Reforestation/Seedling Project

As I have mentioned before, Nick and I have been planning a reforestation project at Sabangau. We’ve been doing a lot of planning lately and are finally ready to start planting seedlings this week.

About 50 years ago- according to the people who live in Kereng- there was a massive fire at Sabangau that created the forest edge that we see today.  The burned area left behind is now overgrown with some small shrubby trees, sedge and pitcher plants, and a lot of thick, very tall grass.  Conditions in this area are harsh; during the wet season everything is flooded and during the dry season plants are subject to scorching heat and direct sunlight.  We’re interested in testing a number of different species, most of which are pioneer species but a couple of which are more interior forest species that we just happen to have on hand and ready for planting, to see which species can survive in this habitat.  If there are one or two that really take to it, then in the future these would be used in a much larger-scale replanting project that would hopefully help restore some of the burned area to forest.  Smaller-scale projects like this have been done at Sabangau in the past but this time we are going to cover a much bigger area, use more seedling species, and plant a larger sample size of each species.

The plan is to plant 225 seedlings on each of 6 transects.  The first transect is 50 meters from the forest, and the furthest 300 meters.  We’re planting 30 seedlings of each of 7 species on each transect, as well as 15 seedlings of a control species that naturally grows out in the burned area anyway.  These seedlings will be monitored over the coming months and years to collect data on mortality and growth rates.  This is a really exciting project, both from a nerdy experimental “we want to see what happens when we do this” point of view, as well as from an on-the-ground conservation point of view.  If we can, in the future, restore some of the forest in Sabangau, the methods will be applicable to other places in the surrounding area.

This project is our focus for the upcoming week, and it’s going to be a lot of work!  We will probably have to carry seedlings out in the very early (aka when the sky is still dark) morning so that planting can start as soon as the sun rises.  We have to start early because otherwise it just gets too hot to work; between the hours of about 10 am and 2 pm working conditions just aren’t safe out in the burned area. But, hopefully we can get all 1,350 seedlings planted in the next 5-6 days… sleep deprivation be damned!  I always say that I would much rather study trees because you don’t have to wake up super early to go find them in the forest like you do primates, but I guess this week all of camp will be waking up early for work! Wish us luck…

Part of the burned area outside of camp- our planting area is a bit less photogenic than this, though!


A Long Weekend Camp Life Update

Ahhhh, sigh. Long weekends exist only for the volunteers, as I still have to coordinate most of the logistics and make sure everyone is safe/happy/fed/etc, but no complaints here. Today we go to the swimming pool for some swimming (of course), nice food, and a relaxing time…hopefully it doesn’t rain!

Fun at the pool!

As promised to a friend (Hi Joana!) I thought I would explain a little more about life around camp these days.  OuTrop is the biggest it’s ever been, which is super exciting but also presents some challenges!  We currently have too many people for the number of beds we have in camp, so some people are on a rotation between Palangkaraya and camp for the time being.  Luckily these people have lots of work to do in PKY, so it’s a win-win for everyone.  This will only last for a short time, since Camille’s 6 months are up at the end of October and she’ll be leaving, and then we should have enough space for everyone again.  Here’s the rundown of the people at camp right now (in addition to myself of course)-

  • Nick- project manager
  • Luke and Aimee- primate scientist and research assistant
  • Amanda and Esther- orangutan PhD students
  • Barbara and Jess- orang interns
  • Sarah- gibbon intern
  • Camille and Helen- kelasi interns
  • Stijn- biodiversity intern
  • Thea- communications
  • 7 volunteers
  • occasional visitors
  • Indonesian staff

Sometimes the count of people eating breakfast is up to 30, which is insane! But generally everything is going well, and now we have a break from new people arriving.  Between July and October I think we’ve collected about 10 staff/interns, so it’s been really busy.  Obviously this is great for the project and for data collection; almost every day we have team kelasi and 2 orangutan teams out in the field following animals, and often we also have enough people to follow gibbons as well.  Team kelasi just had an 8-day follow, which is one of the most exciting things to happen around camp in awhile.  I think I’ve written about this before, but for the past month we have been having a really difficult time finding the kelasi and so locating them and then collecting 8 continuous days of data was both a great morale-booster for the team as well as just great for that project, as they documented some new behavior and learned new information about their focal group.

