Tesso Nilo National Park: the home of WWF Elephant Flying Squad (part 1)

By S. Kramer
Z_Sumatra_FlyingSQLocated in the Pelalawan Regency in Riau Province, Tesso Nilo was designated as national park by the Indonesian government in 2004 to protect the endangered elephant and Sumatran tiger’s population. Tesso Nilo is the home of about 150 wild elephants, about half of the whole elephant population in Sumatra. It is part of Bukit Tiga Puluh conservation area. The Flying Squad project was established by the WWF and the Dept. of Conservation of Riau Province to tackle the human-elephant conflict in the area by using a group of tamed elephants to push wild elephants back to the jungle, away from human populated area.
As we flew above the area of south Sumatra, we were presented with the view of neat green patches of palm plantation covering the vast expanded area of what used to be a dense rainforest, former home of Sumatran tiger, rhinos, elephants, and orangutans among others. Where do they have to live now?  The monotonous view of palm trees plantations, although appears beautiful, made us realize how serious the deforestation activities has been. No wonder that every year they experience forest fire in this area which also affected the neighboring countries like Malaysia and Singapore.
After a restful night in Pekanbaru the capital of Riau, we left for Tesso Nilo accompanied by local WWF staff. The uneventful road trip takes about 4 hours with the last leg of the trip going through the palm trees plantation on a dirt road. The encroachment problem in Tesso Nilo is apparently still ongoing. People came to claim a piece of land in the protected area and built their houses or open the forest for palm plantation. At some point of the trip, we past a short stretch of a paved road passing through a small village, and we were told that the big house was the home of the village chief who deserves to have a paved road.
IMG_1665IMG_1731When we arrived at the guest house in Tesso Nilo we were greeted by the staff who brought us a glass of cool ginger lime drink. Then, we joined the staff to cook brownies for the elephants. It consists of rice husks, chopped corn, and palm sugar, cooked in a big pot over a bonfire. The mix was then cooled down overnight and made into brownie balls.
After breakfast, we started the day with giving a bath ritual to all the squad members. There were 6 elephants altogether working as a group. One female elephant named Lisa was absent because she was heavily pregnant.  After the refreshing bath, they get their treats of brownie balls that we cooked the day before. It was rather a scary funny experience to hand feed the elephant since we have to put the food  into its big mouth while its trunk flying around free, ready to hit us anytime.
I got to ride on an old gentleman elephant called Rahman behind the Mahout (trainer).  We went through the forest area where the elephants roam overnight, passing small streams up and down the hills and valley and finally arrived on a waterhole where the elephants usually take a bath in the morning. The guide asked us if we want to bathe the elephant and I agreed immediately. The guide took the saddle, asked the elephant to kneel down and helped me to get back to its back again. Then he led the elephant into the water, brownish black from humus and organic materials leached by the rains from the peat soil. On top of the elephant’s back I could still keep myself dry until the elephant started to kneel down into the bottom of the river taking me into the refreshing black water. Then it was my turn to work scrubbing and cleaning the elephant’s back. After a half hour of refreshing spa, we got out of the water and continued our journey back to the lodge.
On June 1st, we received news that Lisa gave birth to a healthy baby girl in front of CCTV camera.

– Continued…

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South Maluku: Hidden paradise

By S. Kramer and W. Wang
Hidden under the protection of rocky cliffs and Mt. Binaya, Ora is a quiet, secluded beach with crystal-clear water, colorful schools of fish and coral inviting you to explore. The beach can only be reached by a small boat from the village of Saka.  Its remote location has kept its natural beauty from being spoiled by human activities from the outside world. There are some basic resorts on the beach that provide an all- inclusive and comfortable bungalows on stilts with coral reefs underfoot. In the evening you can listen to the sounds of sea creatures in the water while enjoying the starlit skies.
Both Ora and Sawai are places where you can relax, reconnect with nature and recharge your body, mind, and soul in a holistic natural way. Activities include exploring the Sawai river, hiking to visit waterfalls and snorkeling. You can also enjoy the local cuisine ranging from barbecued fresh fish and colo-colo salsa to simply a freshly picked coconut.
For nature lovers or avid birdwatchers, an overnight stay at the treetop platform is an extraordinary experience that should not be missed. On a platform 45 m high above the ground, you can see the tropical cockatoos, parrots, and other exotic bird species  chasing one another roaming free above the tree canopy.  Seram is one of the places that attracted ornithologists and naturalists, like Alfred Wallace and Sir David Attenborough, to observe and document the various species of wildlife in Maluku.
The Salmon-crested cockatoo, the endangered purple-naped lory and Moluccan scrubfowl are some vulnerable endemic species under protection of the national park and from poaching and trading. Other endemic non-bird species include the Asian musk shrew, wahai tree frogs, and mosaic tailed rat. Cuscus often appears along the Tebing Batu beach area during the night. Manusela National Park covers 189,000 hectares containing 28 restricted-range species under monitoring and conservation.  If you have several days to spend, a well-planned couple of days visit to the national park with a guide is worth the time and effort. When you return to Amahai through the forest, you can observe typical famous vegetation of Maluku.

