We have received strong evidence that our work in partnership with Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI) is preventing and reversing deforestation in Gunung Palung National Park. Just this week, new research conducted by ASRI staff revealed that deforestation in Gunung Palung has slowed significantly. Summing up their findings, the authors wrote: "Community empowerment, forest rehabilitation, and health care incentives as payment for ecosystem services can help reduce deforestation."
Nina Finley, a recent graduate of Whitman College currently researching disease ecology and traveling the world on a Watson Fellowship, shares her notes on an expedition to Gunung Palung National Park -- and the amazing flora and fauna she encountered there! This is the first in a series of blog posts that Nina shared with us while visiting Sukadana and our pilot program Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI). Read more about Nina's travels on her blog Natural Selections.
“Please show me, where is Indonesia?”
“Here!” the students called as they simultaneously pointed to Indonesia.
The first two parts of this series outlined the conservation challenges in Borneo and our efforts to combat deforestation by engaging communities. The question now is whether our solutions work. But when dealing with issues that combine economics, health care, social justice, and conservation biology, how do you measure progress? Planetary health is an emerging discipline and we are using methods that have not been tried before. So there aren’t many clear benchmarks for comparison.
We can start by asking what success would look like. For Health In Harmony’s Indonesian partner, Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI), complete success would mean 1) zero deforestation in Gunung Palung National Park, 2) a return of the park to 100% natural vegetation cover, and 3) net forest growth throughout the region. And we would have achieved those goals by creating healthy communities that are invested in the long-term integrity of the natural landscape. So how do we stack up against those goals?
Part 1 of 3 - The Problem
To many people, Borneo is a remote and wild place, an unspoiled tropical island teeming with dense forests, wildlife, and traditional cultures. Throughout the early twentieth century, this view was partly true; the island was over 75% forested and was home to hundreds of thousands of orangutans and other wildlife, in addition to diverse communities of people speaking dozens of different languages. Read More
#GivingTuesday is less than a week away, and this year, we want to make it easier than ever for you to save forests and save lives.
Orangutans are at threat of becoming extinct. There are many reasons why orangutans are going extinct. But believe it or not, your everyday actions can help limit those threats, even if you’re on the other side of the world from the rain forests where orangutans live.
I remember the first time I ever saw a patient pay for medical care with tree seedlings at the ASRI Clinic. Pak Hamsu, a patient from the village of Laman Satong where our main reforestation site is located, had amassed medical bills totaling over $375 at the ASRI Clinic after he had a severe stroke in April 2013. When he finally died, his family did not have enough money to repay the debt. So his nephew Jhony repaid the debt the only way he knew how: raising tree seedlings, grown from the seeds collected in the nearby forest that his village has protected for generations.
Guest blog by Daniel Gavin
Just a month after receiving my undergraduate degree I took a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to the Borneo rain forest as a research assistant in Gunung Palung National Park. For over a year I helped run Cabang Panti field station, traveled its many kilometers of trails, and helped the core data collection that streamed in from our dedicated staff, about fruiting patterns, animal censuses, and the dynamics of the trees and seedlings. The astounding biodiversity spread across seven distinct landforms and forest types meant “discoveries”, at least to this neophyte, every day.
When emergency responders arrive at a mass casualty scene, they perform rapid triage: determining who stands a chance of survival, and who does not. The decisions are difficult, but critical. You do not commit four rescuers to a lost cause when they could be saving several others who stand a chance.
Exciting news from Sukadana: A new Memorandum of Understanding increases synergy between ASRI and the National Park office
Further solidifying their long and productive relationship, Yayasan Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI) and the Gunung Palung National Park Management office (BTNGP) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) last month formalizing their collaboration. Dr. Hotlin Ompussunggu, ASRI co-founder, and Ir. Dadang Wardhana M.Sc, the current head of BTNGP, signed the agreement on March 26, which outlines plans for more information sharing, greater park access for ASRI’s education and monitoring activities, and increased capacity building. Read More
ASRI's Forest Guardians are our not-so-secret weapon in combatting rainforest destruction: they are the bridge that connect local villagers to all our programs. Each of the 30 Forest Guardians are respected members of their community, nominated to the post by village leaders and then vetted and trained by ASRI in how to most persuasively approach illegal loggers - many of whom are friends and family of the FG. They monitor deforestation around their homes and spread awareness of all of the ways ASRI assists people who want to make a change, from alternative livelihoods trainings to village-wide healthcare discounts for villages that protect their forests.
ASRI's programs have always been designed and implemented by the people living in the villages around Gunung Palung National Park. Thirty of the 32 villages surrounding the park have signed memoranda of understanding (MOU) with us, agreeing to work together to reduce illegal logging. This month, we received word from our program partner, ASRI, that one of those two remaining villages also agreed to an MOU! That means there is only one remaining village that has not signed. After signing villages get discounts in the clinic even if they don't managed to stop the logging (but more if they do!). We are celebrating one more village having access to affordable healthcare and protecting precious habitat!
Picture a tree. This tree is roughly 40 meters tall. It sticks above the forest canopy by a good 15 meters . Now put yourself in the top of that tree. It is breezy up here -- unlike the steaming forest floor below where the sun tries to evaporate a month of rain in one clear day. This is your tree. From here you can see your entire territory. Picture the view: to the south, mountains; to the east, a river; to the north forest; and to the west... well, let's not talk about that yet.
Now while you are sitting in the top of this tree, feel your legs shorten to half their length while your arms stretch by a similar amount. Flex your wiry arms as you watch them sprout thick black fur. Go ahead and keep sprouting fur over your entire body, but, just for grins make your eyebrows and beard white (yes, even you ladies). Do you look a bit like a Muppet? Good, because the fun is about to begin - and you might as well look good doing it.
