Let us open our EARS (Education and Awareness Raising Strategy)

“What can I do to save yaki?…” The question that I have heard a number of times now, carefully articulated in English from young Indonesian students as they beam at me from amongst their excited school mates.

So, how can we find an answer?….well, at first consideration it is certainly challenging – how can this youngster make a difference? But as you spend longer working in conservation, you realise the inherent importance of the younger generation, and the true difference that these guys can make. A positive attitude towards the environment, fuelled by a knowledge and appreciation of the distinct and unique natural world that surrounds us, is incredibly powerful. It is they who act as role models, enabling a wave of awareness to spread, in this case holding the potential to shift popularity from consumption to conservation.

Facilitating those fine threads of knowledge, that transform into awareness, developing into the potential for real changes in behaviour; eventually fostering a deeper connection to the natural environment in order to develop greater incentives to conserve it.

“But what about the problem of eating yaki.” A good one this one….a pondering of utmost importance, and ultimately what we are trying to work on to prevent the loss of this wonderful species to the dinner plate. People here mainly eat monkeys as a delicacy, not for subsistence. One must realise that there is no easy answer, that the situation is complex and requires far-reaching cooperation and an understanding at many levels. But the reasons not to eat yaki are relatively simple…if you care to liken the understanding to a series of connections: Firstly, aside from the fundamentals of animal rights and welfare, of consideration of their inherent value and sentience, of why yaki are important….integral to ecosystem functions, seed dispersers and representing an iconic species drawing international interest. Then an explicit realisation must be sought that we are attempting to protect yaki’s forest homes; if we protect the forests we safeguard a multitude of other species, the diversity of life, including the big, but slightly less hairy primates – people. Communities around the world, not only those living directly within and around forests rely on them for ecosystem services, for protection against erosion, natural disasters, for water preservation, for food, medicines, and in the bigger picture, to ensure that we halt the escalating risks of a global disaster caused by climate change.

Another fundamental aspect is that of responsibility, and looking into the future. It is often argued that yaki are tasty, and it has become a tradition to eat this delicacy at times of celebration…yet, what is tradition? Passing down elements of a culture from generation to generation – yet any tradition that is unsustainable, particularly those of hunting are going against the fundamental aspect that in fact there will be no more yaki to ‘pass down’ to the next generations. They will have been consumed, along with the other endangered species, at such a rate that the future generations will have nothing, and the forests will be empty places…

Last week I found myself attending a lively outdoor seminar in Bitung, a city of conservation importance as the main hub of wildlife trade and holder of the Tangkoko Nature Reserve. There is no simple recipe for conservation, and education and awareness raising is just one element of a strategic approach needed to tackle the issues. But spreading the conservation message throughout the region is an integral part of our work, and the images of this post highlight some of our recent visits to schools, seminars and events that all act to gain our support for our conservation work and empower the next generations to live more sustainably. We are currently looking into a potential eco-school programme in one school to act as a pilot project to implement environmental awareness into the curriculum. I see hope in the these fresh young faces, and I believe that once sufficient incentives are acknowledged, supported by direct threat reduction such as enhanced law enforcement, that we can truly safeguard the future of the crested black macaques.

~The wonder of nature

Trundling back from the island of Java, the office draws me (reluctantly) straight back in, to chew my way through data, get on top of research articles and funding applications, preparing talks for seminars and meetings with various stakeholders. The new additions of plants on my desk certainly bring a nice organic touch to the place, but do entice me to be in the forest. Wildlife photographer Andrew Walmsley joins the team this month, so a visit to Tangkoko, the crucially important nature reserve and home of the wonderful yaki and other remarkable wildlife was definitely on the cards. Furthermore, as this is the site for the focus of our proposed conservation activities, it gave us a chance to meet with our partners of the project and discuss some necessary action and future collaboration.

Curiosity, sensitivity, rivalry, antagonism, bond-forming affiliations and empathy represent the complex array of social behaviours, emotions and sensations shared not only between the continually interacting yaki individuals we observed, but also experienced by us as we find ourselves nestled within a group of the black haired fellows for the weekend. This trip has borne a deeper appreciation of these marvellous creatures, fuelling an even greater determination to protect them and shift current trends towards their unjust and morally unforgiveable demise. It is Andrew’s hopes that by capturing the essence of their complex and fascinating characters on camera, that it can enhance people’s empathic connection and attitudes towards these majestic beings, whilst spreading a wave of awareness to both local and international audiences. The breath-taking images captured over the weekend will be used by the project, and I believe hold the power to fulfil this goal.

 Below are a few shots taken by me over the weekend. You can find some of Andrew’s pics here or on his blog. Enjoy the wonder, and the beauty of nature….