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Hairy Hounds Huge Garage Sale

After weeks of planning, advertising, confirming stall holders, securing volunteers, receiving many many donations from very generous people, the day finally arrived for the Hairy Hounds Huge Garage Sale!

The forecast was for thunderstorms from 3pm… "That’s okay", we thought, the sale finishes at 2pm with an hour to spare. We didn’t need to worry about the weather, the heavens remained closed and we enjoyed an absolutely beautiful day, full of sunshine.

We began at 7.30am setting up and organising stalls. We were blessed with many volunteers who gladly helped out prior to and on the day, whom we can’t thank enough, without these vollies, the day would not have been the success it was. Much joy and happiness filled the air, for such a worthy cause, like-minded people brought together to raise much needed funds for Earth 4 Orangutans.

So many Hairy Hounds clients dropped by to show their support, both yards were nearly as busy as a week day and the pooches too enjoyed the fun in the play areas with their parents getting the opportunity to watch their furkids at play.

Deuawd played some tunes which added to the ambiance, volunteers cooked a PO free sausage sizzle with vegan cuisine catered for and face painting and drawing for the littlies. We had a massage therapist for the weary, palm oil free cupcakes and a good old fashioned bake sale - chocolate balls and yo-yo’s selling out within the first hour! The raffle and car washing were popular stand outs on the day.

We were very lucky to be supported by a number of businesses who donated vouchers for the silent auctions which were a huge success. Again we thank them for their continued support, it still amazes me the generosity of people.

2pm came around much faster than we expected and as the day came to close, the atmosphere was still buzzing. The vollies again coming together to start the clean up, all left over items collated and sent off to be donated to charity shops… the sale just kept on giving!

So, without the amazing and energetic vollies leading up the day and on the day, without the generous auction items we received from local businesses and without the general over-all heart warming care from all of those involved, we wouldn’t have had the extraordinary day that we did!

The day was an absolute success, raising $2110 in total for Earth 4 Orangutans!!!

January 2014 Update: Tanhkahan, Tangkahan English Club, Batu Katak


The river is low in Tangkahan, the lowest many of our friends here say they have ever seen. The rainy season has not really delivered and down river the river stones are being removed by the tonne. Many fishermen balance for hours on the rocks around Green lodge, and motorbikes come and go all through the night as locals take their spears and flashlights into the river under cover of darkness. The fish are easier to catch with the river so low and clear, it is stunningly beautiful but perhaps a warning sign of how easily the strength of the river is diminished by lack of rain and hungry excavators.

The last few months our guides have been busy, although not with tourists.

Raw guide Jack makes speech

One of our guides, the strong and silent Jack, endured his Karonese wedding in December, in between Xmas and New Year. Jack has a quiet way about him, and is an expert in the forest. He is thoughtful and thorough, and will treat his guests to softly spoken stories of his experiences tracking tigers for the Wildlife Conservation Society, or old Karonese stories of magic and mythical creatures that are believed to inhabit the dense forest.  

Jacks wife Abi is not Karonese, she is Mandailing, people from the southwest region of North Sumatra, and so their original wedding 6 years ago was in the Mandailing tradition. Abi’s adopted Karonese parents Mabay and Rohani hosted the wedding at Green Lodge, which was shut down to guests for three days.

A Karonese wedding is conducted non stop, over two days. The first day is planning for the actual ceremony, welcoming guests and introducing each group who is attending. Extended family come from far away and must greet the wedding hosts and immediate family with traditional dance, song and speeches.

Jack and Abi wear traditional Karonese costume and change three times throughout the celebration. The procession of well wishers is never ending, and at the back of Green Lodge is an open-air kitchen where massive pots of rice simmer, and huge woks of curry are stirred constantly to supply everybody with food.

In the early hours of the second day, the orang tua, parents, fall asleep on woven mats and the young people take the stage, singing and dancing until the sun rises. The next day speeches continue and the couple takes their vows wrapped together in a traditional sarong called an ulos or kadang kadang.

After Jack’s wedding the local community rangers organised a New Year’s party. A band was hired, which the rangers soon commandeered. Chicken and fish were barbequed and slightly too much Bacardi was consumed by all.

The night started with traditional music and dance performed by the children, guided by their grandparents. The leaders and founders of the community tourism committee, LPT, made speeches, remembering the past and looking into the future. The Rangers were brought together in an exercise designed to push them into looking within themselves, spark motivation and create a passion to continue working for positive change in the future.

It was a moving experience, with all the Rangers linking arms and reciting their song, Mars Rangers, their anthem, a song written by the young men who were active in the formation of the community Rangers when they first made their transition from illegal logging.  The song has a hypnotic rhythm and many tears were shed as they reflected upon the difficulties encountered in the past years and the need to keep working together into the future.

