Rise of the Eco-Warrior -Teaser Video for film!

5 03 2013

I urge you all to review these teaser videos for The Rise of the Eco-Warrior documentary created by Virgo Productions.  The documentary film will be released this year (2013) and follows the young Eco-Warriors and their hundred day DeforestACTION journey as they represent youth action to understand and stop deforestation in Borneo, Indonesia.

The Rise of the Eco-Warriors is a real-life action adventure documentary that tells the story of ten young DeforestACTION agents, working with acclaimed scientist Dr Willie Smits to save endangered rainforest and orangutans, create awareness about the destruction caused by deforestation, restore a full forest eco-system and provide a sustainable livelihood for locals.

Virgo Productions has assembled a world-class team to produce the feature film about the project.
More information visit:

http://www.anactionmovie.com | http://www.virgoproductions.com.au





Early Learner Picture book to help make reading fun and assist Orangutan Charities

9 09 2012

8 September 2012.  In the week that will celebrate International Literacy Week and also see the British royal couple, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, visit the largest remaining rainforest in Borneo, children’s author, Sandra Arthur will release her latest early learner picture book, Crocodile Attack, from her series: Radio Ron’s Postcards from Borneo.

Crocodile Attack features Borneo’s rainforest as its backdrop for the curious story of “Radio Ron” (a Royal Air Force Radio Technician) who takes a journey with Dayak tribes-people.  This is a vivid, fun and thought-provoking adventure book for children under nine years that is also proving popular with children who are learning English as a second language.  The story is a work of fiction, but was written as a tribute to the author’s father, who was with the British Royal Air Force in Borneo during the mid 1960’s.

This humorous picture book, illustrated by British artist Lisa Williams, will appeal to all children, young and old.  At the same time, readers will learn interesting facts about the endangered orang utans (orang-utans) of Borneo.  The book is completed with environmental information and parent and educator notes, for a lively reading and educational experience.   Whilst the story is fiction, the background to the light-hearted story is based on historical events.

As children develop their own reading skills they can catch up on the adventures of “Radio Ron” in a junior fiction book, Cpl Ron’s Borneo Warrior Rescue, that has received accolades worldwide.

Sandra commented, “As book lovers around the world celebrate International Literacy Day I hope that my book will be picked up by parents and educators in their quest to help children develop a passion for books.  Learning to read is one of the biggest milestones young children face.  By offering a fun approach to early reading practice, I hope my work may encourage a life long love affair with reading and books (whether on an electronic screen or paper).   I’m delighted to say that my Radio Ron stories are already known around the globe via a great project called Educate Earth (see note below).

My book may be a young child’s first introduction to environmental issues.  I believe that children who learn about environmental issues will become more conservation-conscious, develop empathy for such issues, and grow up to become informed adults.”

This book also includes games, puzzles and suggested classroom activities. The story offers many of the high frequency words children learn between ages five to nine. There are also a number of “word builders” to help children increase their vocabulary.

Lisa Williams remarked, “I think this book offers young children a great way to discover a little about the oldest rainforest in the world.  I had great fun drawing the images and developing the games.  I have learnt so much about orang-utans and hope teachers and parents will use this material to engage and inform their children whilst having fun learning to read.”

This new book is now available on lulu.com as a paperback, hardcover, ebook (pdf) and later on iTunes as a special ebook with voice-over and music for an upbeat reading experience.

Sales of this book will also support Orang-utan Charities

Why help the orang-utans?

Due entirely to human activity, the population of orang-utans in  Borneo is now only 12% of what it was less than a century ago.  Due to logging and palm oil production these great apes are losing their natural habitat and could face extinction in the wild by 2022.

Orang-utans are known as keystone species and extremely important in retaining the biodiversity within the Borneo rainforest.

When a keystone species decline or they completely disappear, the survival and abundance of many other species in that ecosystem are negatively impacted.  Their protection is vital to the overall health of the lowland forest ecosystem in which they thrive. In contrast, the vitality of the orang-utan population will only flourish if their forest home is kept undisturbed and intact.

How is Sandra Arthur’s Radio Ron Postcards from Borneo helping to educate people who can’t normally afford to buy their own books?

An Australian entrepreneur selected Radio Ron’s Postcard from Borneo to be part of a new educational DVD for distribution to families around the globe.

Called “Educate Earth” a group of education clips from YouTube (with author permission) and other sources was compiled onto a DVD that was supplied to impoverished communities in Kisii in Kenya, Adum-Kumasi in Ghana and Vanuatu, an island is the South Pacific. Other locations will be added over time.

The hope of this project is that wherever there is access to a portable dvd player, laptop or TV (such as in a school, hospital, health centre, doctors waiting rooms etc) individuals can watch and secure an education without even attending school. Many poor people in these regions cannot afford an education.

