Conservation with Communities: Experiences in Indonesia
By Christel Remy Kuck
As I stepped off the truck and looked around me at the mass (camp), I was filled with excitement but also a sense of anxiety. I was suddenly thrust into a place where virtually no one spoke the same language as me, minus the doctors. And more, I was quite isolated from my parents and friends as there was no service out here, unless we trekked out to the river. I was excited for the veterinary work, but what about all of the other aspects of living here?
The “here” was Indonesia, where Daeden and I spent two months, mostly in West Java and Borneo. Although I cannot write about specifics of some of our adventures, we were able to get hands-on training from several organizations about what conservation looks like in Indonesia- from the husbandry and veterinary side of looking after rescued birds, primates, tigers, and rhinos, to logistics of releases for different species, to mitigating relationships between the government and local Dayak tribes, and even to how social media influences the local perceptions of the wildlife.
Between learning from the vets about field techniques like blow darting and making ultrasound gel from scratch, I spent much time speaking to them about their experiences and am surprised to learn how similar we all are. Issues like student debt, family pressures related to academics, and mental health are all pervasive across the veterinary community. In the past, my friends and I have felt alone in many of these issues but talking with Dr. Imam from IAR has helped me see how connected we are with these challenges. I also developed a sincere admiration for Dr. Itha, Dr. Nia, and Dr. Aidell. These women have had to overcome so many more barriers to get where they are today. Dr. Itha, who is rather young but continually leads the camp full of men, Dr. Aidell, who is able to slowly but surely influence how the government handles conservation, and Dr. Nia being in such a revered and high position of leadership. It is incredible to watch these women break normal gender roles and surmount what can at times only feel like endless barriers. I have deep appreciation and respect for these women, and it gives me hope that if they can do this, maybe I can, too.
We also learned much from the keepers and staff. The people were so incredibly in tune with their surroundings, from knowing every plant’s name and properties, to adeptly climbing fifty feet up in the air to get rhino browse. They knew how far away animals must be based on how a single branch bends, saw deer tracks paces away when I can barely make them out up close, and knew exactly the best path to get us through the jungle safely. Oftentimes I was in awe to watch them work with such ease and am filled with such humility learning from masters like these.
Additionally, during our down time, Daeden my undergrad partner and I were able to develop relationships with the keepers who don’t speak much English and created some of the best memories of the trip. It was nerve wracking at first, being challenged to communicate effectively with everyone and feeling as if all our Bahasa flew out the window the second we got to Indonesia. But, rather dramatically, I found myself falling into step with life in Kelian, found myself stretching the confines of my previous world with an insatiable need to explore every aspect of this unfamiliar land. Both out of necessity and a desire to connect more deeply with the people here, I could feel my Bahasa growing with each kitchen adventure with Ibu Tini or perimeter patrol with Pa Pelis. I found each day much easier than the last as I felt myself leaning into the dynamics of Kelian and diving deeper into what life had to offer here.
It was in these moments that every uncomfortable thing- bug bites and freezing showers- didn’t matter. The uncomfortable seemed insignificant and just faded away as I just let myself be me. Here, amongst hilarious nights of Uno and karaoke, watching tv shows that I didn’t understand and putting flour on the faces of losers of games, I was able to connect to a part of myself that I hadn’t for a long time. My mother is an immigrant from the Philippines, but I have memories of being embarrassed about being Asian because there weren’t many when I was growing up and I was scared of being different. And now, in my early twenties, I feel amorphous at times being mixed race, not knowing exactly where I can fit in as I oftentimes feel like I don’t fit the mold of mainstream society while simultaneously being disconnected from my own heritage. And I often feel as if it’s too late to connect to that part of me that I have pushed away for such a significant portion of my upbringing. But, so many of the cultural things that I grew up with were similar, from eating with my hands to having similar cooking styles and language. These things reminded me so much of my mom, and how much she’s done for me to be here.
