutan conservation, our recent international workshop has provided me with a great deal of optimism. It was wonderful to be surrounded by people who are devoted to orangutans. Each and every one of them is making a positive and meaningful difference for conservation. They may be educators, biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, botanists, government officials or business leaders, but each has an important role to play.
It was immensely gratifying that the assembled group greeted our reforestation proposal with sincere enthusiasm. We may be preaching to the choir, but the choir is composed of really smart people who understand what it will take to save orangutans.
I am especially grateful for the warm reception we received from the Indonesian government officials who must review and approve all of the plans. We started a great collaboration at this event, and I predict that it will only grow over time.
We’ve taken the first few steps, and now it’s time to start fleshing out the details. We’re in the process of submitting a formal proposal to the Ministry of Forestry so that the work can begin. If all goes as planned, the reforestation project will begin to take shape this summer. Luckily for us, our workshop team has great expertise as well as practical knowledge of what it takes to rebuild a forest that will be a home for orangutans.
The realities of orangutan conservation are sobering, but the Indianapolis Zoo is engaged in joyful work. We have the opportunity to engage in a conservation project on the ground that will directly benefit orangutans, local people and conservation science. What a privilege for me to be involved in this project. I am so proud of our Zoo.
We’ll continue to post updates here, I hope you’ll check back.