Educate Earth DVDs were shared with parents to help them educate their children, if they cannot afford to send them to school.  At the same time, the range of stories included on the DVD are equally entertaining for adults who may have missed out on schooling and thus can learn by watching them with their children.

How will Literacy Week will be supported by Sandra Arthur?

Sandra Arthur has planned a series themed readings at local schools, bookshops and kids clubs in the south of France, Kingston ON, Canada and potentially UK (to be announced) not only in during literacy week but throughout the fall period.

Where can you preview the Radio Ron’s series of books?

Link to lulu’s website here – the title is available as paperback, hard cover, ebook and epub with audio.

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/SandraArthurBooks

 

What is International Literacy Week

International Literacy Day, traditionally observed annually on September 8, focuses attention on worldwide literacy needs.  More than 780 million of the world’s adults (nearly two-thirds of whom are women) do not know how to read or write, and between 94 and 115 million children lack access to education.

Why 8 September?

In September 1966 the World Conference of Ministers of Education on the Eradication of Illiteracy was held in Tehran, Iran. September 8, the opening date of the conference, was proclaimed International Literacy Day. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) inaugurated its official observance of International Literacy Day in 1967.

Coinciding with the beginning of a new school year in many countries, International Literacy Day is an ideal time to recognize the role literacy plays in everyone’s life. A growing number of International Reading Association Honour Councils involve their members and communities in activities at the state and provincial levels. Many national affiliates celebrate the day by presenting awards or organizing events. Classroom teachers, librarians, clubs, and communities use this unique day to create and further literacy action and partnerships

To find out more about International Literacy Day, visit UNESCO at www.unesco.organd the International Reading Association at http://www.reading.org.

For materials to help you celebrate International Literacy Day, visit the

International Literacy Day page at http://www.reading.org.





Supporting Orangutan Charities via book sales

5 08 2012

Supporting Orangutan charities

My family travelled to East Malayisa (Sabah), one the third largest islands in the world, Borneo back in 2010.  We are all orangutan crazy, and were keen to see these amazing primates, in their habitat, before it was too late.

We took a cruise along the Sungai Kinabatangan river – the longest river in Sabah. We were rewarded by being able to see crocodiles, various snakes, many proboscis monkeys, long tailed and pig tailed macaques, wild pigs, and a wide range of birds including hornbill, storks, snake birds and eagles. We marvelled at the colourful butterflies that fluttered around but sadly no orang utans were spotted in the tree tops. Certainly elusive and difficult to observe in the wild, but becoming a rare treat as they systemically lose their habitat each year.  We therefore headed to a special Orangutan Centre called Sepilok, to learn more about their important work.  As my sons had adopted two of the Sepilok babies: Michelle and Ceria we had an added incentive to visit.

You might be surprised to learn that the second most popular tourist spot in Malaysia is the Sepilok Rehabiliation Centre For Orangutans – and yet few European (and no north Americans) are seen wandering around the centre.   I did note that people from Australia/Korea/Japan and other asian locations, formed the majority of visitors.   The plight of the orangutans is thankfully becoming known around the world, due in part to a wonderful BBC series called Orangutan Diaries and work led by many UK charities.

Still a relatively poor country (Sabah) tourism is slowly taking off and some wonderful 5 star hotels can be found on the west coast of KK and luxury eco cabins are being built, to attract the more discerning eco traveller.

I wrote the following blog report in 2011, that covers my experience of visiting the Orangutans at Sepilok.   The information is still valid and makes interesting reading if you wish to learn more about this unique land and primate.

In my small way, I am trying to help the plight of the orangutans (facing lose of habitat etc) by raising funds for charity via sales of my books.  I currently have the following books available on lulu.com:

Early Learning Reader:-

Short stories/Illustrated books for 4-9 years
-Orang Utan to the Rescue
-Crocodile Attack (due September 2012)

Jungle adventure for Boys and Eco-Warriors
-Cpl Ron’s Borneo Warrior Rescue

https://myglobaleventreports.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/christmas-with-sepilok-orang-utans/





Unique opportunity to observe orangutans in the wild

1 04 2012

It’s a small world! I was fund raising for the orangutans and promoting my kid’s books, Radio Ron’s Postcards from Borneo and a new historical fiction, Corporal Ron’s Borneo Warrior Rescue at an international school event in France, when my Lithuanian friend, Agne, who was helping me, told me about her “famous” relative. It turned out that her husband’s Aunt is Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas! Dr Galdikas has studied orangutans longer than any other person in human history and has worked ceaselessly to save orangutans and forests, and to bring orangutans and their plight to the attention of the world. For almost four decades Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas has studied and worked closely with the orangutans of Indonesian Borneo in their natural habitat, and is today the world’s foremost authority on the orangutan. I had known about Orangutan Foundation International, but never really researched the background to this charity.

