Reflections on Two Years in Ketapang

By Cassie Freund, GPOCP Program Director    

I’ve been here in Ketapang as the GPOCP Program Director for 25 months now, with just a handful of days to go until I hand over the keys to the GPOCP castle (so to speak!) and return to the US to start my PhD at Wake Forest University. The past two years here have been full of experiences, both challenging and rewarding. From planning the GP30 conference last year, to sitting with the GPOCP staff and teaching them statistics so that they can analyze environmental education survey data, to hiking six hours in the blazing-heat-turned-pouring-rain to get to Cabang Panti Research Station, I feel like I’ve done it all!
The most satisfying part of my time here in Ketapang has been watching the GPOCP conservation staff grow and develop as a team. One of my main goals has been to improve communication among the various conservation teams and find synergies between our Investigation, Hutan Desa, Environmental Education, and Sustainable Livelihoods work. Although each team has their own activities and targets, there is a lot that they can learn from one another. Now, the Environmental Education team is using information from the Wildlife Crime field investigators to focus educational activities in villages where they will have the most impact for orangutan conservation, and the Sustainable Livelihoods team is working with the Hutan Desa program to find alternative economic activities for the project communities. As the only conservation NGO in the region with a long-term orangutan research project, we have also been working hard to integrate the data from Dr. Knott’s scientific research into the conservation programs. A great example of this is the GIS mapping project with Dr. Amanda West, which we will soon be submitting for publication in an ecology journal.

Cassie (back right) with the Yayasan Palung staff after an annual meeting to discuss the conservation programs and efforts in and around Gunung Palung National Park.
Of course, it hasn’t all been easy! Working in Indonesia, especially Kalimantan, comes with its own challenges. Even simple things like finding an hour flight from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta to our home base in Ketapang can turn into a three-day marathon. This happened to me in October of last year during the fire season. I wrote a lot about the impact of the forest fires on orangutans and rainforest ecology in the second half of 2015, but the fires also took a major toll on mundane things like inter-island travel. Since Indonesia consists of over 17,000 islands, you can see how this may be a problem! I actually was traveling back to Borneo from the ZACC Conference in Colorado last year during the worst of it, and because the haze over West Kalimantan was so thick, all of the flights to Ketapang were canceled. I had to fly to Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan instead, where I took a 4-hour car ride to Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan, followed by an 8-hour bus trip to Pangkalan Bun, and finally a 10-hour car journey through endless palm oil plantations to Ketapang. Amidst all of the other difficulties I’ve faced here, including tight deadlines, midnight Skype calls to America, and the aforementioned hike through a thunderstorm, I think that traveling during the fire season was by far the biggest challenge.

The view from an airplane over Pontianak on a clear day.
The most common question I have been asked in the past few days is whether I will miss Indonesia. After over five years here, there are certainly many things I’ll miss when I return to the States! I’ll miss the street food, the almost-guaranteed rainbows that follow afternoon thunderstorms, and the rainforest. I’ll miss the familiarity of Ketapang’s GPOCP office and my trusty motorbike that has taken me literally thousands of kilometers around this landscape. And I will certainly miss working with the GPOCP staff, each of whom has his or her own unique strengths. However, I’m also excited to watch the new Directors, Triana and Terri, bring fresh perspectives to the organization. I anticipate that in the future, GPOCP will work even more closely with our local partners, including the Gunung Palung National Park office and our Board and Advisory Council members, to champion orangutan conservation in the Gunung Palung landscape. I know that, although my PhD work will take me to the South American Amazon, this isn’t the end of my time in Indonesia, and I will remain involved with GPOCP in some capacity. Thanks to all of our donors, supporters, and local partners who have assisted me personally over the past two years, you have helped me immensely and made a difference for the GP orangutans.
Sampai ketemu lagi, as we say in Bahasa Indonesia – until we meet again!