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Roughing It in Mawas – Part 1, Palangka Raya to Camp Mantangai

March 5, 2013

This is a confession of a typical city dweller. If it weren’t for this amazing job I have at the BOS Foundation, the most intensive exercise I have had during the last two years would have been running up and down office stairs. That’s it.

Friends – fellow city dwellers – often ask me how I could leave my comfort zone and venture into the forests of Borneo on fieldwork assignments. Well, here’s another confession. It was not easy at first but I adore it! Just like any other typical city dweller, I thought working and living in a forest would be tough and unbearable. It is a common misconception and I couldn’t be more wrong.

True, I had to lower certain personal expectations a bit, such as flushable toilets and sometimes, daily showers. But other than that, the BOS Foundation (and other environmental NGOs, too, I’m sure) has always made sure that all of our field staff live comfortably under the canopy. And this is also the case when I visited the BOS Foundation’s Mawas Conservation Program for the very first time.

Map of Mawas

Instead of feeling miserable, I found myself reluctant to leave. I had a wonderful time in Mawas and I wished I would have stayed a while longer. Now if a city dweller like me could feel at home in the dense peatland forest of Mawas, it wouldn’t be so hard to convince just about anyone, right? Ecotourism potential? Could be!

This is, of course, not a touristy story. After all I was sent to Mawas not on a holiday trip but to collect updates on the many important activities they do. However, I will tell you first about my fun adventure in Mawas, brushing up a little on each activity while hopefully enticing you to find out more about Mawas. Then I will share four separate updates, elaborating more on each of the activities I witnessed during my journey, which will be published once a week. That’s a full month of Mawas for you!

Mawas Conservation Program

The Mawas Conservation Program is a BOS Foundation program protecting 309,000 hectares of natural habitat for wild orangutans. Administratively, Mawas encompasses two main districts — South Barito and Kapuas districts — as well as five sub-districts and 53 villages with a population of 29,000 families.

The Mawas peatland also sustains one of the largest remaining orangutan populations with an estimated 3,000 wild orangutans inhabiting the area.  As such Mawas is a critical site for orangutan conservation.

29,000 families live within Mawas area

Just in case you don’t know or don’t remember the difference between wild orangutans, semi wilds and rehabilitants, here is a brief definition. Wild orangutans are orangutans who have never been taken out of their natural habitat, living freely and independently where they rightfully belong all their lives. Semi wilds are orangutans who were evicted from their natural habitat for various reasons, but at the time of rescue still retained their true nature and have consistently showed that they have learned adequate forest skills to be returned to natural habitat; while rehabilitants are orangutans who were rescued at a very young age and/or had been kept by humans as pets. Rehabilitants typically did not have or had lost most of the necessary skills to survive independently in the forest and thus must go through an intensive rehabilitation process, which can take up to seven years on average.

Wild orangutan in Mawas

So the Mawas Conservation Program, though very rarely exposed, is a crucial program. It plays a very important role in the conservation of some of last remaining wild Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) and their natural home, as well as in the conservation of more general biodiversity, environment and sustainable local community development.

Palangka Raya to Kapuas

My trip to Mawas commenced on January 11, 2013. A great way to start the new year! After a brief coordination meeting with Jhanson Regalino – Mawas Program Manager – I left the Mawas office in Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan shortly after lunch, accompanied by Kissar Odom (Rescue and Release Manager), Sungkono (Area Monitoring Coordinator), F. Kurniawan (Camp Mantangai Manager), Tommy (Tuanan Orangutan Research Station Manager) and Sofi (Staff of Tuanan Orangutan Research Station). Traveling overland, we headed to our office in the district of Kapuas where we would have to change our vehicle for a four-wheel drive before continuing our journey. I started to get all excited picturing muddy off-road tracks that we would have to venture on!

It normally takes around 2 hours from Palangka Raya to Kapuas, but it took us longer (3 hours) as we often stopped along the way to buy durians (Durio kutejensis), mangosteens (Garcinia mangostana) and rambutans (Nephelium lappaceum), which are currently in season. We also bought some corn on the cob that we planned to roast for late night snacks.

Stopping for some durians

Arriving at the Mawas office in Kapuas, we only had time to quickly stretch our legs. All of our belongings were immediately rearranged in two four-wheel drives and 15 minutes later we were off again to our final destination of the day, Camp Mantangai.

Kapuas to Mantangai

We maintain our Kapuas office for government relation purposes as the city of Kapuas is the district’s capital, while Camp Mantangai is the basis for all of the Mawas activities in the Kapuas District. Peatland rehabilitation through reforestation is the main activity here, funded by the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership (KFCP). This is the first update that will be published next week. Don’t miss it!

We arrived at Camp Mantangai at 7 PM, right on time for dinner! On a wooden dining table, we were served with mouth-watering patin (a type of catfish) grilled in sweet soy sauce, fresh vegetable and a big bowl of kick-you-in-face fiery hot sauce.

Taking a break at Camp Mantangai

My comfort was not compromised here in Mantangai. The camp is tidy and well maintained. In addition to a dining room, there are also a kitchen, a decent bathroom, four clean bedrooms with fans and a large common room where the team discuss work, conduct meetings or simply get together to watch television. But just as we finished freshening up after dinner, the power cut out. Well, since we couldn’t do any work that evening, it was a great excuse to roast the corns that we bought and have lively chats on the terrace with the Mantangai Team, until it was time to go to bed.

I’ll continue the story tomorrow in “Roughing It in Mawas – Part 2”. Log back in, please!


Text by: Rini Sucahyo – Communications Advisor to the CEO
Map/photos by: The BOS Foundation – Mawas Program & Rini Sucahyo

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