Having achieved my own trip of a lifetime back in December 2010, to observe the wonderful orangutans in their unique home, Borneo, how I wished I’d known about the following eco-trips with a naturalist expert, could be available. For anyone interested to learn more about the amazing country of Borneo and at the same time to see, perhaps for the last time in the wild, the wonderful Great Apes – orangutans, the Orangutan Foundation International are arranging four special trips in 2012. These shy, majestic creatures are facing loss of habitat due to deforestation, forest fires, palm oil production and illegal pet trades. A number of international charities, such as OFI are working hard to help the orangutans, but sadly it appears to be a difficult battle, as their numbers continue to decline, year after decline. There are now around 6000 orangutans left in Sumatra and figures for the whole of Borneo are sketchy with numbers estimated between 25,000 – 40,000.

These four special trips in 2012 with Dr. Galdikas as your own personal naturalist, are a must do trip for anyone interested in Orangutans. Dr Galdikas will give her insights into the orangutan’s natural history and behavior and share her adventures working with this incredible species for over 40 years. Spaces for each trip are limited to 13 individuals and they will fill quickly. If you are interested in joining one of our tours please contact Irene Spencer for availability: irene@orangutan.travel or telephone number +1 619-574-1371 in San Diego, California, USA.

Back in 1971, Biruté Galdikas arrived in one of the world’s last wild places, Tanjung Puting Reserve in Borneo. There were no telephones, roads, electricity, television, or regular mail service. The reserve was being logged and the laws protecting wildlife were not enforced. The rhinoceros had already been hunted into extinction in the area. At this time, very little was known about orangutans in the wild.

Despite these conditions and a number of people that said it could not be done, Dr. Galdikas developed the first comprehensive study of the wild orangutan. Through this work, Dr. Galidkas created Camp Leakey, the site of the longest continuous study on any primate. She has also protected one of last havens for orangutans in Borneo despite the tremendous pressures from illegal logging and mining interests.

During this trip, you will visit the sites of Dr. Galdikas’ work including her famous research site at Camp Leakey and the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine Facility, which houses over 330 orangutan orphans. Dr. Galdikas will share with you her expertise in the areas of primatology, anthropology, and conservation. As the world’s leading expert in orangutan behavior, you will come away with insights into one of human’s closest living relatives. You will also spend time along riverways and walking through the forest in search of some of the most amazing wildlife on the planet including proboscis monkeys, barking deer, rhinoceros hornbills, and Bornean wild pigs.

Having visited the northern part of Borneo, in Sabah, where I was lucky to observe not only orangutans, but also the endangered proboscis monkey and much more, I would highly recommend this trip to anyone interested not only in nature, but also for those who genuinely may be interested to help the plight of these fantastic animals.

The trip application can be downloaded at http://www.orangutan.travel





World Peace achievable?

22 08 2011

In this period of austerity, natural disasters, famine, earthquakes, man-made disasters such as those facing Japan; various war-torn zones or riots around the world; we are, as a global nation, in need of good news.

I received an email this morning, with the following quote that seemed a timely prayer – especially as I hope peace can be celebrate in Libya tonight. The quotation was not attributed to any author, but in a couple of clicks on the web (isn’t technology wonderful!), I found that it was normally attributed to Mother Teresa (but perhaps the original author was St. Thérèse de Lisieux – whom Mother Teresa greatly admired).

There has never been a better time to wish for peace: Peace in the world, peace amongst individual groups and peace in our own hearts.

I give you this poem, prayer and tribute:`

“Today may there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.”

I recall meeting Mother Teresa back in 1970 and recall what presence, charisma and gravitas she possessed. Although small in stature she exuded a real sense of calm, kindness and charity. As a young girl, I was impressed by her story and message that we are all here to fulfill a purpose. She shared details of her work in India and motivated all whom listened to her to raise funds for her charity work. Needless to say, her talent to recruit support for her missions was impressive. By the time of her death she had opened 610 missions in 123 countries, including hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children’s and family counselling programs, orphanages, and schools.

She received numerous awards, including a number from the Indian Government, one of which was the Bharat Ratna (1980), as well as international awards, such as the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

Whilst we are all “busy” in life, rushing from errand, to family duties to work assignments let’s schedule time for fulfilling the goal to bring about peace. Achieving world peace may be a tall order for most, but peace in your home is surely achievable? You may not think your actions will make any difference, until we have peace within our families and our communities and most importantly ourselves, no politician will ever have the power to bring peace.





Competition to star in 3D movie – Project Borneo 3D

7 02 2011

The search is on for 10 people to star in a new 3D movie and at the same time help save the planet!

Virgo Productions an award-winning, boutique screen industries company has just launched their competition that is open to people aged between 18-35 years old. They are searching the globe to find 10 project managers who will be the eyes, voice and ears of the project.

Project Borneo 3D is a project led by Microsoft and TakingITGlobal, the largest not-for-profit social network in the world. The project is also working with Dr. Willie Smitts and Orangutan Outreach.

