CURRENT STUDENT INVOLVEMENT
We work on campus with students from all backgrounds and skill sets to protect the 30 Hills landscape. The challenges we face are multidisciplinary and multifaceted, so our approach must include expertise in many areas. Some of our student work includes outreach, camera trap and GIS data analysis, research proposals, fundraising, and making our upcoming documentary, among other projects. Overall, our project provides multiple opportunities that students from various disciplines can benefit from.
OUR INITIAL TRIP TO SUMATRA
We went to Sumatra in the summer of 2019 for five days to meet the team on the ground and learn more about the issues faced there. From our meetings with community members and research teams to our adventures hiking through the rainforest, it was a success all around!
Read one student's account of the trip below:
I travelled with five other members of the Sunda Rainforest Project to the site in Indonesia. We met in Singapore and made our way to Jakarta and then on to Jambi, Sumatra and the base camp in the WWF concession. On the drive from Jambi to the base camp, we passed through many oil palm plantations and saw large swaths of deforested land. While a sober beginning to our trip, it showed us the reality of the myriad problems facing tropical rainforest conservation efforts and drove home the importance of them. When we got to the concession itself however, we were stunned by the vast biodiversity and absolute beauty of the primary forest. My only experience until then with tropical rainforests had been in museums and science exhibitions, which had made me want to see them for myself. To my astonishment and delight, the real rainforest we encountered was just as I had imagined it, rekindling the joy and wonder I had experienced as a child when I visited the exhibitions. My imagined childhood fairyland was real. Everything we saw inspired me to protect it, and lit a creative spark inside of me, from the enormous millipedes crawling over fallen leaves to the frogs croaking a chorus in the streams to the fantastically contorted vines hanging like frozen ropes from the trees. We hiked up to a beautiful view of the primary forest canopy where we sat and listened to the booming calls of the Great Argus Pheasant and the cooing of gibbons. We met orangutans rescued from the pet trade who were rehabilitated by FZS and released into the wild where they started their own families. We saw them up close and marveled at how human they are. One of the more exciting episodes of our trip was when we hiked into the jungle looking for elephants and were subsequently chased out by said elephants roaring and charging at us through the dense undergrowth. My heart has never beaten so fast and I have never sweat so much as I did then, but I loved every moment of it.
Conservation requires an appreciation for the human dimension as well, so we also met Talang Mamak villagers and an Orang Rimba family as well as the scientific and community development teams. We learned about the strong traditions of the local people who face the complete loss of their world with the destruction of the forest, how palm oil is far more complex an issue than the media in the US shows, and how the Indonesian government has taken a novel approach to conservation with the creation of the ecological restoration concessions. Together our guides, partners, and the community members wove a story of economic hardship, migration, appreciation and misuse of the environment, and a changing world that we would never have heard had we stayed at home in the US. We saw traditional honey harvesting for which people train from childhood to accomplish, the realities facing a farmer encroaching on conservation land, the vibrant arts and crafts of the Talang Mamak, and a glimpse of the nomadic lifestyle of the Orang Rimba. We learned about efforts to establish and grow a sustainable economy based on nontimber forest products like honey and traditional arts, the research into sustainable crops like vanilla and restoration efforts like which trees to plant when, and how to improve the lives of everyone, human and nonhuman, living in and around the rainforest.
When we returned home we each reflected on our adventures, on all that we had learned and all we hoped to accomplish. I realized that until then I had only seen the end result of conservation, the already restored and protected national parks, but had never seen the sheer amount of effort it requires to get to that point. I am glad to have seen the starting point, because I feel like my friends and I can make a real impact in Sumatra and eventually help transform the charred and empty landscape back into soaring primary forest bursting with life. We all returned with renewed determination to do what we can to help. Thanks to our trip, we also know that we can do it. Our onsite partners trust us and are excited to see what together we can accomplish. Without this trip, our upcoming documentary and reforestation and economic development plans would never have seen the light of day.