Written by Marc Dragiewicz
The Sabangau is a jewel where conservation is working. It has been enlightening and a privilege to witness BNF’s efforts and to watch them grow. I first came to BNF in 2005 when their studies were expanding beyond primates. The Sabangau had been ravaged for 10 years. BNF was an integral part of the turn that lead from certain disaster to a cautiously optimistic future for the forest. Now they are studying all aspects of the forest and expanding their focus to critical outreach efforts as the burgeoning Palangka Raya expands to brush the edges of the forest itself. It is good news for all that BNF is expanding beyond Sabangau to other forests in need around Kalimantan.
In the past my connection with BNF was through birds as I surveyed the forest to expand the species list. The forest and BNF were great teachers and I became more interested in conservation as I watched it succeeding in front of my eyes. At the same time I was falling in love with the digital photography. I liked how there was no waste of film or prints. You could take thousands of poor photos without consequence, yet you often ended up with a few gems when you have limitless effort. But it was the moments I used the video function when I felt I could finally scratch the surface of what was happening in a 4-dimentional world, particularly the way the primates navigated the forest.
Through a happy series of unexpected events I married an inspiring documentary filmmaker and we hatched a plan to combine my experience with conservation projects and her film/literature/story-telling background and try to figure out a way to contribute to conservation. So it was exciting to return to the Sabangau with a new mission, but a huge challenge to try to capture all that was happening there.
I now study conservation. I am trying to figure out what it takes to implement successful practices and to share those ideas with the conservation community. Most importantly I want to learn how to convince people to care because it seems to me it all comes down to caring. The international community’s care may come in the form of financial support, but all the international support in the world is useless unless the local communities care. If what lies across the river does not make it into their hearts, they cannot hold the appreciation and respect necessary to allow the forest to be.
I think if the people could see a live orangutan it could make a difference. Not in a zoo where people point and joke, but it the wild where they can learn about them. I do not know how to bring thousands of people to the forest, but I can do my best to try to bring the forest to people. I gladly woke well before dawn, fed countless mosquitoes, and carried awkward equipment through miles of swamp to capture moments in the forest that I hope will open up the heart of more than one person.
Spending time in this forest again was a gift. When I was in the presence of its inhabitants, particularly orangutans, all the forest-trekking discomforts disappeared as I took in the natural wonders in front of me and held up my camera as it were a window for the eyes of the world to glance into wild hidden spaces. I made this video to try to share what it was like to be in the Sabangau forest for an entire day. On any day there are stretched of quiet inactivity when only the buzz of countless unseen insects fill the silence, but the forest is teaming with life and a little effort and patience is rewarded with encounters and sights like the ones I share with you here.
What I learned most from BNF this time around was the vital importance of community, cooperation, and collaboration. Back home we recently had an evening to relax and reflect about our time in Kalimantan. We realized that there is no way to for us to make all conservation films that need to be made, how much lager our impact can be as a part of a larger community, and how limited we were as outsiders when it came to tapping into important things like local culture when it came to conservation. So we are expanding our mission statement from showcasing and sharing effective community conservation practices to now include partnering with and mentoring regional filmmakers starting with Emmanuela Shinta in Palangka Raya.
It gives me hope to see bright young researchers continuing the cutting-edge science in this forest and an expanding staff of dedicated and passionate Indonesians working to expand BNF’s reach. We are also excited to have a group of aspiring filmmakers to work with as we attempt to explore the connection between Dayak communities and modern conservation. And we are proud to be able to call ourselves part of the BNF conservation community.