Meet Sue Phillips: a 71-year-old volunteer in the Sebangau peat-swamp forest


Sue Phillips is our recent and probably the most inspiring female participant of Volunteer Programme at Borneo Nature Foundation (BNF). Coming from Bath, the 71-year-old flew over thousands of miles to the Indonesian Borneo for supporting orangutan conservation with us at BNF by doing conservation works as a volunteer.

To go to BNF research station is not as easy as one could ever imagine. Sue has to take a longboat called “Klotok” carrying only 5 people onboard from the village of Kereng, the entrance gate to Sebangau forest, for about 20-30 minutes. However, considering the low water table on the river, it’s not possible for volunteers to directly go to camp via Klotok. The boat would drop volunteers at “The Post” before they took a small wooden cart called “lorry” on the old railway straight to camp. With the terrible noise and ustable speed, the lorry would create adrenaline rush to anyone on it, a condition that must not be easy for Sue.

Even though Sue was a bit worried with the age limit while making application, but here she’s in the lowland forest of Borneo venturing every corner of Sebangau, a forest home to large population of wild Bornean charismatic ape, orangutans! Sue got her first encounter with orangutan while she and her late husband visited a rescue center in Sandakan, Sarawak, Malaysia. Since then, she has always been captivated with the magnetism from these forest guardians.

The courageous Sue Phillips climbing tree in Sebangau to install camera trap
Photo by Borneo Nature Foundation | CIMTROP

Being fascinated with orangutans, Sue was highly motivated carrying out most of the conservation works in Sebangau. She is unhappy with the continuous threats of massive forest loss that put big threats on these wild orangutans. This has somehow encourages Sue to take a part in protecting the environment, saving the home for these man’s closest relatives.

“I am concerned about the loss of habitat and extinction of species that make our world such a wonderful place. I do not want the children I taught, and now my own grandchildren, to live in a world that lacks these creatures and all the others that are at risk through our mismanagement” Said Sue.

During her time with BNF in Sebangau, sue was involved in various conservation activities which are highly energy-consuming that include primate behaviour and population surveys, camera trap surveys, butterfly and dragonfly monitoring, and peat-swamp reforestation works. Sue was experiencing walking on the spongy peat ground and climbed the old tall tree regardless her fear of height. In addition to that, Sue encountered 5 orangutan during her time in the Sebangau forest doing voluntary works. It was a very rare experience to witness wild orangutans in their wild habitat.

“It has been a privilege to be here [in Sebangau Forest Field Station], to be among people and with a foundation who is working hard saving the biodiversity of forest and animal [in Central Kalimantan]” Sue added.

What Sue has shown us is the value and a great appreciation for the larger ideas of conservation. Everyone should necessarily protect the forests and live with them in a more sustainable way. The failure in protecting it means the failure to save many lives that depend on it. The lives of the charming creatures that crawl on the forest floor and those that swing here and there between forest canopies. This precious natural treasure should be conserved well by making our today’s teenagers know and understand about what is happening to our environment now. Otherwise, we should worry that these creatures will only be left as a fairytale to our future generations. (AE)