Back to the research- on top of all the primate projects, we also on a regular basis have team forestry (the best team!) doing their thing, collecting phenology data and working on the volunteer student project.  At specific times of the month we also have staff out in the field collecting litterfall data, working on the camera trap project, checking the dams in some of the canals, setting and checking butterfly and other insect traps, and doing surveys for orangutan nests.  All of this research is made possible (I sound like a public service announcement right now) by our amazing camp staff, including Twenti on the logistics/camp management duties, and the kitchen crew, headed by Lis.  The kitchen crew wakes up at 2:30 or 3:00 am every day to have food ready for the primate teams that leave for the forest around 4:00 am, then they go back to bed for a little while and wake up again at 5:30 to make breakfast for the rest of camp.  We’re pretty lucky to have them, that’s for sure!  I shudder to imagine what would happen if we had to cook for ourselves.  It would result in lots of noodles and nothing else, I think.

Anyway, that’s it for today, stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment on the new seedling project!  In the meantime, here are a few links for everyone to check out, and if you all know anyone who might be interested please send them around.  We have posted the volunteer announcement for next year here; this is a great opportunity for students or anyone interested in learning more about tropical conservation to join the project for 7 weeks! This month’s group has seen tons of orangutans, gibbons, kelasi, tarsiers, lorises, macaques, insects, snakes, etc… and has helped collect a lot of valuable data for the project that we probably wouldn’t be able to otherwise.  ALSO the 2013 OuTrop calender is out, which you can order here, and it’s full of amazing pictures from all my friends. I guess I should really tell you not to order it because none of my pictures made the cut this year (kiddinggggggggg) but really….you won’t be disappointed if you buy one.


Days Off and My New Pet

Hey all!  Today is my second day off since the volunteers got here, so I came into town to use the internet and catch up on a few things.  The long weekend is coming in a few days but that’s not really a break for me, so I got to take a few days off now.

Things at camp have been busy as usual- but the vols have been doing well, and they’ve gotten to see some amazing stuff, including a tarsier and an interesting interaction between a juvenile orangutan and a loris.  It’s just been primate central lately!  The other day I also saw a pack of 8 hornbills, which was really exciting.  I don’t have many animals left on my must-see list anymore.  Aside from primate stuff (booooring, I know), Nick and I have been pretty busy planning our reforestation project.  We are going to plant 1,350 seedlings in the degraded area outside the forest next week in a large-scale experiment to see which tree species might be best for restoring that particular area.  It’s the perfect time for it right now because the rainy season is coming, so there is less of a chance that the seedlings will die from the heat/sunlight.  I’ll update more on that after we’ve finished it, but we’re almost done measuring and tagging the seedlings we plan to use, so things are coming along nicely.

And in other news, I have my first parasite.  Wooohooo!  Its not that uncommon for people in camp to get hookworms once in awhile, and it was apparently my turn this week.  The good news is that it just takes a few days and a few pills to get rid of it.  The bad news is that in the meantime he’s (yes, I’ve decided it’s a dude) just crawling around under the skin on my leg and leaving a nice trail. If you’re curious, google “hookwork in skin”- although don’t if you don’t like gross stuff- and look at the first picture! Mine actually isn’t that bad, you can barely see the path, but it’s the same idea.  Luckily he should be nice and dead by tomorrow, but in the meantime it’s pretty itchy.

Okay, I’m off to have a nice lunch and walk around the mall before heading back to camp tonight, but hopefully I will have a chance to update more later this weekend.  Sampai jumpa lagi…

New Vols

To camp today with the new vols!  I’ve been in Palangka for 4 days and am very ready to go back to camp.  Nick and I picked up the vols from the airport 2 days ago and have been spending most of our time with them since then.  We’ve been talking with them about Indonesian culture, OuTrop, and the type of work that they will do over the next 6 weeks.  Yesterday I took them all shopping to get everything they will need for the expedition- we spent about 5 hours in the market and the mall buying snacks, rubber boots, socks, bandanas, clothing, sarongs… the list goes on!  It was a tiring day but now they are finally ready to go to camp today.  I’m looking forward to it, and I know they’re all excited to see where they will be living, meet everyone else at camp, and most importantly get into the forest for the first time (that’s tomorrow’s project).  Hopefully I’ll be able to post a new update in a week or so, because I have to come back into town to write a report, so I’ll have more (and more exciting) updates later!