The next party to occur was another wedding, this time Rilly, the younger sister of our guide Ika. Ika’s rambunctious personality complements Jack’s quiet, thoughtful one perfectly. Ika is a joker, the older brother who is always trying to make you laugh, whilst ensuring that everything is organised and you have the adventure of a lifetime! He was extremely busy as he had a major role in preparations for the wedding of his sister Rilly. The ceremony was one of many mixed emotions as Rilly’s new husband is not from Tangkahan and so the wedding punctuated the end of her old life and the start of a new one far away from family and friends.

Besides all the parties there’s been plenty of other things going on over here in last few months.

Tangkahan English Club

January was an especially busy time for the TEC! We conducted tests and registrations, receiving 130 children!! Since classes started in February, this number has risen to 160! We prepared curriculums and brightened up the school with colourful paint. We also spent time with our team of four teachers, discussing management techniques and organising our resources.

We now have sixteen classes, two high level, two medium level and four beginner classes, each with two sessions a week. In addition we have two Ranger classes a week, conducted by Raja, our friend from Simpul Indonesia who has been invaluable in helping to pull everything together. We still have a lot of work to do; perfecting our teaching material and creating fun and engaging activities that reflect the needs of so many different children.

There has been a lot of interest from travellers in volunteering at the school. We have been working on preparing a volunteer program that will ensure structure for volunteers, teachers and children and maximise the benefits to all. We hope also to motivate the community Rangers to participate in children’s classes, particular working on conservation issues and wildlife.

Batu Katak

Amidst all of the wedding celebrations our guides also managed to make a survey trip to Batu Katak, planning activities before our second group of Deakin University students arrived in mid January.

Bridget and Bel stayed for two weeks and Connor, Tegan and Charli for four weeks. The area we had chosen for survey proved very challenging, clambering around narrow karst pathways and up and down slippery slopes. We set camera traps on animal trails identified by the boys on their survey trip and spent time continuing work on the community medicine garden.

In November last year our last group propagated many plants that were now ready for planting, so we prepared the garden beds and transplanted the seedlings. We continued researching the plant uses and attempting to identify them to species level, a difficult task as many of the plants we have only the local Karonese names! We made colourful signs and catalogued all the plants for a small booklet we will produce when the garden is complete.

The students met with Matt Nowak, a biologist and head of research for the SOCP, who helped them in planning their approach to survey. We decided to continue survey in our original site, adding to data already collected by our previous group and improving the quantity of data in order to make an accurate estimate of the orangutan population density in the area.

Malayan Sun Bear in our camera trap

The wildlife in the karst forest seems to be fairly abundant. A resident group of four siamangs could be heard everyday close to the village and we often saw orangutans, White handed gibbons and Thomas leaf langurs in the forest. Our camera traps revealed good footage of Banded Civets, Argus pheasants and Malayan Sun bear!

On weekends the students explored further afield, taking a trip to Tangkahan, Bukit Lawang and Pamah Simelir, a small village in the cool highlands where we stayed in the local national park office.

The month went so fast, and was full of new experiences. In the first two weeks Bridget and Bel got a taste of village life in Batu Katak before they returned home to Australia. Tegan, Conner and Charli were able to move beyond a taste of the experience and begin to really feel both the joys and difficulties of being immersed in a very different culture. Exploring new forest and sharing ideas and experiences, we all learn so much on these trips and work hard to make each one just a little bit better than the last.

Now that we have completed collating all our data from the Batu Katak surveys, we will return to the village next month and continue discussions with the local community to assist them in their plans to promote eco tourism and protect their forest habitat.

In Tangkahan, as February moves into March, the trickle of tourists begins to increase in volume and the team prepares for the busy season once again.

English Club update December 2013

This month we welcomed Sumaraja back to Tangkahan! Many of you may remember Raja as the motivation behind the beginning of the English Club in Tangkahan, and the energetic and spirited teacher you may have met in the classroom. He has returned to Tangkahan at our request to assist in the planning and implementation of the education program. The response from the children has been astonishing, and Raja has already been teaching additional classes to satiate hungry minds!

Sumaraja - The English Club

Our first priority has been to put the finishing touches on the building and make an inventory of all our equipment – thanks Vicki Gabriel and all of you who donated! In addition we are formulating an assessment to ascertain the levels of all children who attend and structure our classes and curriculums based on ability. We are also in discussions with the community about conducting beginner English classes for adults and advanced classes for the local guides, who we also hope to encourage to then conduct classes themselves for the children.

Raja has a long history in Tangkahan and was heavily involved in community development here from 2001 until 2008. Since that time he has contributed to ecotourism and community development programs all over Indonesia, and currently operates specialist birding tours in Sumatra, Java, Molluccas and Lesser Sunda islands. He has also recently launched a community development consultancy called Simpul Indonesia with some of his colleagues from Java.

Raja will stay with us for six months before he must return to Java for another season of birdwatching tours.

Watch this space as we keep you updated on our progress.