So yes, I learned a lot about veterinary medicine and conservation in action in the field, but in these hours of downtime with the staff, I learned something much more valuable. I enthusiastically stepped out of my comfort zone and saw myself improve as I learned how to cook makanan Indonesia (Indonesian food) with Ibu Tini, attempted riding a motor myself, and used a machete. I learned Bahasa Indonesia, so well that I could carry conversations, make jokes, and say bad words with my guide who doesn’t understand any English. I learned how to make friends and form deep bonds even when the communication and cultural barriers seem insurmountable. Because there, the person I am is not so different from many of the people there. We shared many of the same thoughts, worries and fears, hopes and desires. The person I am finally does not feel out of place or very different (even though surface appearances would say otherwise) but in fact feels perfectly at home. Because there, with everything reminding me of my upbringing, I found a place to strengthen my identity, connect to my culture and community, and appreciate my heritage.
Unity in One Health: Reflections on Indonesia, Six Months Out
When the ‘Exit’ doors of Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta International Airport slide open, you are enveloped by air sickeningly sweet from the sweltering fruit trees and heavy from the equatorial water cycle. The milieu of the capital city is no less dense; bustling industry rubs elbows with what is left of the wild forests and rivers in and around Jakarta—wild creatures are seldom seen, having departed for the refuge offered by the nearby mountains of Bogor.
The air in the rainforests of East Kalimantan, however, is different. Still overwhelmingly sweet and dense but now in a way that is enriching, each inhalation bathes alveoli in warm, clean atmosphere. It is here that one can find a creature as wholesome as the air it breathes: Pahu the Sumatran rhinoceros. Though she is solitary by nature, Pahu spends every day with a very special ‘crash’: Aliansi Lestari Rimba Terpadu (ALeRT).
ALeRT’s Kalimantan team of veterinarians, growers, carers, and handymen is tirelessly committed to replacing the polluted gold mine in the forest with self-sustaining grounds for the conservation of native species like Pahu. Dr. Dedy and Dr. Aidell contribute to this effort by routinely monitoring Pahu’s health parameters at molecular and macroscopic scales. Bang Nabe and Om Alex contribute to the effort by recording, mapping, harvesting, and reseeding every species of browse that Pahu eats. Pak Pelis and Wana contribute to the effort by monitoring Pahu’s daily behavior for the first sign of an abnormality. Pak Iwa and Om Edison contribute to the effort by optimizing tons of the team’s food waste as compost to be used for fertilizing seedlings.
When Dr. Robin Radcliffe gave me the opportunity to engage in One Health projects in Indonesia alongside the aforementioned partners, I expected to learn how to tend to vulnerable wildlife and collaborate with the communities sharing their habitats. Little did I know, that would just be the start. Over the course of those six weeks during the summer of 2022, I connected with a sense of being Indonesian—conversing in bahasa Indonesia, feasting on padang, training in pencak silat, discovering the archipelago’s unique nationalism as a mosaic of distinct yet interconnected island cultures. I bonded with the individuals that I met in Jakarta over our common urban upbringing, the individuals I met in Kelian over our appreciation for the environment, the individuals I met in Samarinda over our love of soccer. These shared values afforded us the common ground needed to embrace our differences and, together, work towards a common goal. Thus, whether discussing advocacy projects for the conservation of slow lorises, monitoring parasite loads in a captive gibbon population, or venturing into thick jungle bush to relocate a binturong, we were able to collaborate, synergizing our shared passion, and overcome logistical and social barriers.
Now, as I write this from home, I imagine that tropical air all around me, but, when I inhale, what fills the lungs is crisp and cool. So, although I am without the environment which I have come to associate with such a positive experience, I have retained the lessons in veterinary medicine, a pragmatic understanding of One Health, and the value of unity.
Conservation with Communities in Uganda: A First Experience with International One Health
By David Dayan
Over the first few years of college, I was introduced to the One Health concept and began to appreciate the links between human, animal, and environmental health. Through classes, lectures, and research opportunities, I learned about One Health issues abroad and participated in projects relevant to human and wildlife health in New York. Following Dr. Radcliffe’s Conservation with Communities course in my junior year, I was given the opportunity to gain firsthand experience in One Health in an international setting. Alongside 3rd year veterinary student Stacy Kaneko, I spent six weeks in Uganda working with and learning from local partners in the conservation and One Health fields. This program included experiences in both in situ and ex situ conservation, both of which helped me to gain more insight into conservation and One Health in a new, international setting.