Millions of young people will join forces to tackle the biggest challenge facing our planet – stopping deforestation. The ten chosen applicants will travel to Borneo and live in a Dayak long house for five months and take action to save the forest and the orangutans. They will connect online with millions of young people across the globe. And they will be the subjects of a 3D movie.

The movie is being developed by Virgo Products who specialise in feature documentaries that tell inspiring, positive, global stories with cross-platform delivery to engage audiences world-wide through cinema, television, online, mobile and DVD release.
Burning Season is one of their famous films : an eco-thriller – about a young Australian entrepreneur, who believes there’s money to be made from protecting rainforests in Indonesia, saving the orangutan from extinction and making a real impact on climate change.

Interested? To apply submit a 90 second clip with the following information:

• Your name and where you are from
• What deforestation means to you?
• Why you want to save forests and orangutans
• What you’ve done in the past to protect the environment
• Why you want to be in a 3D movie
• Must include the URL – http://www.deforestaction.com

Your clip needs to be creative, interesting and dynamic. The most voted clip will earn a place in the top 20. The more hits, interest, votes and media coverage you create around your clip, the stronger your chance to be selected!!

Who are Virgo Productions looking for?

• Young people aged between 18 and 35
• Able to speak English
• A passion for saving forests and endangered wildlife
• Some past experience in protecting the environment or helping animals
• A spirit of adventure

TakingITGlobal: www.deforestaction.com

To submit your recruitment clip

Upload to YouTube with title (YOUR NAME, Action Agent).
Then go to the DeforestACTION website and you’ll need to login or register.
You can also sign up to TIG using your Facebook/Windows Live/MySpace IDs!!
Once logged in, you can submit your video by clicking the ‘submit to contest’ link on the right had side of the page. Then click on ‘import from YouTube’ in the Global Gallery section and follow the instructions.

Entries close 5pm, 18th of March 2011.

Check out one of Virgo Productions press releases for more details.

http://www.virgoproductions.com.au/recruitment-call-for-project-borneo

Good luck!!









Christmas with Sepilok Orang utans

5 01 2011

A personal account of my family’s visit to Sepilok
December 2010

My father lived and worked in Borneo and often told us stories of the majestic and shy “men of the forest” that he had the good fortune to observe during his time there. Orang utan- the name derived for these wonderful red apes – from the Malay Orang Hutan – men of the forest. My father worked there in 1964, coincidentally the same year that the famous Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) opened.

The Sanctuary was opened in 4,500 hectares of virgin jungle (40 minutes/25 km north from Sandakan, Sabah, East Malaysia, on the island of Borneo) to help orphaned baby orang utans who lost their mothers due to logging, plantations and illegal hunting. The objective was to return them back to the wild as soon as they were trained to cope. Baby orang utans typically stay with their mothers until they are 7 or 8 years old. If separation occurs before this age, the baby orang utan is completely helpless, and thus is totally dependent on centres such as Sepilok for survival. Without the care, training and guidance that this centre offers orphans, the future for them is bleak and death the most likely outcome.

Background to orang utans past, present and future

SORC is now one of the most popular places in the world to see Asia’s great ape, the Orang utan (Pongo Pygmaeus) in its native habitat. It is rated as the second “must see” in Malaysia after Mt Kinabalu, also in Sabah. At the beginning of the 20th century orang utans in Borneo numbered over 315,000 – today their numbers are fast dwindling. In 2006 numbers had already fallen to 45,000 and I was shocked to learn during our visit to the famous Sepilok centre in December 2010 that numbers may have been cut further – read below for more details. Their cousin Sumatran orang utans (species: Pongo Abelii) – the slightly redder apes in Sumatra – face an even bleaker situation with numbers only amounting to around 4000. For them, extinction in the wild is most likely in the next 5 years. Meanwhile, in Malaysia deforestation rates between 1999 and 2005 rose some 86% according to conservation sources with 149,200 hectares lost annually since 2000. This is indeed a serious issue for conservation and preservation of this special species.

As more and more of the Borneo landscape is being changed from its’ own rich vibrant diverse rainforest to acres and acres of palm oil plantations, the lost habitat is spelling out the long-term demise of these and other animals, plants and homes for the indigenous people who live there.