Raw Wildlife Encounters Highly Commended in 2013 Green Lifestyle Awards

Media Release: For Immediate Release 18 October 2013

Raw Wildlife Encounters Highly Commended in Green Lifestyle Awards

We are proud to announce Raw Wildlife Encounters has been awarded Highly Commended in the Travel Company category of the 2013 Green Lifestyle Awards. 

Held in Sydney on 9 October, the Green Lifestyle Magazine's Green Lifestyle Awards gave recognition to companies and people leading the charge toward a cleaner and greener living environment. 

Raw Director, Jessica McKelson, said 'We are thrilled to receive Highly Commended in the Travel category of the Green Awards. It is an honour to be recognised as second to the winner, Ecotourism Australia and among 50 other leading companies and people in the green industry including Hall of Fame Winner, Olivia Newton John. This recognition is shared with our dedicated staff in Australia and on the ground in Indonesia. We all work towards the same vision which is to practice positive and genuine eco tourism through providing unique and incredible travel experiences that inspire guests to achieve a more sustainable lifestyle upon their return home while also developing and financially supporting conservation and community programs in all our travel destinations”. 

The aim of the awards is to develop a list of the very best in innovation and change in the green industry and recognise those who are taking a positive and genuine step of working toward green becoming the norm.

The Editor of Green Lifestyle, Magazine, Lesley Lopes, said, “We started the Green Lifestyle Awards to recognise dedication on the part of individuals, companies and non-government organisations in contributing to a more sustainable Australia. It seems more and more of you are making conscious decisions about the things you buy and where you find information about all things green as we had twice as many nominations as for our inaugural awards last year.”

We would like to acknowledge each of the Winners and Highly Commended recipients and thank the team at Green Lifestyle Magazine, nextmedia and hosts Jon Dee and Tanya Ha

For a full list of Winners and Highly Commended green companies and personalities click here.

Raw Wildlife Encounters (RWE) is a leading eco travel agency and tour operator. We provide guests with life-changing travel experiences and unique wildlife encounters while catering for an exceptional quality and comfortable journey along the way. Raw small-group tours are lead by qualified wildlife professionals who take guests along roads less well-travelled and allow them truly incredible learning experiences with unique wildlife. Raw Wildlife Encounters fosters responsible tourism that benefits the local people, environment and wildlife in all our travel destinations through Raw Community and Conservation Programs. 

For further information please contact: 
Jessica McKelson, Director RWE at jess@rawilldlife.com.au
Lauren Jones, Marketing and Communications RWE at lauren@rawildlife.com.au

Environment Day in Batu Katak Indonesia

Last weekend the village of Batu Katak hosted a local environment day, promoting forest conservation. The event was attended by representatives from National Parks, local government, environmental and education NGOs, and local stakeholders. Raw sponsored 200 trees for the community reforestation program, some of which were planted on the day, with the remainder being planted by Raw guests and local guides.
Batu Katak is a small village located around one hour from Bukit Lawang. The people of Batu Katak have always been active in attempting to protect the forest around their village, and in the past have successfully stopped big business from mining the limestone karst in the area. There are still companies with an interest in mining the area and so the community are turning to tourism in an attempt to place a value on the land beyond mining and the encroaching palm oil. Raw are working with National Park representatives and the local community to develop their tourism product, by providing training oppurtunities for local guides and building a program that will bring students from Australia for voluntourism. We hope to provide the local people with skills in language, waste management, forest monitoring, sustainable agriculture and conservation tourism. The aim at Batu Katak is to develop a program that is strong in defending itself from over development and over reliance in tourism, whilst providing the community with a sustainable mixed income and protecting the forest.

Attendance at the event in Batu Katak was important in nurturing relations with the stakeholders involved in reaching the communities objectives. One of the most touching moments however, was listening to speeches given by local schoolgirls about conservation. The five girls were the best entrants in an open competition, where they were required to write and present their own thoughts on conservation. Their presentations at Batu Katak were the final step before receiving their awards, and although I cannot yet understand all of what they spoke about, I understood enough to feel a sense of awe at the passion and maturity of these young women. I am hoping to engage these girls further, and to share their words with the Raw community in the near future!

Experience this for yourself on our 2014 Wild Jungle Safari! Departing April, July and September 2014.



Different Like Us Student Art Exhibition fundraiser to support Earth 4 Orangutans

MEDIA RELEASE 14 June 2013: Art 4 Orangutans Exhibition
340 Works of Art by Melbourne school students will help buy better lives for orangutans.

Opening 20th June at Zart Art, Box Hill

On display until 8th July, 2013

Art 4 Orangutans was inspired by a 35-year relationship that has deepened over a mutual interest in art. Once or twice a week Kiani (Suma), Melbourne Zoo’s oldest female orangutan, and I sit quietly together while she watches me draw, paint or model with clay.  She is one of the many orang-utans I have studied and drawn over the years. They have all shown me in different ways that orangutans need more than food and water to live the lives they deserve – they need a life of the mind.

