Becoming a Volunteer at Yayasan Palung

By Vanessa Ryan Hadi

My name is Vanessa Ryan Hadi. I come from the city of Cibubur in Jakarta, Indonesia. In September 2021, I came to Yayasan Palung to volunteer for three months. I have a desire to learn and continue to gain knowledge, especially related to conservation. This has been my passion since I was 14 years old when I watched a television interview with a French man named Aùrelien Francis Brule, often nicknamed Chanee. On the show “Kick Andy” he explained how he went to Indonesia and created a non-profit organization that focused mainly on gibbons, as well as saving land that is important animal habitat. Before coming to Yayasan Palung, I previously traveled to Germany for a cultural exchange program for 16 months. I lived in a small town called Diez, in the Rheinland-Pfalz district. Last April, I returned back to Indonesia and had a strong desire to volunteer at an NGO that worked towards saving orangutans and their habitat. I am especially interested in orangutans because they are endemic to Borneo and Sumatra, and they are threatened with extinction.

Vanessa leads a discussion during an Environmental Education Expedition in Desa Pengkalan Jihing, Pengkalan Teluk Village.

Yayasan Palung (YP) was a particularly attractive place of study for me because this organization not only focuses on orangutans, but also their natural habitat, the forest. In addition, the programs at YP cover all aspects related to forests and orangutans – the research program at Cabang Panti in Gunung Palung National Park, the environmental education program, animal rescue, monitoring and investigation, sustainable livelihoods, and the scholarship program (the West Bornean Orangutan Caring Scholarship).

These programs are also similar to my personal vision of forest restoration and forest use, because in my opinion, there are various aspects that must be improved and changed in order to restore the forest. The most basic thing is to replace the source of state revenue on a large scale, so that deforestation can be controlled and reduced. In addition, environmental education must always be given so that the community can continue to increase their awareness of the importance of the environment and the urgency of climate change. Additionally, the government should have an important role in efforts to reduce the acceleration of climate change.

During my time as a volunteer at Yayasan Palung, I have participated in several activities including: environmental education expeditions around Gunung Palung National Park, classroom lectures, mentoring of conservation youth group volunteers, and various sustainable livelihoods program activities in villages and Customary Forests. The most challenging yet fun activity has been conducting biodiversity surveys in the Customary Forests.

Vanessa collects data on plant species found in a Customary Forest during a biodiversity survey.

The biodiversity survey took place mainly in peat swamp forest areas in the “Kumbang Betedoeh” Customary Forest of Pulau Kumbang village and the “Alam Hijau” Customary Forest of Pemangkat village. Both areas are located in the Simpang Hillir sub-district in Kayong Utara Regency. This was my first time ever entering a peat swamp, and we conducted the survey for multiple days, camping each night within the forest. I worked alongside members of the Yayasan Palung staff, as well as the Village Forest Management Board (LPHD).

I learned to identify and record various types of plants in the forest, identify types of orangutan nests, and encountered various species of mammals directly by sight and indirectly by sound. I saw many bird species including the golden horned woodpecker, great gray woodpecker, spotted kestrel and gray-chested jungle flycatcher. I also saw a green pit viper. Altogether, we recorded over 400 trees in the forest, 50% of which were orangutan food trees. The rare trees species we found are known locally as ramin (Gonystylus bancanus), meranti batu (Shorea spp.), punak (Tetramerista glabra) and jelutung (Dyera costulata). I am so grateful for the experiences I have had at Yayasan Palung and have made many friends along the way! I am excited to see what is in store for the rest of my time here.

Vanessa (center) stands alongside the rest of the biodiversity survey team before they begin their expedition into the field.