What it takes to be a human: a lesson from field course 2018


by Lucas Elsrode (Field Course Participant 2018)

The rattling of the cart shook my torso back and forth, my spine imitated a slinky being spun around by an overexcited toddler with ADHD. It was the day I arrived at camp in Sabangau forest. The sun was out, the air was hot and sticky. Excitement radiated from the faces of those in the rickety cart taking us across the river and into the peatlands leading into camp.

Lucas (holding poster) during presentation session
Photo by Arapa Efendi | BNF | CIMTROP

I don’t know what I was expecting coming here. I originally applied because I thought the program sounded cool and I needed to get out of my apartment and my day to day office job, which admittedly had become rather routine. I also experienced the haze when I lived in Singapore and thought it would be interesting to see what conservation efforts were being made to mitigate the environmental damage I had been personally subjected to.

Although I may not pursue a full-fledged career in conservation, or even biology for that matter, the experience so far has defiantly opened my eyes to possibilities I had not previously considered regarding my own future. The experience so far has enriched my appreciation for nature and life in general in a way I can’t fully explain.

So, what have I done so far? Well beyond sweat intensely and live the most ecological friendly lifestyle I have in my life, a lot. My average day here starts at seven in the morning which is promptly followed by breakfast and a trip into the jungle for the day’s data collection or ecological surveying.

We’ve done everything from conduct tree plots and measuring tree heights to head out into the jungle at four o’clock in the morning to capture the forest waking up as the gibbons bamboozle the surrounding kilometer with sounds I’ve only ever hear in David Attenborough documentaries before then. I got the opportunity to observe orangutans in the wild which is the original reason I came here. Yet surprisingly what I found most enriching was connecting with the local population and teaching a group of local school children about conservation through fun games.

Biodiversity monitoring through butterfly and dragonfly surveys
Photo by Lucas Elsrode | BNF | CIMTROP

You might be asking yourself why some desk jockey such as myself decided that a trip half way across the world would be justified by the prospect of seeing Orangutans. I thought that somehow seeing them in their natural habitat would lead me to understand human nature more holistically.

But when a baby on it’s mother’s back makes direct eye contact with me from the tree tops, it didn’t do that. Instead it makes you stop and consider what it means to be human, at least that’s what it did for me, and made me question my place in this crazy world and my rather ambiguous but omnipresent connection to it.

I’ve gained an appreciation for the larger ideas of conservation. From connecting to the locals to try and pinpoint what exactly conservation means to me. This has no doubt been and continues to be a truly enriching personal experience.