Art 4 Orangutans aims to function at two levels, providing enrichment for apes in the care of humans, and material support for the conservation of orangutans in the wild.
With the idea of organising an exhibition of school students art, I approached Jan Roker of Zart Art leading supplier of art materials and professional development resources to Australian schools. It was sheer serendipity. She had just visited Melbourne Zoo’s orangutan group and been fired with enthusiasm by a keeper talk about the threats facing the wild population. The energy, expertise and hard work of the whole Zart Art Team brought the exhibition project to life. 

Supporting Earth 4 Orangutans
When the co-founders of Earth 4 Orangutans, Ian Singleton and Jessica McKelson, proposed the establishment of an Orangutan Haven Island Sanctuary and Conservation Education Centre in northern Sumatra, it presented a unique opportunity to serve the causes of both wildlife conservation and animal welfare. The project aims to provide a safe, enriched permanent environment for a small group of Sumatran Orangutans who, for health reasons, can never be released into the wild. At the same time this group will provide the nucleus of an education centre that will benefit the whole panoply of Sumatran forest life. The project will also  benefit local communities as a source of employment and by drawing tourism to the area.

In this excitingly large and varied exhibition, young people have used their creativity to celebrate the lives and diversity of orang-utans, in the hope that others too will care. They have produced works from drawings and digitial art, to quilts, sculptures and a wheelbarrow full of forty orangutan dolls – there is even an orangutan skateboard! All these items will be sold by silent auction. 

 I hope you will join me at the Zart Art Gallery on June 20th to salute the talent and commitment of these young artists - and the wonderful teachers who inspired them.

By Pamela Strahan Conder - Art 4 Orangutans
email: conder.p@bigpond.com
facebook: Pamela Conder - Art 4 Orangutans

Raw Supports Tangkahan English Club

Whilst in Tangkahan Sonya Prosser met with Leni who oversees an English Club for many local children who attend twice a week.  The English Club program has grown substantially since its inception with now around 100 students are wishing to attend. 


The English Club itself is a community creation aimed at providing the children with opportunities to learn skills relevant to improving potential career options in the future. 

Sonya has been working with Leni on prioritising the needs of the Education Program and preparing the budget so that the program can expand.  The program aims to provide a secure and stimulating classroom for local children with the curriculum based around three core areas of education that are not currently provided by government funded schools, but deemed essential by the local community:

1. English Language.
2. Local Culture
3. Environmental issues.

The community believes these are essential to provide a secure future of eco tourism and sustainable development in the area.

In addition, the program aims to provide the opportunity to better cater to the individual needs of children. The children vary in age from 5 to 15 years, and currently the availability of adequately trained staff restricts more targeted lessons.

The immediate need now is to improve facilities for learning, and to provide salaries for two teachers.

The current classroom is too small for all the children, is run down and there is not adequate storage for learning materials. Raw guests have recently generously provided some funding for the English Club which has allowed the current classroom to be upgraded until funding can be secured to purchase land and build a new classroom that better suits the needs of the children. 

There are now opportunities for further volunteers or donors to work on fundraising to secure a new building for the classes and provide teaching aids, as well as volunteering, assisting with teaching and capacity building. 

Initial funds raised will be used to upgrade the existing building and provide salary, for an additional teacher. This will improve the current situation whilst we raise funds for the new school.

If you would like to be involved, or to donate, please contact: 
Sonya Prosser: sprosser@rawidlife.com.au
Lauren Jones: lauren@rawildlife.com.au

Can Ecotourism Save Indonesia's Disappearing Forests?

Indonesia’s forests are being destroyed. Ecotourism may offer one way to protect them.

By Gemima Harvey for The Diplomat.

Following a flurry of international attention and keen anticipation, the extension of Indonesia’s forest moratorium, preventing companies from getting new permits to clear protected areas, was confirmed on Wednesday. The news comes days before the original ban’s expiry on May 20, but even with this promised respite for Indonesia’s forests, many remain concerned.

Much of this concern centers on the future of vast swathes of tropical rainforest in Aceh, at the northern tip of Sumatra. Aceh’s Governor, Zaini Abdullah, is pushing a pro-development plan that would allow 1.2 million hectares of protected rainforest—some of the most pristine areas left in the country—to be rezoned, opening the gates to mining, timber and palm oil companies. The plan is reportedly close to approval, unless Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono intervenes. The spatial plan calls for roads that would cut through sections of Gunung Leuser National Park, the last place on earth where elephants, rhinos, tigers and orangutans can be found in the same location. Adding alarm, the protected status of a critical ecosystem, The Tripa Peat Swamp, would be removed.

