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.