It was after the birth of my twin sons in the early 2000’s that I found time to research and find out more about my beloved orang utans. Thanks to the internet, information, research papers and work being conducted by charities was easily accessible. I was horrified to learn that due to the reasons listed above, the numbers of orang utans in the wild was rapidly falling. Back in 2005 experts were estimating that if no action was taken to help the orang utans, they would be extinct in the wild by 2012. It was then that I decided I would, in a very small way, try to make a difference. Clearly it is the governments who need to set policy to assist by setting guidelines on land use, allocating and protecting virgin rainforest etc. It is also businesses that need to act more environmentally responsible and as well society at large to respond accordingly. Nevertheless, the work that many charities are doing to help protect and aid these endearing primates (who share 96.5% to human genes) are certainly helping to make a difference via the various rehabilitation, land purchase and release programmes.
If we want our children and grandchildren to have the pleasure to still observe these delightful redheads in the wild, we need to take action today. I therefore set about to create awareness and education of the young via early learning stories aimed at under 7 years old and more informative stories packed with facts and stats aimed at 8 years old +. I also started to spread the word and I’m working to encourage as many schools as possible to include information with their rainforest education programs to ensure that today’s young people are informed on the plight of the orang utans. Better still, one hopes the young will feel empowered to work with governments, business and charities to safeguard the future, for those that will remain in the wild.

Indonesian and Malaysian Palm Oil Production

Another issue facing Borneo and the orang utans future is palm oil. There is serious concern that not all palm oil production is sustainable, with issues relating to biodiversity, soil degradation, local people, land rights and many other matters. Development of new plantations has resulted in the conversion of large areas of forests with high conservation value and has threatened the rich biodiversity in these ecosystems.

In particular orangutan habitats have been threatened by palm oil production. Scientists say the palm oil industry is the biggest threat to orangutans, with the species driven to extinction within 12 years unless the devastation of their natural habitat is halted.
Some environmental campaigners claim that in 15 years, 98% of the rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia will be gone unless drastic action is taken to find ways of producing sustainable palm oil. The expansion of oil palm plantations has also given rise to social conflicts between the local communities and project proponents in many instances.

Palm oil plantation, Sabah

As a result, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established in 2003 to tackle these problems head on. GreenPalm, which has been exclusively endorsed by the RSPO, is already making a significant contribution. GreenPalm is a certificate trading programme which is designed to tackle the environmental and social problems created by the production of palm oil.

By buying a product which bears the GreenPalm logo, consumers can make a positive contribution to the production of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) and palm kernel oil (CSPKO).

New RSPO logo

On that note, to celebrate my half century, I felt compelled to visit Borneo, in the hope to see first hand the beautiful orang utans in the wild (before it was too late) and to visit Sepilok to learn more about their important work. As my sons had adopted two of the Sepilok babies: Michelle and Ceria we had an added incentive to visit.

Overview on trip to Sungai Kinabatangan River

Ahead of visiting we Sepilok we decide to take a day to cruise along the Sungai Kinabatangan river – the longest river in Sabah. We were rewarded by being able to see crocodiles, various snakes, many proboscis monkeys, long tailed and pig tailed macaques, wild pigs, and a wide range of birds including hornbill, storks, snake birds and eagles. We marvelled at the colourful butterflies that fluttered around but sadly no orang utans were spotted in the tree tops. Certainly elusive and difficult to observe in the wild, but becoming a rare treat as they systemically lose their habitat each year. A friend had visited in December 2009 and lucked out by spotting one orangutan during her cruise.

The Sepilok experience

Sandra Arthur at Sepilok

The next day we negotiated with a local taxi to take us to both Sepilok and the nearby Labuk Bay Proboscis monkey sanctuary. We headed north out of Sandakan toward the centre, nestled in 40 sq km of the Kabili-Sepilok rainforest reserve. My heart sank seeing the miles and miles of palm oil plantations travelling towards the centre and sanctuary. Thank heavens that Sabah set up this protected reserve back in the 1960’s. As we arrived at the centre I was surprised how immaculate the grounds were – with beautiful gardens edging the modern, well-kept buildings – it felt as if you were arriving at a hotel rather than a nature reserve. Nevertheless, we hurriedly said farewell to our taxi driver and ran, yes ran, to the centre to find the ticket office. Arriving at 9 am just as the centre opened, we hoped to have the ability to approach the feeding platform early, in the hope to experience an early sighting ahead of the crowds. Sadly we were not the only people with the same idea! I had been in contact with the UK orang-utan appeal and had learnt that one of their representatives would be at the centre. We enquired at the reception desk if Liz Winterton, from the Appeal was available, and were surprised to hear her voice shout yes from the other side of the ticketing area!

Liz Winterton greets visitors

With tickets in hand we went over to meet Liz who was already on duty with her information stand – promoting adoptions of available babies at Sepilok (together with photos and information), and an information board summarizing some of the projects the Appeal have done with Sepilok during the past year (Vet staffing, transportation, cages for the sick or newly arrived orphans etc). Liz promised to join us later at the feeding platform to help us identify any visitors! We were instructed to place all our bags and belongings in the nearby lockers. Some things are strictly not allowed – ie drinks, and insect spray as these pose very real dangers to the wild animals (an orang-utan has chocked to death after getting a water bottle cap stuck in its throat). We were informed that an inquisitive primate could steal even hats, glasses, and bags. With cameras firmly secured to our bodies we strode towards the rainforest walkway.