East Asia Minerals (EAM) has been lobbying authorities to approve the plan, releasing a statement last month saying: “The company [EAM] is working closely with government officials in the country and have company representatives on the ground in Aceh to obtain reclassification of the forestry zone from ‘protected forest’ to ‘production forest’.” They go on to say that efforts have been stalled by a coalition of environmental NGOs.

Opponents have taken to social media, with efforts including a recent petition from global campaign network Avaaz. Rudi Putra, the Indonesian conservation manager who won The Future for Nature Award 2013, explains in the appeal that Aceh boasts the largest biodiversity in the Asia Pacific region and is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In 2011, the national moratorium was set in motion by an agreement between Indonesia and Norway under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) scheme. Norway pledged US$1 billion to support Indonesia in its strategy to address issues of rapid deforestation and peatland degradation, which accounts for 75% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.  Forest coverage is disappearing at a disturbing rate, earning Indonesia the dubious distinction of inclusion in the 2008 Guinness World Records for having the fastest rate of deforestation. An area equivalent to 300 soccer fields is cleared every hour, and the UN Environmental Programme predicts that 98% of Indonesia’s forest area could be destroyed by 2022.

Suspense about Aceh’s future coincides with the release of a UNDP study of forestry governance in Indonesia, which rates Aceh as the most poorly managed in terms of protection, regulation, planning and participation of REDD+.

Graham Usher, Landscape Protection Specialist, Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Project is pleased that the moratorium has been extended but says it remains unclear what this means for Aceh. He notes that where the former governor reformed forestry regulation in favour of protection, the new Aceh governor is reverting “to the development paradigm of ‘less forests = more development.’”

Usher explains that national laws and environmental guidelines are paramount, including mandates to protect the Leuser Ecosystem, but the Aceh Government is under the impression that a “special autonomy” act gives it unbridled authority to break national forest protection laws. He says, “It appears that the National Government is taking a softly-softly with Aceh to avoid disputes.”

A key problem is inconsistency in spatial mapping. While the National Government has the final say, since decentralization in the late 90s, local governments have been producing their own maps and Usher says not all of these are recognised by the national authority. He gives the example of a 2007 concession handed to a palm oil company by the land mapping agency in Aceh. This concession in the Tripa Peat Swamp was marked as protected by all previous moratorium maps and yet the company (Dua Perkasa Lestari) has continued to clear the land, regardless of its environmental significance and concerns over legality.

Usher says efforts are being made to move towards a solution “where all government agencies essentially work from the same baseline data.” But with 40 years of divergent maps to assimilate, this is far from simple. “There is no doubt that progress has been made, particularly with the public perception that maps are public documents and should be transparent.”

It is also critical to consider the affected indigenous people living near the areas mapped for rezoning.

Campaigners and conservationists assert that lost forest coverage could cause landslides and flash flooding, with serious consequences for local populations. Usher says that Aceh has many steep mountains with fragile soil systems and that a proposed new road network creates risk of major disasters. “The Leuser Ecosystem was not only established to protect biodiversity and threatened species, but also to protect the ecosystem services on which millions of people currently depend.”

Others, however, argue that restraint on industry is a restraint on raising the living standards of the rural poor. Pro-development bodies maintain that expanding industry creates jobs for communities where there may be little alternative economic opportunity.

This reasoning is used by industry representatives opposed to extending the ban on forest conversions. The director of law and advocacy for the Indonesian Palm Oil Association, Tungkot Sipayung, spoke out in The Jakarta Post, saying extending the moratorium will “limit development of labour-intensive palm plantations and palm processing sectors.”

Another sentiment, in opposition to limiting development, is cynicism towards the interventionist role played by industrialized countries. World Growth, a pro-development NGO, contends in a report about the potential impact of the 2011 moratorium on communities, “It is crucial that developing nations be given the same chance that developed nations have benefited from.”  The report points out that in certain regions palm oil is the main or only crop grown, providing jobs in its various stages of production.

Usher dismisses the idea that industry expansion pulls people from poverty as “rubbish.” He uses spatial planning in Aceh to illustrate that land decisions are being dictated by “a few bureaucrats and private interests.” He goes on to note that there is limited land for productive agriculture in the region and that most people live on the north/northeast coastal plain, where most rice production takes place. This rice farming hinges on irrigation from inland forests. “If these forests are converted to other uses (such as oil palm or mining), many of these people will suffer increased poverty. There is a reason that developed countries like Japan and Taiwan (with a similar landscape to Aceh) have 60-70% forest cover: they have long realized that they need this level of forest cover to sustain their development.”

Spurred by climate change worries, industrializing nations are being called on to minimize emissions. As Indonesia demonstrates, this in turn requires new policies and improved forest management to limit the deforestation linked to growing industry. That’s a point echoed in a study by Yale and Stanford University researchers, which projects that expansion of palm plantations in Indonesia’s could pump more that 558 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2020, more than all of Canada’s current fossil fuel emissions.