I spent two of the six weeks at the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre (UWEC) in Entebbe, a government-sponsored zoo/wildlife sanctuary just south of Uganda’s capital of Kampala. As the name suggests, UWEC focuses on ex situ conservation and public education about wildlife. For these two weeks, I worked alongside both the husbandry and veterinary staff to care for all of the animals in both the public enclosures and private quarantine and hospital areas. Having previously worked with zookeepers at an AZA zoo in the United States, it was interesting to see many similarities in husbandry at UWEC, from diet preparation to enclosure maintenance. Notable differences included the extent of free contact in certain enclosures (i.e., elephant and rhino enclosures), the frequent need to dodge the massive spiders in the trees around the zoo, and post-workday soccer practices on the shores of Lake Victoria.
Given our medical backgrounds and interests, we spent a lot of time working with the veterinary and hospital husbandry staff as well. Dr. James Watuwa, the senior veterinarian at UWEC, brought us along on rounds and taught us about routine veterinary care, animal translocations, and the various challenges and strategies involved in working with relatively limited veterinary resources. Dr. James also provided us with insight into his working dynamics with the Ugandan government and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), including wildlife immobilization and research in Uganda’s many national parks and handling of captured urban wildlife that are considered vermin. Over the two weeks, I was able to learn about UWEC’s involvement in the care of injured/orphaned animals and animals confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade. My personal highlights from working in the UWEC hospital/quarantine area included bottle feeding an orphaned juvenile elephant, hand-feeding African Grey Parrot chicks, and preparing and delivering food to two African Golden Cats.
The other four weeks of the program were spent in and around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP), an incredible biodiversity hotspot that is home to roughly half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. Our local partners in Bwindi were Conservation through Public Health (CTPH), an NGO founded by a wildlife veterinarian from Uganda. CTPH was founded on three pillars which reflect its One Health focus: wildlife conservation, community health, and alternative livelihoods for communities around BINP. We had a few opportunities to participate in CTPH’s routine collection and analysis of fecal samples from BINP’s habituated gorilla families. These opportunities included a host of new experiences, from riding motorcycles before dawn to hiking through dense undergrowth in search of the gorillas’ night nests. Without a doubt, the most surreal experiences were the moments when we could see the gorillas in the forest (if they hadn’t yet moved too far from their previous nests).
Another focus of our time in Bwindi was on conducting surveys to assess community perceptions regarding instances when gorillas emerge from the park and “encroach” onto community lands. These surveys focused on members of Human Gorilla Conflict Resolution Teams (HUGOs), community volunteers who are trained to safely herd gorillas back into the forest when they encroach. Despite months of advanced preparation before we traveled to Uganda, we had to adapt our plans and learn to work on the fly. Over three sessions, we conducted 45 semi-structured interviews with HUGO members. This first experience with conservation-oriented social science demonstrated both the difficulties inherent in these approaches as well as their incredible potential as a tool for understanding human-wildlife conflict. We had to learn to work through language and literacy barriers (with limited access to translators) and balance between getting reliable responses and keeping interviews sufficiently brief. Overall, these experiences with community-oriented in situ conservation provided me with new insights into One Health in international settings and emphasized lessons learned in Dr. Radcliffe’s course. Firstly, I gained a better and more personal appreciation for the equally rewarding and challenging nature of conservation in an international context. Additionally, I learned that funding issues, bureaucracy and red tape, and interpersonal politics are inevitable but by no means insurmountable challenges when working across language and cultural barriers, and these gaps can be bridged through patience and a focus on common ground, whether it be a more profound shared belief in conservation or a more trivial love of music and soccer. I am immensely grateful to have had this opportunity to learn from Dr. Radcliffe, Stacy Kaneko, and our partners in Uganda, and I am excited to take these lessons and experiences with me as I pursue a career in the conservation and One Health fields.
A Newfound Ape-reciation: Conservation and One Health in the Impenetrable Forest
By Stacy Kaneko
When I first arrived in Uganda as part of the Engaged Cornell program I never could have anticipated the lessons that I would have learned at the end of the summer. After months of preparation including putting together a research proposal, applying for research permits, and many last minute changes, I finally was able to make it to Entebbe Airport in Uganda.
My trip to Uganda was 6 weeks long. I spent 2 weeks in Entebbe at UWEC (Uganda Wildlife Education and Conservation Centre), and the remaining 4 weeks in Buhoma, a village right outside of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. I worked with Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) to help their organization fulfill their mission of protecting mountain gorillas. Our initial research proposal was to help CTPH collect fecal gastrointestinal parasite data and help to establish a database for historical information collected on mountain gorilla encroachment instances.