We head out into the humid jungle boardwalk and embrace the beautiful sight of ancient trees. The forest is clearly hundreds of years old – the canopy of the tall trees provides much needed shelter from the sun. Much taller than the trees that lined the riverbanks yesterday. Ferns grow in the dappled shade, clinging on to sides of damp tree limbs. Thick moss thrives on the north faces of fruit trees and the smell of the muddy water from the forest floor is evident. We are surprised to also identify the smell of primates not far away in the trees – a wet musky pungent odour. We wonder how we must smell to them.

We were grateful to easily make our way through the hot, sticky rainforest on the elevated wooden boardwalk. There had been a huge thunderstorm the night before and we could see how waterlogged and muddy the ground below was. We are instantly enrobed with the sounds and calls of the forest. My children claim to immediately hear the kissing cry of the orang utans (experts at 7 years old thanks to many hours watching the BBC’s Orang-utans Diaries). Bird whistles, screaming gibbons and tree branch and leaf rustles create an element of interest and potential danger. The humidity is intense – sweat drips down your face and the sensation is that of being in a sauna. Clothed in a long sleeve shirt – to avoid the risk of leeches attaching to you, which was a real threat – increased my temperature and discomfort. The ease and speed at which you can march 250 m to the feeding platform in “wild” rainforest eliminates the real danger of experiencing trekking in knee high mud and watching out for snakes.

Nevertheless, the laissez faire approach quickly evaporates when we come face to face with hungry Macaques on our path. A park ranger quickly appears and warns people not to stare or have eye contact, not to touch it or attempt to feed it. I rush to pull my son away as he stares at the inquisitive primate. Meanwhile, people walking ahead of us, come head to head with an aggressive male macaques. There is banging and vocal exchanges as they quickly run for safety. The rangers warnings were no joke.

Cheeky monkey

We quickly back away and find a safe spot on the feeding platform – reminding the children this is not a zoo but the wild! We are about 25 minutes ahead of the official feeding time.

Nevertheless we decide to remain and safeguard our good location. We observe blue-black and other colour butterflies flying and settling around. A group of very noisy long tailed Macaques and other monkeys arrive and check out the platform for any left over scraps. One would think they have their own watches to alert them to the feeding time that was due. As the feeding hour approaches, more and more people arrive and finally the platform is crowded with hot, sweaty tourists all waiting in anticipation – cameras/camera phones and video a ready. What a mysterious sight for the wild animals to observe. “Who is really watching who?”crossed my mind as we waited in anticipation of a great ape.

Orang utans on deck

Sepilok Feeding Time

At 10 am the rangers arrives with buckets of food and a troupe of hungry monkeys arrive on the scene. The rangers push and persuade this cheeky group to leave – after all the food was for the orang utans – they could have any remaining leftovers. There is always a second feeding at 3 pm for those orang utan who miss the morning session. Clearly the monkeys know the routine and swing away to wait their turn. Suddenly as if on queue we hear loud rustling of leaves in the trees. We hold our breath – yes a blur of red hair can be seen in the distance. Our long wait is rewarded. We are lucky today – despite the early rain and plentiful fruit in the forest, a mother orang-utan and her youngster can be seen swinging to towards the feeding platform. The orang utans use the vine rope that has been secured between trees and the feeding platform to arrive. They move effortlessly, swinging hand-to-hand, like circus acrobats. The cameras click as stellar photo opportunities are presented. I note that everyone is smiling, staring, pointing at the proficient trapeze-artist movements.

The pair arrive on the platform and inspect today’s offerings. We have been informed that the choice of food is always the same to ensure it is boring to the orang utans – today’s delivery appeared to be bananas and sugar cane tubes. The idea is that by having a limited choice they will be encouraged to forage in the forest for different fruits to supplement their diet. Orang utans are known to eat up to 500 different types of fruit, leaves, and insects. Clearly nursing mothers, who may be having difficulty finding sufficient food, can use this service to supplement their efforts.

These shy and bashful but highly intelligent creatures are clearly uncomfortable at the spectacle they find themselves in. You can sense the mother is aware of the crowds but does not want to be watched. She places food in every hand and foot – looking like a greedy child- and she turns her back on the crowd. Liz from the UK Orangutan Appeal joins us at this moment and explains that the mother is Mimi, a 17 year old adult orang utan, together with her 6 year old son, Rony born at Sepilok in 2004. Mimi is a regular guest at the feeding platform, especially when Rony was younger. She had a very large appetite whilst she was suckling her young baby, but continues to use the feeding platform service to supplement her own foraging efforts.

