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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

From the eyes of a volunteer

A quick introduction: my name is Arnab Saha and I recently came from the United States to Borneo to volunteer with Yayasan Palung for close to two months. I am interested in the relationship between human and orangutans, especially in their physiological connections, some which are brought to light by the transmissible diseases such as turberculosis, malaria, and measles, among other things (less commonly known as zoonosis). I also believe that there should be room for orangutans to live in the world with human aspirations, and that the habitats provide plentiful opportunities if looked at with long term vision.

These past two weeks at Yayasan Palung were filled with surprises, celebrations and new friendships. My initial impressions of Ketapang and Borneo were nice – there's a soft breeze, coconut palms and a vast array of fruiting plants. It's the season for salak and papaya, both enak (delicious). The field director, Andrew de Sousa, has moved into a new home, and hosted a very nice housewarming for many guests including the staff. Also, long-time animal keeper Pak Toriin is leaving Yayasan Palung to work with International Animal Rescue, who have recently began working in West Kalimantan. A small celebration was held in his honor in the early afternoon. This gave many members of the staff an opportunity to visit the transit center temporarily holding many orangutans confiscated as pets in the illegal pet trade. There were two male infants, a large twelve year old female, and a young female orangutan as well as a rescued eagle. There, the big female held out her hand and placed it gently on Meredith's forehead. She laughed. Maddy, a a volunteer at the center, also guided myself and Samad, also known here as Samad Khan for the Indian actor Saruk Khan (equally handsome) in the place. It is disturbing to know how long orangutans have stayed in this temporary center, intended for only a few weeks use, for over several months. Gosh it's nice to think that there are wild orangutans which still have their habitats.

I'm helping the Yayasan Palung education team to construct a poster raising awareness for orangutan conservation in the Sukadana region, where they run a newly-built Environmental Education Center adjacent to Gunung Palung National Park. I followed some of the team to the Center, where for a few days I helped tutor local children in English and plant organic vegetables to empower village leaders to sustainably keep Gunung Palung's forests and orangutans.

I got a taste of local entertainment when a few of the staff members took me to see a night fair and a haunted house in Sukadana before traveling back to Ketapang. I'm looking forward to the coming weeks - the durian season should be coming soon!