He stops, turns to face us and signals 'shhhh' with the universal index finger to his mouth... we stand still as we can, as if we are terrified, my heart is thumping so hard i feel like the whole jungle can feel it. I feel sweat rolling down my back. A mosquito flies past my ear. A stick breaks under someones awkwardly positioned trekking shoe, rotting leaves give way to body weights they're not used to on the floor of the forest... he signals again with a silent wave 'come on' so we crunch our way through the jungle once again, ungracefully attempting balance that only the rangers and guides here seem to have.
"Look!" he says with just an index finger... we stop and stand still once again then there they are- a family of Siamang gibbons. Shiny black against deep green. male, female and a baby. gracefully making their way through thousands of acres of raw, fertile, and untouched Sumatran jungle... wild, free where they should be and for the first time in my zoo career I understood the value of the visitors not being the important and comfortable one. another mosquito flew past my ear and my foot twisted in a rotten piece of jungle tree but it didn't matter.
I was breathless, my heart was pounding only now i could feel it.
The guides.... To watch them is like reading words in a language you don’t understand but desperately want to. They seem to glide through the unchartered jungle terrain picking pieces of this and that plant to tell us about their traditional medicine and all in thongs! Meanwhile we clump our way through like heard of elephants- no, actually we watched a huge bull elephant grazing across the pristine clear river and even he was more graceful than the 10 of us on the RAW tour!
This is how my passion and drive to help the Tangkahan Rangers started.
I am a primate specialist by career so have always had the drive to help with conservation of their habitats, but to actually be standing there in the Gunung Leuser national Park... I was in awe of the work these men and their families do to ensure the protection and survival of not only the primates- the beautiful black and shiny gibbons, the orange, large Sumatran orangutans and all the other primates- but the entire ecosystem. To meet these people, to know their stories and to see them work for very little but the intention to protect and conserve... well I was hooked.
I am an indigenous Australian so I share the passion for country… to me protecting our environment is our obligation.
How could I help once I returned to Australia from such magical trekking, elephant river bathing, bat cave camping, soccer games and such fun with the community of Tangkahan?
I saw first hand the work the rangers were doing to stop snares and illegal poaching, protecting the elephants and other wild animals from human/wildlife conflict…
How could I make sure I could commit to an ongoing support effort with so many things happening in my life at home thousands of kilometres away??
We all get the bug don't we? We go, we experience, we are forever changed... but how do we retain the important promise to support?
For me, it wasn't such a difficult question because once chatting with my RAW tour leader Amy Robbins who happens to be a close friend- we were in the same head and heart space... where would our commitment to support the important work of conserving the wildlife best be utilised?... our answer was easy- "The Rangers!"
Between us we have many years of conservation and endangered species management experience- between us we had such passion to want to help.... so we formed 'The Rangers of Tangkahan' a platform to highlight and support the work the rangers do. And with the wonderful and kind support of friends, family and strangers who shared a passion for positive change... were able to supply much needed equipment and funds to help get the Rangers up and running in a recognised and supported way.
Jess McKelson, CEO of Raw Wildlife Encounters has been incredible in her support too. We couldn't have done what we have without each other.
So, I'll end this by sharing with you what I learned from my Sumatran RAW tour in March;
The Rangers of Tangkahan inspire me every day and I will keep working hard to ensure together we all make a huge positive difference to the lives of the community as well as the animals.... and their habitat.
My life is in Australia, but my heart will always be in Tangkahan.
Written by Raw Angel ~ Cassandra Rowe.
The Rangers of Tangkahan have begun an intensive snare removal programme in forest edge communities in North Sumatra. Recently they removed 30 snares in less than 3 days while surveying the buffer zone between the Gunung Leuser National Park and the communities who live on it's border. Human-wildlife conflict is rampant in this area, one of the worst affected along the Gunung Leuser, which is one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth and the LAST place where Sumatran orangutans, elephants, tigers and rhino co-exist.
For $10 you can help the rangers implement a snare removal programme and help keep them patrolling these communities living so close to critically endangered wildlife. $10 will enable the rangers to destroy and remove one snare trap and educate the local communities about the need to protect wildlife and the forest. Now, more than ever, your support is needed to help put an end to this.