Indonesia has the third-largest tropical rainforest coverage in the world and as global warming is blamed for more severe weather events and environmental catastrophes, many eyes are turning to the Southeast Asian nation to keep the lungs of the earth intact.

But who draws the line between development and environmental degradation?

Indonesian conservationist Rudi Putra says in the Avaaz petition appeal, “Countries like mine have a right to develop, but not at the expense of our priceless natural patrimony, and it should benefit, not harm, Indonesians.” Wolfgang Sachs, author of The Development Dictionary, has written: “Politics is compelled to push either equity without ecology or ecology without equity.” He continues to discuss post-development initiatives where, “a transition from economies based on fossil-fuel resources to economies based on biodiversity is paramount.”

One possible model is ecotourism, which lets people earn money while living in harmony with the earth. Indigenous communities retain their independence, at the same time accessing a sustainable economy.

Disputes between indigenous populations and multinational companies are increasingly common, in a disturbing trend known as “land grabbing” or “economic land concessions.” In Laos and Cambodia, for example, the chain of collusion strings together multinational companies, backed by banks in Europe, which are granted land concessions by corrupt government officials, who then look away as locals are rendered powerless, their farmland and livelihoods destroyed. The disenfranchised are left with an ultimatum: work for the companies or starve.

Right now in Borneo, the Malaysian firm Sarawak Energy is planning to establish hydroelectric dams, which according to news site Mongebay are “controversial because they require the forced displacement of indigenous communities and will flood large tracts of rainforest. Furthermore there is currently little demand for the electricity that will be generated, raising suspicions that the primary purpose of the projects is to generate lucrative contracts for politically well-connected firms.”

Ecotourism turns this trend around. Rather than economic growth at any social and environmental cost, people are empowered to create a conservation-focused economy, creating job opportunities while providing incentives for protecting rainforests and generating funds for wilderness patrols and the rehabilitation of endangered species displaced by human activity.

Take the inspiring example of community-based ecotourism in Tangkahan — near the Gunung Leuser National Park, an area under threat from the Aceh Government’s forest plans. Fuelled by the desire to create a sustainable economy, two villages of more than 7000 people came together to establish The Lembaga Pariwisata Tangkahan (LPT). Supported by NGOs Indecon and Flora and Fauna International, in 2002, LPT signed an agreement with the National Park Authority, securing 10,000 hectares (now 17,000 hectares) for eco-tourism activities under the prerequisite that it be protected. From 55 founding members, 32 formerly worked as illegal loggers, indicating an innate wish to protect their environment while retaining the ability to feed their families.

With financial incentives for conservation, the community has transformed the area into an ecotourism destination. This has led to job creation, with various roles required to run their tourism office and multiple tour packages. LPT’s website states that just a decade ago, the area was an exit point for illegal logging in the national park. With its stunning scenery and clear rivers, however, the community began to realize the potential for income from appreciative visitors.

Jessica McKelson, Director of Raw Wildlife Encounters, launched her ecotourism initiative in 2008 and said the livelihood of local people is a core pillar for why the company operates. “They are custodians of the lands that surround their communities, where we bring guests to visit, they allow us to enjoy these areas and we offer employment opportunities from guides to rangers to administration as well as education programs so they can comfortably support their families and don’t have to work in legal, or illegal, logging or palm oil and can live sustainably. Most have lost all their natural resources to deforestation practices and were left with no option but working for $8-$10 per day in terrible conditions or losing that job to transmigrants.”

Since the business started, McKelson says that 85% of gross earnings have gone to community and environmental programs. “This community-based eco-tourism model provides local people with stable, consistent income without damaging their own backyards and the wildlife and ecosystems within it. It’s conservation through empowering and educating the community. A win-win for all!”

Along with economic benefits for local people, there is the added bonus of conservation-based skills transfer from NGOs to the community. Describing the Tangkahan initiative, The International Ecotourism Society says that skills like “ecotourism development and management, planning and policy development, conservation management, and monitoring and assessment” were merged with Karo culture and values “to ensure community ownership of the initiative and equality in the distribution of benefits.” Raw Wildlife Encounters also offers guide training to the Tangkahan community to support sustainable management that is consistent with standards set out by The International Ecotourism Society.

In promoting ecotourism, emphasis must be placed on ethical management to ensure it does not transform into mass tourism, void of eco-values. McKelson says Bukit Lawang in Sumatra is an example of this. She explains that tourists ignore conventions about avoiding contact with orangutans and even pay bribes to local guides for a close encounter and the chance to feed them, which becomes encouraged by guides keen for the extra cash.

Despite the cases of mismanagement, she says, “Eco tourism in Indonesia can be a great employment model to protect natural resources via an alternative sustainable livelihood.” In other words, a step in the direction of building economies that do not come at the expense of the environment.

Full article > http://thediplomat.com/2013/05/19/can-ecotourism-save-indonesias-disappearing-forests/

Gemima Harvey (@Gemima_Harvey) is a freelance journalist and photographer.

