Thursday, September 6, 2012

Less Kiss-Squeaking, More Tweeting

Rambunctious male wears leaf as hat in Tanjung Puting NP
Along the Martapura River in southern Borneo, a woman squats on a wooden platform to wash her hair. Fast, successive buckets of muddy water stream down her black hair.  Soapy bubbles drift downstream to a man skinning a goat over the same river. These are the same waters where newborns are bathed, where men brush their teeth and fish for shrimp with wooden poles, and a piece of long string. On this same river, a macaque cowers in a rickety cage, resigned and befuddled. The macaque’s keeper waves as I pass by in my boat. I wave back, trying not to stare.

I came to Borneo to see the orangutan in its natural habitat, not the people in theirs. I heard time was slipping fast, orangutans were dying and their forest was nearly gone. I didn’t hesitate to experience their splendor on their own turf. But honestly, I had forgotten about the people. They weren't in the equation for me. But when I got to Borneo, I finally saw the connection between people and the problems facing this great orange ape.

Senior beauty in Tanjung Puting National Park
Here’s what I saw: Indonesians are chatty. They’re social, and tech savvy—don’t let the jungle wear fool you. Ninety percent have access to a mobile phone making Indonesia the 4th largest mobile market with the highest subscriber growth in East Asia. Indonesians post more tweets than almost any other group in the world. The Financial times calls Indonesia “A nation smitten with social media.” They’re Facebook’s third-largest market, and Twitter’s fifth-largest market.

Before I headed deep into the rimba in search of where wild orangutans traverse tree tops with majestic poise, my mind turned toward their survival. In 2009, 750 orangutans died from conflicts with humans. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was just one tourist. I couldn’t save them alone. The fight for their survival calls not for one person, but an army of social, chatty and highly communicative Indonesians.


  • Conduct ethonographic mapping in villages bordering palm oil plantations to find the best candidate to be the point of contact for a twitter-based surveillance system.
  • Set up one Borneo-wide Twitter account ( for Kalimantan and Sabah. This account receives and sends tweets about orangutans in immediate danger.
  • Have all NGOs in the region follow this account.
  • Have each Community Tweeter get others in village to follow Twitter account for reporting purposes.
  • Run campaigns on Twitter at precise time of need when orangutans need to be rescued to raise funds from worldwide followers for rescue and transport (similar to how Red Cross runs their real-time campaigns for hurricane relief.)
  • Send donations to first-responder organizations. People are inclined to donate more when the need is threatening and immediate.

Leverage the Indonesians’ natural talent for communication and love of social media to save the orangutan. The survival of Africa’s great apes depends on communities surrounding their forests. Ethnographic mapping needs to be undertaken to find their innate talents and needs.

Want to help? Partner now with the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP)

*This blog was written for the GRASP blog competition seeking high-tech ideas to save great apes*

Magnificent mama and clingy baby do the splits in Tanjung Puting National Park.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

You're Doing it Right

Momma shows baby how it's done
In the evenings, when the dust has settled from work days, I like to go for walks in quiet neighborhoods. My year abroad in Italy taught me the beauty and sanctity of strolling and wandering after cena, and it's a routine I've managed to keep. What I enjoy most are glimpses of nature on urban streets. It is a thrill for me to catch creatures being busy, being themselves, going about their business on their own accord.

At night, kitties scurry to and fro, skunks slink from porch to porch, and wistful dogs stare out from behind glass doors and windows, itching to explore, too, like me. 

This night I came across a momma snail with baby in tow. The two were taking great pains to cross a vast expanse of concrete that took me just three steps to cover. In their wake, a translucent polka-dotted trail was left, marking their journey, leaving crystalline crumbs of their adventure. 

I stopped to marvel their delicate, purposeful, centimeter-at-the-most, strides. Yes, strides. Because strides were resolutely taken for I had seen the squiggly, gracefully-plotted proof of these night snails' expedition in which momma had indeed shown baby how it's done. 

"That's right," I had imagined she said to her young one trailing her every dot. "You're doing it right."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Father and Son

Last night, I escorted out of my home a daddy long leg. He had with him a wispy-legged little one. I don't know why I thought he was a father, and not a mother. Perhaps it was his confidence, his purposeful stride up my wall; he was full of intent as led the way for his little shadow. 

Life on a pale wall
I hoped to give them both a better life than the pale wall of my bedroom, so I placed a glass jar onto the wall and slid a credit card bill between the wall and the lid. Once outside, I chose a corner of a path and released them out into the night: their new world. 

In their frantic escape from the glass jar, father and son took off scurrying down the sidewalk in opposite directions. The moonlight shimmered on their tiny backs, and in their haste, I wondered if either one ever turned around and notice their divergent paths.

With my glass jar in hand, I went back to my pale walls. Wherever their new paths lead, I hope they'll be happy. I hope their slender legs carry them to where they belong. And I hope they meet again before too long. I like to imagine the father will turn around, wonder what is behind him, what he left, and what it was that made him hurry away and forget what was once most important.