Conservationist learns language to help work protecting critically endangered species
Wildlife conservation in the 21st century is not simply about threatened species and exotic habitats, it’s about local people and their way of life – which is why the latest recruit to one Devon-based charity is learning to speak Indonesian.
The Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Indonesian-based NGO the Pacific Institute have appointed Jez Bird as field project manager for its flagship conservation scheme in Sulawesi, Indonesia. The project was set up by the trust’s Dr Vicky Melfi, a world expert on the critically endangered Sulawesi crested black macaque – known locally as the yaki. The project is called Selamatkan Yaki – save the yaki – in the local language, and one of Jez’s first challenges will be to master this tongue.
Jez told the Devon Week: “I’ll be there for 12 months. Working particularly with local people, building trust, forming partnerships and showing our commitment. Learning the language is essential – it’s important in practical terms to get by, but it is also symbolic of the way modern conservationists work with local people. You don’t just roll in and tell them they must stop killing these animals or cutting down trees. Without the local community on board there will be no conservation.”
The language – Bahasa Indonesia – is one of the most common in the world, with some 200 million speakers. It borrows heavily from many languages, including Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Portuguese, Dutch and Chinese.
Vicky said: “The people shy away from saying no, they believe it to be terribly impolite, so a key phrase for Jez will be ‘Mungkin yah, mungkin tidak’, which means maybe yes maybe no! Another vital phrase is thank you, ‘terima kasih’.”
Jez, will learn the language through an intensive course of CDs and books and by getting out and talking with people.
Vicky said: “There are so many issues – land use, habitat destruction, the killing of macaques for food, the livelihoods of the local people. We have to weigh up what needs doing, what we are capable of doing, and where we can make the biggest difference in the shortest time. We have to be cost effective – visitors to Paignton Zoo have given us their hard-earned money to invest in conservation. We have a duty to spend it wisely.”
Jez grew up in Kent and the Peak District. A family holiday in Malawi when he was 13 kick-started his love of natural history. He became a keen birdwatcher and went on to study ecology at the University of East Anglia. A student field trip took him to Cambodia with the Wildlife Conservation Society in 2006, exploring forest never before surveyed by scientists. He worked for Birdlife International for three years on the IUCN Red List and setting research priorities.
His first goal is to immerse himself in the region and the issues surrounding macaques.
He said: “I’ll need to produce a workable conservation strategy as quickly as possible and start getting out and meeting local people. Education and communication is vital. We have ideas to create a web site and start a blog.”
Jez is looking forward to getting close to the amazing wildlife and the chance to make a real difference. On the downside there are the insects, the tropical heat and the food, which can be a bit dull. However, his busy schedule should allow some time for fun.
“My sport is ultimate Frisbee,” he said. “I think I might start a team to play on the beach!”
The Selamatkan Yaki programme is supported by the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, Antwerp Zoo, the University of Sam Ratulangi in the provincial capital of Manado, the Pacific Institute and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s local staff. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Asian Primate Group is also involved.
This little-known primate is probably in the top 10 endangered mammal species in South East Asia. In 2008 its IUCN red list status was raised from endangered to critically endangered to reflect a worrying decline in numbers. The IUCN definition of critically endangered is a species that is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild
(image: Jex Bird, who is learning Bahasa Indonesia for his work as field project manager for Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Indonesian-based NGO the Pacific Institute protecting the Sulawesi crested black macaque)
(from a press release)