Travel kindly, tread lightly - a problem with plastic

By Colleen Curlewis, April 2013

I returned recently from the first Earth 4 Orangutans trip to Northern Sumatra where I saw how the scourge of plastic and non-biodegradable waste is choking the environment. I wanted to write a blog that gives you some tips on how to travel responsibility – tips that can and should be applied both at home and abroad. Before that though, let’s look at why plastic is such a problem. 

It’s worth stating up front that the problem with plastic didn’t exist as recently as 30 years ago. I still remember grocery shopping with my mum and using strings bags and paper sacks. Milk bottles were returned and reused, and bottled and canned drinks were far fewer and less consumed than today. The last decades of the 20th century saw a boom in plastic production, factory farming, and processed and fast food dependency. Coincidentally it’s also seen massive increases in deforestation, pollution, carbon and greenhouse gas emission, obesity, heart disease and diabetes. However I digress, back to plastic.
Apart from the obvious eyesore created by discarded plastic, it is a very dangerous material in the environment. It virtually never biodegrades! Sure it breaks up into smaller pieces but it is safe to say that every single bit of plastic you’ve used in your life still exists, somewhere, and will long after you’re dead. Scary…

If you’re concerned about greenhouse gases and the overuse of fossil fuels, plastic fails dismally in that department too. The energy and other resources used to produce these (mostly) single use materials is significant. Using National Geographic calculations it would take about 22 million gallons of crude oil to produce the 38 million water bottles used by the Americans each year. That’s a lot of oil, a lot drilling and a lot of emissions.

Beverage bottles contribute the highest amount of litter (after cigarette butts) and are especially bad for three reasons they require extensive energy to produce, are typically single use, and do not biodegrade.  In Australia, despite our first world facilities in recycling, public rubbish bins and container deposits, the Clean Up Australia Day foundation lists plastic as the number one source of rubbish collected. A staggering 38% of all rubbish collected is beverage containers and their lids – all of which are recyclable.

Then we have the ubiquitous plastic bag. Made from polythene, which is hazardous to produce, it also takes up to 1,000 years to degrade. With an estimated 500 billion to 1 TRILLION plastic bags being used globally every year, and Americans alone chucking over 38 million water bottles annually, it becomes tragically obvious we are smothering the world in plastic. 

Plastic bags get caught in the wind, and settle on trees and other wildlife habitats. Plastic bags end up in the oceans and may make their way to one of several ‘garbage patches’ around the globe. The most significant of these is the North Pacific Gyre a massive area that stretches from the west coast of the US to Japan, and from California to Hawaii (that’s BIG). A Gyre is formed where several ocean currents converge, swirling together and trapping massive amounts of plastic debris, and in effect, causing a massive dead and dying zone in the ocean. Here the plastic is ingested by marine animals and can also settle on the ocean floors where it suffocates coral polyps. In 2006, the United Nations Environment Program estimated that every square mile of ocean hosts around 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. In some areas, the amount of plastic outweighs the amount of plankton by a ratio of six to one. 

Although plastic is broken down by exposure to the sun, it never actually loses material; it just degrades into smaller and deadlier pieces. All sorts of creatures ingest which causes blockages in their systems, leading to slow and painful deaths from starvation and toxicity. Larger pieces can ensnare, injure or strangle animals of all sizes. 
Okay, so now we’ve made clear the immensity of the problem, how can you minimize your impact AND set a good example? There are some simple and effective things you can do that make a big difference to how much plastic you leave behind.  

Water woes
When travelling in any developing country water is always a concern, so consequently you end up thinking you need to buy bottles, and bottles and bottles of the stuff. If you’re in the tropics you drink heaps (or should) so if you’re consuming the recommended amounts, you can be using more than six bottles a day! So what to do? 

1. BYO. Boil Your Own! Make sure you have two or three reusable drink bottles that won’t melt when filled with boiling water (your RAW bottles are great for this), then when you have access to a kettle boil enough water to fill your bottles and carry them with you instead of buying water on the go. Boiling is the most certain way of killing all microorganisms plus it’s cheaper. And consider this, over a two week holiday this would save around 84 bottles! If the whole tour of 10 people does it that 840 bottles NOT going into the rivers, oceans or anywhere else!
2. Use water purifying tablets. A less desirable option but still better than buying up on plastic bottles. The Aquatabs brand is the top seller worldwide and makes it very easy to purify water on the go. T here are different strengths available to do different quantities of water. Travellers would usually use the one effervescent tab to one litre of water strength for convenience. Check out online chemist discounters to get the best deal. 
3. Plastic crush. If you get stuck and can’t boil or purify then you must minimise your waste. When you’ve finished with your bottle remove the cap and crush it so it concertina’s in on itself, then while it is still crushed replace the lid so it doesn’t ‘re-inflate’. Doing this serves two purposes, firstly it minimises the physical size of the bottle so if it ends up in a landfill or tip, it doesn’t take up as much room. Secondly, by screwing the lid back on you make it more difficult for small creatures to crawl into the bottle seeking moisture or shelter and get stuck, where they die from starvation and dehydration. If you have room in your bags, bring them home for recycling here.