Mimi grabs breakfast

She explains that whilst there are over 150 orang utans who have been released at Sepilok, only 6-10 orang utans currently visit the platform at feeding time. Currently 3 sets of mothers and babies have been regular visitors. Due to the rainstorm that had occurred in the early hours, orang utans are like humans, and don’t like to get wet. If they have found a nice dry spot, they will typically not venture far from their shelter. Orang utans have been seen using large leaves as umbrellas or making rain hats out of leaves – the most ingenious of primates! As a result for this morning’s feeding only Mimi and Rony have left their cover for breakfast. She speculates that the others may visit this afternoon, once the ground was a little dryer.

Mimi swings away, with additional food in her feet, and Rony enters the platform to select his breakfast before the hungry waiting monkeys jump back on the platform to clean up the left-overs. The waiting crowd keenly watches Rony’s eating antics. He lingers for a short while and then chases to catch up with his mother. The assembled group wait in the hope for more visitors, but a few gibbons that have now joined the feast, and no more orang utans arrive.

Exploring Sepilok’s walking trails

Slowly the crowd disperses and we continue along the boardwalk. As we had registered to take the walking trail, we step off the wooden path and head towards the muddy hiking path. There are a number of trails ranging from 250m to 4km. Guided night walks can also be arranged if you are that adventurous. We’ve been told to look out for green snakes, the blood sucking leeches as well as flying squirrels and dozens of different bird species. Thankfully for me we don’t encounter any snakes only a very large and swollen caterpillar, pretty hornbill birds and others I could not identify as well as gibbons and those cheeky macaques. The sounds of the jungle continued to embrace us and I have to admit for the first time I was beginning to feel a little frightened. After the “safe” feeling around with feeding platform, with various rangers on guard, we were quite alone in a rainforest! The sticky mud was now becoming an effort to navigate and the ever-present risk of standing on a snake was troubling me.

Sepilok walking trail

As a result, we decided to turn back and head to the centre to attend the Nature Education Video show.

Sepilok’s Information Briefing

We were pleasantly surprised to note that Liz from the Appeal was leading the briefing. After the informative video on the objectives of Sepilok she gave an overview on the work of the UK Orangutan Appeal. She alerted the visitors to the important programs that her charity help with at Sepilok and highlighted ways how people can help : Adopting a baby orang-utan, buying an Appeal Calendar, T-shirt, making a donation or for those buddy photographers at Sepilok – offering licence/copyright of their photos to the charity to use in publicity.

Latest Orang utans Statistics

The biggest shock I received was hearing her update on latest statistics. She advised that only 25,000 orang-utans were now left in the wild – I was unclear if she was only talking about Malaysia or if this also included Indonesia/Borneo. If that was a correct world status it means that another large percentage of orang-utans have been lost since 2005 when numbers were stated as being 45,000.

Our taxi driver, a local guide, told us how hard it was to really know the true number of oran utans. He had worked with a group of researchers and the way they worked to identify orang utans numbers in a given area was by counting “tree nests”. Orang utans can make up to 3 nests a day, so it was a very hit and miss way but the only method to “count” them. As orang utans are so shy and live high up in the rainforest canopy, it is almost impossible to see them and arrange an accurate evaluation on numbers – especially as they live separately over vast kilometres of impassable rainforest.

Orang utan Nursery

People were interested, as was I, as to whether you could visit the special nursery area at Sepilok where the babies such as Michelle and Ceria were receiving training before their release. Sadly this was not possible due to the risk infection being transmitted between humans and the orang-utans. Whilst this was totally understandable, it was quite something to explain to my 7 year olds that after travelling half way around the world they could not see their “adopted orang-utans”.

When the orang utans first arrive at the rehabilitation centre, they are quarantined and often need treatment for malnutrition and trauma. Injuries can include missing limbs, machete and chainsaw cuts, burns from being doused in petrol and set alight, and sometimes bite wounds from other animals. They are also tested for diseases. Each orang utan is provided with the necessary education and skills it will require in the forest if it is to survive.

It struck me afterwards that perhaps installing a webcam on the nursery space could be a solution. Anyone interested to observe the youngest at play could pay a small fee (example 1 dollar) to gain access to the viewing webcam via a password. Or an alternative could be for the park to periodically film the work they are doing and place footage online. I do hope they will consider!

Arthur family at Sepilok

Before our departure for the Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary (covered in a separate report) we head over to the attractive café nestled between the trees and parking area. We enjoy a local noodle dish and meet some Australian teachers who were visiting Sepilok and adopting 3 orang utans for their classes! Good job and great news that informed youngsters are working to help!