Clear your throat quietly, take a deep breath, then let out a high-pitched ascending "Whoop!" followed by a brief pause, then another. As you loosen up, try a series of 3 whoops in a row. At this point, you can continue whooping, creating a hauntingly shrill song that echoes among the treetops, or you can fall off the branch you are sitting on.
Seriously, just tip over and fall off the branch, riding a few seconds of gravity through the canopy before you deftly extend your impossibly long arm, catch another branch in your hook-like hand, and swing around, underneath, and slingshot yourself back on an upward trajectory, your other hand outstretched for the next branch. This method of travel, called brachiating, allows you to fly through the tree-tops with the greatest of ease -- crossing distances of 15 meters or more and reaching speeds of 35 miles per hour. It is as if the laws of physics were created to propel you. Congratulations. You are a gibbon: natures take on what would happen if Maria Callas and Jules Leotard had a love-child created by Jim Henson.
Despite their agility, good looks, and great voice, these lesser apes tend to be overshadowed by the poster-child for Indonesian rain forests: the shaggy Orangutan. Which is unfortunate, because in many ways Gibbons share more in common with us than other non-human primates:
The series of ascending and descending whoops, calls, hollers, and cries last for several minutes, echoing nearly two miles through the thick canopy. Often sung in duet, the female will take the lead with the male chiming in his accompaniment. The songs are thought to identify the extent of a families territory, as well as to warn off home-wrecking females (see point 2 above). However, the song of the gibbon is slowly being replaced by the song of the chainsaw.
There are 16 species of Gibbon (this number varies depending on how you divide them) found throughout Southeast Asia, ranging from southern China to Borneo, East India to Vietnam. Of those listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), 15 are considered "endangered" or "critically endangered," and only one species' population is stable -- the rest are decreasing.
Habitat loss threatens gibbons on a daily basis. As forests are cut for timber or cleared for agriculture and oil palm plantations, the gibbons are forced to try and survive in fragmented forests or in the upper reaches of the mountains. There, food is scarce and populations decline. Those that live on the edge of the forest run the risk of being shot by hunters for bush-meat, or captured for the pet trade.
Picture your tree. To the west, the next tallest tree, only a kilometer away, shakes awkwardly for a moment before slowly toppling to its side. You watch it silently disappear into the forest before the roar of breaking branches reaches your ears. Picture yourself listening to the sound of chain saws as you sit in the crook of the branch, your infant clinging to your fur as the rain begins again.
Loren Bell spent three years chasing gibbons while managing the Gunung Palung Gibbon and Leaf Monkey Project. This long-term research project studies how habitat quality and ecological factors affect the demographics, behavior and reproductive potential of several primate species found in Gunung Palung National Park.
Today, August 19th, is the first annual World Orangutan Day, dedicated to raising awareness about the crisis facing orangutans and celebrating efforts to protect them and their habitat. Health In Harmony is proud to participate and do our part! For more information about the movement, please visit the World Orangutan Day website.
Guest blog by Ana Sofia Wang
Just a month ago, a project that started as a small idea experienced its second year of success when a group of 17 students traveled all the way from their remote villages to surrounding the Gunung Palung National Park to Tanjung Puting National Park. The students were chosen from 4 schools to take their first trip away from home and first ever plane flight to experience firsthand the beauty of protected rain forest. One of the most amazing things the kids learn on the trip is that people from all over the world want to come and see where organgutans live. This realization gives them a sense of pride in where they come from and in their rain forest. Watching these discoveries and being involved in those small magical moments was, for me, the most valuable thing in the world. For my sister and I, coming back to work with ASRI Kids’ amazing teacher and coordinator Etty, has been monumental. These past two years visiting the classrooms, meeting the kids, going on the field trips, I have realized it is not only us who are teaching the kids, but the kids have a lot to teach us too. Their eagerness to learn and constant curiosity gives me hope for their future.
Rosevan is taking the Borneo Bicycle Challenge, and will be blogging about it on Health In Harmony’s website throughout the fall. Want to do it yourself? It's not too late to take the challenge – register now!
Every day in October, November, and December, as part of Health In Harmony’s Borneo Bicycle Challenge, I'll ride my bike to work, home, the grocery store, you name it. I’ll do it rain or shine, but mostly rain, because this is Portland and we get 42 inches of rain on average each year. Near our own patches of temperate rainforest, I ride to support a project in a tropical rainforest halfway around the world.
Gearing up in my effective but extremely unflattering rainsuit, I'll remind myself: I am doing this to reduce my own environmental impacts, and in solidarity with the communities around Gunung Palung National Park in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. They not only get around by bicycle every day, for every purpose, but also - thanks to the efforts of our partner ASRI - contribute to the conservation, reforestation, and stewardship of one of the most biodiverse, and carbon-absorbing, rainforests on the planet.
Guest blog by Patrick Ryan
The first time I went to ASRI, late last year, I brought goodies to the ASRI clinic in Sukadana. Stethoscopes, sphygmomanometer, oximeters, and other medical equipment, and also my favorite travel gift- crayons. Kinari thanked me for the gifts and at some point I let slip that I'm a birder in my Puget Sound home. She said, "I have a job for you!" - A Bornean bird survey in the areas ASRI has been reforesting.
Malaria, a mosquito-borne parasitic disease, is estimated by the World Health Organization to infect 400 to 500 million people worldwide each year - and to have caused the deaths of almost 200 million people. 
In rural areas like Sukadana in West Kalimantan, the village where Project ASRI is based, the disease is more prevalent. So we have distributed mosquito nets - a widely-accepted method of prevention- to families in the 30 villages surrounding Gunung Palung National Park, in exchange for seedlings used for reforestation.