Saturday, May 31, 2008

Into the Jungle

When we came to Indonesia, there was one place we felt we had to visit...other than Bali of course. We recently made a trip to the southern part of the island of Borneo to visit Tanjung Puting National Park. The park is the largest wildlife preserve in Southeast Asia and home to some of the great biodiversity found only in Indonesia. The main reason we wanted to visit this place is because Borneo is one of two islands in the world that still has orangutans living in the wild. In Sumatra, the other island where orangutans live, there are only around 7,000 left and they are critically endangered.

The orangutan population in Borneo (the third largest island in the world) has faired better due to their relative remoteness. However, the estimated 50,000 left in the wild are endangered and represent only 14 percent of the historical population. Their homes have always been subject to destruction from forest fires and logging, but they are under an exponentially growing threat due to the growth in the palm oil business. Some estimates say they may be extinct in the wild by 2012.

The best way to see Tanjung Puting is to fly to Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan. From there, you drive 20 minutes to get on a small chartered boat. We took the boat along the Kumai river to a smaller river that headed north. It took about 4-5 hours to travel all the way up into the area where there is a large population of orangutans. As you travel into the reserve, you begin to see long-tailed macaques sitting along the trees lining the river. We also saw proboscis monkeys, which only live in Borneo and are extremely endangered. Fewer than 7,000 still live in the wild. They're famous for their long protruding noses and in Indonesian are often called "Dutch Monkeys" because they think white people have big noses.

On the first night, we moored our boat along the river and the boat crew cooked dinner and made beds for us and our two friends on the upper deck of our boat. We slept under nets, afraid of every mosquito since malaria and dengue fever are prevalent in this area. The next morning, we woke up early and continued up the river to Camp Leakey, a remote orangutan observation camp built in the 1970s. More to come...

Friday, May 23, 2008

Can you find it on a map?

Timor-Leste is one of the newest countries in the world, having only achieved nationhood in 2002. I recently had the opportunity to go there on a last minute trip for work. Because our embassy there does very limited consular work, they asked someone from Jakarta to speak at a townhall they were having for Americans and I got the nod.

Dili was like no foreign capital I'd ever been to. It felt like I was in a movie set in sub-Saharan Africa. Because Timor-Leste doesn't have the infrastructure to police the country, the United Nations is there. As a result, there are UN vehicles everywhere you turn. The country's infrastructure is non-existent in so many areas. It's a beautiful country with great natural resources, but they're still struggling to get on their feet.

I was shocked to see a refugee camp immediately outside the entrance to the tiny airport. They call these camps "Internally Displaced Persons" camps because they are filled with people who had to leave their homes outside Dili due to recent violence in their areas. These camps are all over the city and at one point a few months ago the population of Dili doubled when the number of people living in the camps reached 100,000. It definitely makes you think about how badly some people in the world need our help.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Earth Day

Indonesia has the most biodiversity of any country in the world. We see it as critically important that we encourage Indonesians to take care of this amazing natural environment. The embassy is always working on environment protection issues, but for Earth Day we invited a group of about 80 kids from around Jakarta to come to the embassy.

Each group of kids painted a mural about the environment and then presented them to the embassy to be displayed on our outer wall. It was also a day of fun and games that included Hillary teaching the kids Simon Says and me organizing a soccer game with coaches from Arsenal's training academy(!) The kids were even treated to a live performance by their neighbors from Jalan Sesame (Sesame Street) that featured an orangutan talking about his home in Kalimantan.