UK Orangutan Appeal

The UK Orangutan Appeal is the only charity that is sanctioned by SORC to fund special projects on their behalf. They do not receive money directly from the charity but rather the Appeal pays and manages specific projects such as supplying the services of vet, building an enclosure at the centre. If you are interested to learn more or perhaps make a donation link to http://www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk

If this account has wetted your appetite to contribute to a volunteer programme to work for 8 weeks in Malaysia at one of the orang utan centres, details and applications can be made via Travellers Worldwide http://www.travellersworldwide.com/11-malaysia/11-malaysia-orangutans.htm

Here is what one volunteered shared: “This has been a life changing experience. One that has allowed me to see some fantastic things – the release of the 23 year old male who had been at Sepilok for 8 years, taking 8 month old orang utans to play at the lake, teaching them to climb ropes, watching the rehabilitated orang utans swing through trees in the forest. It has been too amazing to put into words.”

WHAT YOU’LL GAIN FROM DOING THIS PROJECT:
• An exciting, never-to-be-forgotten adventure into South East Asia and Malaysian culture.
• The enormous satisfaction of helping Orang-utans knowing that you made a difference to them.
• New skills, more confidence, a greater understanding of a different culture, invaluable personal and professional development.
• An entry on your CV or résumé that will put you head and shoulders above most others in the job market
• And best of all … an unforgettable experience!

Visit Summary

The visit to Sepilok was certainly an amazing experience. Thank you Sepilok for safeguarding this rainforest paradise and allowing us to have a glimpse into the private world of its inhabitants. Having the opportunity to be in a relatively “safe” environment that is actually “the wild” is unique. We have all grown up watching nature shows on the TV and at one time or another, perhaps dreamed of being one of those TV explorers. Sepilok gave one the chance to observe, smell and feel the atmosphere of a rainforest. Better still, we had the good fortune and blessing to see wild animals at work and play. Seeking out food, playing with their young and moving between the trees – something that typically would be impossible to experience in a hidden part the jungle, unless you were very lucky.

Orang utans are gentle, intelligent primates that speak to you through their very expressive eyes. It was easy to understand how uncomfortable the mother orang-utan felt on the feeding platform. Perhaps fearing for her young and wondering why were we there in her forest… Indeed, humans have not played straight with the forest inhabitants. They need another chance to live in peace, in their wonderful rainforest home. Everyone can play their part. We can start by supporting the use of sustainable palm oil. By encouraging your friends and indeed yourself to demand sustainable palm oil in your purchases (via lobbying manufacturers etc) we can all contribute to eliminating the loss of our precious rainforests. This will make a positive step to helping the plight of the orang utans.

Let’s hope that the further use of virgin rainforest will slow down and that sufficient land will remain for the orang utans and other animals so that orang utans can continue to thrive – simply just let them be.

Identifying suitable release sites for the orang utans is increasingly difficult with the current rate of native habitat destruction. It is a common threat that is also faced by the people living a traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle – whose homes are being lost and displaced by palm oil plantations.

Sadly I fear the final outcome for this unique primate is living in much reduced numbers in the various forest reserves that will finally and hopefully be allocated to them. For the moment, I urge everyone to support the people who are helping to make a difference via the various charity work that is taking place in Borneo and Sumatra.

Sepilok – offering the orang utans orphans another chance to live in the wild.

Sandra (Chidgey) Arthur and family, Richard, Alexandre & Edouard.
Brief visitors to Sepilok December 2010.

* Copyright 2011 Photography: Sandra Arthur : Richard Arthur. All rights reserved.

Learn more about UK Orangutan Appeal via their Facebook link:-

http://www.facebook.com/pages/ORANGUTAN-APPEAL-UK/262599963391

Inspired to do some ecotourism or better still join a volunteer work effort in Borneo? Find out details on some of the programs available in 2011.

http://www.thegreatprojects.com/

Sandra S C Arthur writes children’s books, some of which are based on environmental themes.  Here latest titles all support Orangutan charities.
Junior teen novel – with environmental facts and stats.
Radio Ron’s Postcards from Borneo series:
Book sales support orangutan charities.
Available in English and French language
Available in hard/soft back book AND as an ebook with audio/music.
An ideal adventure book for children under 9 years. It follows the curious story of “Radio Ron”, as he takes a journey down a rainforest river, with Borneo Dayak tribes-people. This a hilariously amusing picture book that will appeal to children, young and old. At the same time, learn interesting facts about the unique and endangered animals of Borneo (orangutans) and review parent and educator notes, at the back, for a lively reading and educational experience with your children. This book also includes games, puzzles and suggested classroom activities.
Feedback received:
“It looks and sounds truly amazing”. Isobel, France. “Great book, great story, wonderful illustrations.” Glen, Peñíscola, Spain. “I found Radio Ron’s Postcards from Borneo a useful book/ebook to stimulate and help me inject fun into my English classes.” Stephanie (Teacher) France. “Radio Ron – another best seller!” John, France. “Crocodile Attack! Looks and sounds amazing. The audio eBook really brings the story to life :)” Jane, UK “My students love reading this book and especially enjoy “hunting for Omar the Orangutan!” The eBook was great for homework to allow the kids to hear and listen to the story once again.” Elaine (Teacher) UK.
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