Sitting in Surabaya airport on my way across Java, it is certainly not cold, and the sweat cheekily makes its way down my back as I recall the last couple of weeks….
Swept up in a torrent of organising, upon the return of the first village trip each day was dominated by getting everything in order for funding applications. Brainstorming, building objectives, budgets to timelines, whilst bringing together all key players here in North Sulawesi, ensuring endorsement from the expertise of an interdisciplinary team. Through continued dialogue between key personnel in the Selamatkan Yaki team, we formulated a proposal to implement a holistic rejuvenation programme for Tangkoko Nature Reserve, rolling out the first stages of what could potentially be a long-term positive development in the area. This will involve cooperating with the forestry department to increase effectiveness of protection against illegal activities, developing an awareness and education strategy for the surrounding villages and capacity building through community group forums. As Tangkoko represents the last stronghold for this species, and currently receives inadequate protection, we recognise this project to be of critical importance to the survival of Macaca nigra. So, in the coming weeks we will continue to apply for funding to begin implementation later in the year and into 2013, the outcome of which, if successful may be translated to other areas in North Sulawesi.
Barely a moment after submitting our application, we were on the road again for the second of our village trips. Tucked away amongst hills in an intensive agricultural region, Sinsingong welcomed us with open arms. Our team got to work gathering all the answers from our survey questionnaires whilst explaining our presence, the importance of conservation and inviting them to join us for our presentation. I enjoyed being in the presence of these friendly faces, but we were soon back in the car, this time along an extraordinarily bumpy road to the final visit of the entire village research project – Tondey. Ah Tondey…. It took very little time before realising that Tondey was a little different to the other villages. Previous research has highlighted this village as having the highest proportion of hunting activity of all, and this was clearly the case.
So, it seems all these visits had culminated in an epic finale at the hub of hunting. I was determined to discuss with the villagers at length and made a concerted effort at explaining the situation facing the yaki and the importance of protecting their habitat. By the evening of our arrival, we had befriended the village head, and were invited to drink the smokey local spirit ‘cap tikus’ – subsequently building bonds, loosening tongues and bringing in the people – including the hunters!
This was one of the most exciting cultural experiences for me, and quite a challenge to embrace the opportunity to explore their attitudes and gain insight into their hunting behaviours, whilst remaining sensitive to what they do. At times the compassionate animal welfare activist and conservationist within me was bursting to express my true feelings, but I kept a subtle, questioning demeanour, whilst probing within for their empathic centres and seeing how best to stimulate these. They seemed to agree with the concept of yaki having feelings, of missing their family members, and in the end with my reasoning that counter to their argument of tradition (hunting as a ‘fun hobby’), the children present and certainly their children would likely be questioning why there was nothing for them to hunt, why they hunted to such an unsustainable rate leaving them with nothing, and a wonderful species left extinct.
The extent of hunting here appears vast, and they even now travel for up to 12 hours to find suitable hunting grounds; the yaki, despite apparently still here, likely to have been hunted to very low numbers, and consequently harder to find. I feel this would be good village to focus longer-term conservation efforts in the future, developing alternatives to hunting, reducing the extent of crop-raiding and capacity building for living sustainability.
The dissemination presentation, as is delivered to all villages after the surveys, was suitably in a massive, open dusty hall on the final night and went brilliantly – genuinely endowing me with the feeling that even this single short trip may have a significant impact on their awareness, attitudes and ultimately behaviour towards these endangered beauties.