By Victoria Gehrke, Conservation Program Director & Cheryl Knott, Executive Director
As 2019 draws to a close we wanted to reflect on our last decade of achievements. Our successes are hard won, as change never comes easily and lasting solutions require a patient, adaptive and realistic approach. Our achievements are your achievements as we would never have been able to do our work without your support! Our amazing team, communities, volunteers, board and stakeholders all play an irreplaceable role in the process to make our successes possible in the Gunung Palung landscape. We can’t possibly highlight all of our milestones, so here are some of our favorites!
On the Conservation side:
* Our Environmental Education Center expanded with a new wing to become a vibrant hub for villagers to learn about sustainable farming and to network with other stakeholders.
* We created two volunteer organizations of energetic young conservationists, one for each regency in our project area. Both groups are still very active and play a key role in our special events planning and are constantly adding new members!
* GPOCP played a key role in the first successful prosecution of a wild orangutan trader, setting an important precedent for people working against the illegal wildlife trade across the archipelago.
* We worked with the village of Riam Berasap Jaya to issue the first official proclamation of a village customary forest in Kayong Utara or Ketapang, paving the way for several other villages that are taking similar steps to bring local control and sustainable management over forests and related natural resources outside of the national park. This approach has led to the procurement of 5 different customary Forests, covering nearly 7,500 ha and we have two more in the process (adding another 1000 ha)!
* One of our biggest accomplishments was the role we played in 2013 in helping to head-off a plan to de-gazette substantial areas of Gunung Palung National Park as well as large tracts of protected orangutan habitat. Tens of thousands of acres were proposed for conversion to oil palm concessions. We quickly worked to provide the essential arguments as to why these lands should not be converted, held meetings with members of the legislative council and spatial planners, and worked with other NGOs to develop a cohesive action plan.
* We are proud to announce we have 7 full university graduates from the Bornean Orangutan Caring Scholarships, and 30 undergraduate students currently enrolled.
* In 2015 we started including organic aquaculture in our Sustainable Livelihood program. This program has been embraced by the communities and local government agencies and we currently have 22 new aquaculture members and 13 organic farming members. Overall, we are working directly with 90 households. All 35 agriculture members are ex-loggers who are now working towards sustainable socio-economic development and are becoming conservation ambassadors. * We have expanded into the very remote villages in and around Matan, on the north eastern borders of the National Park, thanks to support and funding from our donors and the hard work from our team.
* In 2019, we were honored with the Whitley Fund for Nature Award, recognizing and supporting our strategy of orangutan conservation through sustainable handicrafts.
On the Research side:
* We welcomed the birth of 15 baby orangutans in our study population.
* We carried out over 3400 orangutan focal follows on 126 different orangutans.
* In 2015 we celebrated 30+ years of research and conservation based out of the Cabang Panti Research Station. The celebration was a big hit, consisting of our entire staff working together to put on a two-day symposium and week-long trip to the research station for former researchers, Indonesian counterparts, board members, and local government officials!
* We collected over 877 urine samples, 1588 fecal samples, and weighed and measured 483 orangutan plants foods.
* Our team started using aerial drones to count orangutan nests as a more efficient way to estimate orangutan population size.
* We published 33 scientific articles and gave 83 scientific talks.
* We trained and supported 25 post-docs and graduate students, 24 managers and volunteers, 30 Boston University undergraduates and 31 Indonesian students.
There have been so many goals and achievements over the last decade – but most of all we are proud that we have made such a big impact on conserving and understanding wild orangutans and their rainforest home, while enriching people’s lives, both in Indonesia and abroad. Our artisan’s groups are becoming more independent, our customary forest groups more skilled in sustainable agroforestry, our education team is frequently requested for more events and from more villages, and there has been a significant decrease in illegal wildlife trade thanks to our investigation team’s efforts. Our research results have been published and presented across the globe and over 100 students and post-graduates have been directly involved in our orangutan research. A heartfelt ‘thank you’ to all of those who contributed to these efforts and who support us – together you have made these accomplishment possible!