Green bag not plastic
The most important things to do - just as you would at home (you do right?) – is to take a collapsible and reusable shopping bag with you. 

Make sure you show this to the shopkeeper straight away. This is how you can set an example, and if you can speak a few words of the local language, explain you want to keep their country/ city/village beautiful by not adding to the litter. You might also say that animals sometimes eat the bags and die painfully. 

If you cannot escape using a plastic bag you can do a couple of things:
1. Bring them home – most large supermarkets offer plastic bag collection bins at their supermarkets, bring them home and take them there
2. Tear and knot it - When it comes time to discard it, tear the handle loops off, fold the bag in on itself and tie it into several knots, then dispose. Many animals get caught in the handle loops so by tearing away the handles you minimise that risk. Folding and knotting the bag reduces its surface area to mass ratio, therefore making it less likely to be blown out of landfill sites.

Home and away
While the issue of waste is far more visible in developing countries where they lack the waste disposal systems we have, the issues are just as relevant when you get back home. 
The issue of plastic is a universal one, it may be better hidden at home but we contribute to the global problem. Given that plastic is literally here to stay, we must make every effort to think more about what we consume both at home and away. 

Reduce, reuse recycle. Say no to plastic. Lobby the manufacturers of your favourite products to reduce packaging and to find alternatives. The problem of plastic has been created in such a short time, but has created a very long term problem. We need to take personal responsibility for what we consume. For ourselves, our children and all the creatures we share the planet with. We do, after all, only have one.

Lingga Village to Tangkahan

The journey from Samosir to Berastagi is long and the landscape varied. We pass through towns, pristine cloud forest and farmland of strawberries, corn, cabbages and flowers.

On our way we stop at the Lingga village, a small Karo village with a strong link to Karo culture. Here some of the people still live in the traditional Karo houses, many of which are being restored with funding from the World Monuments Fund. 

The names of the village families are listed as you enter, and include Sinulingga, the family of our very own guide, Edi Orata Singulingga, otherwise known as Jack. 

It is Jacks first visit to the village, which is part of his history, the village that his great grandfather lived in before making the journey to settle in Tangkahan. For the Batak people heritage is important, and can be traced through family names that link people by marga or tribe names. The Batak Toba people were the source of many of the Batak people across North Sumatra. 

The term Batak is often used across Indonesia to collectively describe the people of North Sumatra, which includes the Toba, Karo, Pakpak, Simalungun, Angkola and Mandailing people. It is more common however when in North Sumatra to refer to the Toba people as Batak, and the others as Karo, Pakpak. Simalungun, Angkola and Mandailing. Historically it is believed that the Batak people moved from Toba to access the lucrative trading that occurred along the coasts of North Sumatra at the time. Many decided to settle along the way, such as the highland Karo, and their traditions evolved into the ones we see today with the distinct language and customs of each group. Lingga village is not only significant to Jack for his family history, but is significant to all the boys as a living example of Karo culture that has been lost in many areas, including Tangkahan.

The traditional Karo house is quite different than the Batak Toba. It lacks the large boat shaped roof that dominates the landscape of Toba, and instead is built roughly in the shape of a praying man. The animist religion historically practiced by Karo people, believes in three worlds, that of the sky, of man on the earth, and the underworld below. The shape of the house represents this belief. The house is on stilts, with a large space underneath, representing the underworld, the living space is the land of men on the earth, and the large spacious roof, used for storing and drying produce, is the heavens above. The house is entered via a ladder of which one side is taller than the other.  Touching the lower side upon entry pays homage to the under world, and touching the higher side when exiting pays homage to the heavens. The door is low, so everyone entering must bow, and so pay homage to the earth, the land of man.

We learn a lot at Lingga village of Karo culture, and it is made particularly special as we share this with the boys for whom the experience is a telling of the history of their ancestors. For this reason it is difficult to leave Lingga village.

We head to Brastagi, where RAW already has a solid tour activity for our clients, so for us is more a rest stop and a place to catch up with fellow guides.
We eat good food, and drink tuak before retiring in the fresh mountain air, knowing that tomorrow we will return to the jungle in time for Christmas.

Karo house in Lingga village

The boys mix it with their heritage, and our guide demonstrates the traditional birthing method of the Karo women!

              The Karonese flute, used traditionally by young men to attract a wife

Bim, Jack and Ika watch and learn the prowess of the traditional flute player, grateful that they are already married.

Lingga village has a museum, where normally it is forbidden to touch such artifacts as the masks used for rain dance, but today they make an exception.

Yes, it is Darwinta.

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