My Daily Life in Another World

By Sumihadi, Field Laboratory Assistant

My name is Sumihadi, but most people call me Sumi. I currently work as a Laboratory Assistant at Cabang Panti. I’m an alumna of the Department of Biology at Tanjungpura University in Pontianak, Indonesia. I am also one of the 2014 recipients of the West Bornean Orangutan Caring Scholarship (WBOCS). I am so grateful for the benefits I have gotten from the BOCS program over the past six years. It feels like a gift to be able to work here, and I am fortunate for the opportunity to experience working and living in this small paradise within Borneo. 

I first visited Gunung Palung in 2017 to intern and later returned in 2018 to conduct research for my undergraduate thesis. I studied the distribution and density of ficus trees, as they are an important food source for a wide variety of animals, including orangutans. In January, after I graduated with a degree in biology, I was given the opportunity to return to Cabang Panti and begin training to work here. I have been here ever since!

From left to right: Sumi, student researcher Ulda, student researcher Octha, and former lab assistant Rinta. All four women were recipients of the West Bornean Orangutan Caring Scholarship and attended Universitas Tanjungpura.

Indonesia has amazingly diverse natural resources, with an abundance of both flora and fauna. Therefore, it is important and necessary to preserve this biodiversity. Building a variety of nature conservation protection areas such as nature reserves, wildlife sanctuaries, and national parks helps to protect the species that inhabit these areas. There are 54 National Parks in Indonesia, one of which is Gunung Palung National Park (GPNP). Many people that live around here are aware of the research station, but few get to experience what goes on first-hand. I am here to share my knowledge and experience as one of the staff that is working at Cabang Panti, and explain what I do each day. 

For my job as a laboratory assistant I am responsible for processing orangutan urine and  fecal samples that are collected by the field assistants that work here. I also work with plant samples such as fruit, flowers, leaves and tree bark, which are eaten by orangutans. It’s my job to identify, photograph and weigh these samples, and then dry them for nutritional analysis. 

Each day Sumi processes urine and fecal samples collected from wild orangutans. Here she works to preserve genetics fecal samples by storing them in silica gel.

In addition to processing samples, I sometimes join the field assistants on follows to help collect the samples. I also do administrative work, by helping with data entry and management and organizing all the data that gets collected on iPads and GPS units. I help to keep the lab organized and regularly inventory all of our equipment.

Sumi processes plant samples as part of our research on orangutan diet. By collecting careful, detailed data on plant samples and preserving them in our drying oven and dehydrator, we can analyze the nutritional content of these wild plants.

When there are no orangutans to follow, I go into the forest to search for orangutans. Over the past few months many interesting things have happened when I enter the forest alone. It is the most exciting when I stumble upon wild animals  that I have never seen before. Within the Cabang Panti research vicinity there are not only orangutans, but many rare animals such as hornbills, wild cats, sun bears, civets and unique insects. I hope to continue observing more of this amazing biodiversity as I continue to work here!

Being at Cabang Panti has added a new energy to my life; it’s difficult to express in words how proud and happy I am to be here. I am surrounded by beautiful nature with diverse animals and plants. All my coworkers and friends care for one another and we are all so comfortable being here. It is so much different than the world I was previously living in. Life at Cabang Panti is life being in a different, very peaceful, world.

Sumi shows off a very large leaf found on the forest floor!