Letting Nature Speak for Us: What Borneo Taught Me

Oct 17th, 2017 | By | Category: Biodiversity/Conservation

By Candela Vázquez Asenjo, youth blogger, Transition Earth.

Rescued orangutan orphans [photo: International Animal Rescue]

Rescued orangutan orphans [photo: International Animal Rescue]

When I decided to volunteer to work with orangutans in Indonesian Borneo, little did I know how much it would change my life.

It all started with Jane Goodall. Her life and spirit of discovery has always been an inspiration to me since I was young. It was the idea of learning to better understand primates that made me want to volunteer; it was the closest experience possible to Jane’s and a way to help as much as I could in this part of the world.

This past summer I traveled to Ketapang, in Kalimantan, as Indonesian Borneo is called, to work to protect orangutans. I spent 21 days volunteering with International Animal Rescue. Although we did not have any physical or close contact with the orangutans, we helped with the construction and development of the installations necessary to their recovery. The main reason why volunteers were not allowed to approach the primates is so that the orangutans would not get used to humans. That way, when they are released into the nature, they will hide every time they see humans, thus hopefully decreasing the chance they might be killed by poachers. Baby orangutans who have lost their mothers due to poachers, fires or any other non-natural reason are raised by the same person, who takes care of them throughout their time at the center. This role must be performed by a woman in order to simulate the role of a mother.

Our work changed every day. It was exciting and intriguing as we learned new skills and used new tools. We learned about constructing paths to the jungle, building baby orangutan playgrounds and the placement of fences to retain the orangutans inside their forest areas so they develop the skills required to adapt to the jungle when they are released. Our work also involved less difficult activities, such as painting or the preparing food for the orangutans.

The days passed quickly and most of the tasks became harder and harder until the point where my team and I were exhausted. At that point, the orangutan center invited us to spend a weekend in a cabin in the middle of the jungle. This is a priceless gift that unfortunately few people experience.

Until that excursion, the atmosphere of my surroundings had already touched my heart but not my soul. I learned many lessons by being close to and working with the orangutans, as well as from the local people, as I was able to share and accept without prejudices and confronting all the conditions that I found difficult and adapting myself to them.

Making our way to our jungle cabin, we were amazed by the beautiful views of the natural surroundings from the boat. But suddenly we arrived at a massive deforested area. Although you could see how the vegetation was growing back, there were cleared areas where the land had been used for agriculture. The emptiness and solitude of that view, and the sadness to see how much life a second ago was around us and how it just disappeared, greatly impacted the whole group.

In that moment, I asked about the reasons for the devastation we witnessed. We were told it was due to an intentional fire, set back in 2015. Yet it is believed that the real reason for the deforestation was the cultivation of palm oil. However, due to corruption, poor regulation and a weak investigation, it has never been proven who started the fire that burned dozens of hectares. Most distressingly, the fire happened in a national park that is supposed to be protected against all these activities.

The beauty of Borneo - what's at stake [photo: Candela Vázquez Asenjo]

The beauty of Borneo – what’s at stake [photo: Candela Vázquez Asenjo]

When we left the deforested area and entered the jungle, a little cabin appeared between the trees. It had been built for the orangutan caretakers, who spent 2-3 years monitoring the orangutans that were released back into the wild, to see if they adapted back to life in the forest. Today, the area can no longer place new orangutans because it has reached its maximum capacity, and is currently used for the volunteers to experience life in the jungle.

While I was there, I could hear the different sounds that were coming from everywhere; it was like being in the middle of the orchestra where there were no cars, planes or boats. All of us volunteers were simply staring out at nature, lying down and listening to what the Earth was giving us, and we were fascinated to be able to see so many stars in a clear sky with little or no light pollution. It was as if the sky opened up just for us and performed a beautiful dance.

After this experience, it is difficult to imagine how our actions could have such a tremendous resolution on our planet. However, by opening our eyes and letting the truth speak for itself, and fighting against all the things that cause negative consequences to our people and our planet, we are already contributing to a better world for future generations. Our actions are the ones that cause such huge problems like deforestation, massive agricultural holdings, pollution and so on. By changing and opting for positive alternatives such as local markets, alternatives to paper or wood, and organic products, we can embrace the problem and solve it by choosing critically and wisely.

The bottom line is we just need to let nature speak for us and allow the environment be part of ourselves. It’s time to stop fighting against the reality that we are part of this planet.


Candela Vázquez Asenjo is an Environmental Management student at the University of Manchester, UK, and a Law student at the Nebrija University, Spain. She aspires to be a social entrepreneur, with a focus on international environmental problems.

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.