Though I was warned, I was definitely surprised by the fluid nature of the project. Conservation and especially international projects such as these often do not finish the way that they started. In school we learn about the interdisciplinary nature of conservation and the role that the community plays in conservation, however, seeing the reality and some of the challenges first hand was an eye opening experience for me.
After being held up for a week at the zoo, when we finally got to Bwindi, we quickly realized that there was no veterinarian on site nor was there any work to be done though we were promised both of those elements. After working hard for so long trying to get the research permits and spending many hours and meetings discussing the research project, it felt like we had hit a dead end. Though disheartening at the onset, the importance of being able to adapt to our situation and immerse ourselves into our new environment and come up with a way to still be productive was emphasized. Additionally, not holding onto frustrations and being open to trying new things led me to experience and do things that I never could have anticipated doing.
Though we were not able to do veterinary work at Bwindi, we were able to learn so much about the culture, issues affecting conservation, as well as learn more about the politics surrounding conservation work. I polished up on my rusty soccer skills, learned how to weave baskets, and even threw together a birthday party (it was a hit) ! Best of all, though we were not able to do clinical veterinary medicine, we did get to go gorilla trekking with the advance team of rangers from Uganda Wildlife Authority. I even tried out for the UWA Rangers program and qualified to be a ranger! Being a ranger at UWA is a pretty good gig (in Bwindi at least). From what I was told, since it is a government job, they do a relatively good job providing for their employees and their families, providing health insurance for up to 4 children, and providing housing accommodations, as well as I’m sure many other benefits. However, becoming a ranger is a rigorous process akin to joining the military here in the US. After a series of health checks, there is a 6 kilometer race through the rolling hills around Bwindi in which the top finishers are then accepted into the program and are whisked away blindfolded to a secret location in the mountains to train for 6 months with no contact to the outside world.
After my trip, when I was making my presentation about this experience, I thought I would be presenting on mountain gorilla parasitology. Instead, I spent 30 minutes speaking about the Batwa, a group of people who became conservation refugees in the 1990s and whom I never would have learned about had I not taken a shortcut home one day and followed the sound of singing that eventually led me to the Batwa community. I had always heard about conservation refugees when discussing conservation, but it is not really a subject I feel is emphasized. Being there first hand, and seeing just how much damage and suffering that the forced eviction has brought the Batwa, I wanted to be able to bring to light a topic that I felt was often overlooked. As veterinary professionals, we tend to focus on animals and sometimes neglect “human” values and needs, which I think can lead to conflict and failure of conservation programs.
All in all, this one experience taught me more about conservation than any other trip, talk, symposium, or class combined could have. Through our struggles and frustration, it has taught me so much more about adaptability, collaboration, and interpersonal skills. I hope to be able to take what I have learned from this experience and be able to better apply my skills and knowledge and use it to help both people and animals.
Rhinos, Buffalo and People: A One Health Issue in Indonesia
By Mariacamila Garcia Estrella, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine DVM/MPH Candidate '23
A few weeks ago, I learned about trypanosome parasites in parasitology class. As the professor explained what diseases these parasites cause, one species of trypanosome in particular stood out to me, Trypanosoma evansi. T. evansi is transmitted by tabanid flies and is found throughout Africa, Asia and tropical America, and it causes a disease called surra in all domestic species. Surra is characterized by chronic wasting, fever, lethargy, weakness and anemia, and can be fatal unless treated.
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A Summer With Man’s Closest Living Relatives
In college, I fell in love with wildlife medicine and conservation. It’s a tough field to get into though, and at the time I didn’t know if I was really cut out for it. That all changed when I landed the internship of a lifetime with the Jane Goodall Institute at Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Sanctuary in the Republic of Congo. This internship was part of Dr. Robin Radcliffe’s One Health course in partnership with Engaged Cornell and it was the first time it was ever offered. I was the first undergraduate student from Cornell to intern with the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) in Congo, so I really did not know what to expect. The internship was set up to pair a veterinary student with an undergraduate student to collaborate on a project for the summer. Unfortunately, my partner had a last minute complication and was unable to travel with me. I found this out the same day we were set to travel, just as I was about to catch my flight.
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