Before reaching Ambon, your final stop before leaving Maluku, you might want to visit Waai to see the sacred moray eels. In Ambon, you can visit old relics of a Dutch fort and WWII common wealth memorial park where heroes of WWII were laid to rest. If you have more time, you can also visit traditional village of Soya to discover Ambonese royal family manor.

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Sangiran : The Early Man Site’s UNESCO world heritage, the home of the Standing-Ape Man (Pithecanthropus Erectus)

By S. Kramer

Located  15 km north of Solo in central Java,  Indonesia, Sangiran archaeological excavation site covers an area of 5600 hectares.  It was declared as the Unesco World Heritage:  Sangiran Early Man site in 1996. It is a key site for hominid studies where more than 100 hominid fossils from around 1.5 million years ago had been unearthed. This totals about half of all known hominid fossils in the world. The importance of this site is that it provides an archaeological record of physical and cultural hominid evolution in its environment.

In search for the missing link of human evolution, Eugene Dubois discovered the remains of a hominid called Pithecanthropus erectus in 1891. This species is also called the Java man. The excavation was continued by G.H.R Von Koenigswald, a German paleo-anthropologist, in 1930 assisted by the locals. Following the discovery of animal fossils in 1930, a jawbone of Meganthropus Paleojavanicus  was discovered in 1936 followed by the discovery of the Pithecanthropus Erectus skull in 1960. The species collection from the site include Meganthropus paleojavanicus (Von Koenigswald 1936), Pithecanthropus Mojokertensis (1936), Pithecanthropus Erectus, and Pithecanthropus Soloensis (1969). The skull of Pithecanthropus indicated a brain size about two times bigger than a chimpanzee’s and two third the size of modern human brain.

Referred as the bones of the giants by the locals, the legend of the village told a story of a young man with supernatural power named Bandung of Sangiran defended the village from the attacks of a group of giants.

Management of the area is divided into 4 sites. Krikilan is the visitor center, Ngebung was the site of the original discovery, Bukuran is the site of the hominid evolution, and Dayu as the site of current research. At least two days are needed to visit all the four areas.

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Galungan celebration in Bali

Photo by Kenneth F.

Photo by Kenneth F.

By W. Wang

Galungan is a unique 10 day Hindu celebration commemorating the victory of Dharma (good things) over Adharma (bad things).

Galungan is a very important event for Balinese people, who are predominantly Hindus. It is celebrated every 210 days and this year falls on May 21, 2014.

Galungan is not only the time for a full day of prayer but is also time for families. Most of the Balinese will travel home to their ancestral village and spend time with their families and tight village community. In preparation for Galungan, people sacrifice pigs at the temple a day before. The event itself is called ‘Nampah Celeng’. ‘Nampah’ means preparation to accept blessing from the gods and ‘Celeng’ means pig which represents laziness (thus it has to be destroyed). They will later use the meat for a family feast on the Galungan day.

During Galungan, every corner of Bali is decorated with many penjor (a pole made from a high, curving bamboo stick) adorned with fruit, flowers, and coconut leaves, which symbolizes prosperity. On Galungan day, Balinese people place as many penjor as possible to show gratitude and respect to God for his blessing.

The 10 day celebration will end with ‘Kuningan’ on May 31, 2014. Balinese people believe that on Kuningan day, all the gods, as well as the supreme deity Sanghyang Widi (God), will come down to earth and join the festivities for half a day. They also believe that the spirit of ancestors and deceased relatives return to visit their homes during Galungan will return to heaven on Kuningan day.

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Indonesian Cuisine

By W. Wang

Indonesian dishes is characteristically spicy and a variety of hot chili peepers are featured in most Indonesia dishes. Some of Indonesian popular dishes are now common across Southeast Asia. Last year,  after more than 35,000 votes on Facebook poll conducted by CNN Travel, two of Indonesian cuisines – ‘Rendang’ and ‘Nasi Goreng’ – have claimed the title of no. 1 and no. 2 ‘World’s Most Delicious Food’ – http://travel.cnn.com/explorations/eat/readers-choice-worlds-50-most-delicious-foods-012321

Officially made up of 13,677 islands, Indonesia is surrounded by seas and oceans, providing abundance of seafood. Fish is made into fresh pasta, salted, dried, smoked, or fried. The warm tropical climate of Indonesia also provides luscious and various exotic tropical/sub-tropical fruits and vegetables which can be found year-round – perfect ingredients for various dishes. Coconut for example is easily found everywhere and is used as cooking oil component or an ingredient in cooking.

Each of Indonesia province has more than one traditional cooking that differs from one another. Wide array of spices and chili are main ingredient in provinces like West Sumatra and North Sulawesi. West Sumatra is also where tourists can find various kinds of cooked meat. It is the home of world’s most delicious meal: Rendang Padang.

Rice is the most important part of a meal for the majority of the people. In some of the Eastern islands, rice is replaced by corn, sago, cassava and sweet potatoes. Different kinds of vegetable, soy, meat, chicken, and fish are main parts of Indonesia’s diet.

Pork is easily found in Bali, Papua, and highlands in N Sumatra and North Sulawesi. Pork is served at Chinese restaurant.

Coffee and tea are Indonesia’s abundant commodity. The most expensive coffee in the the world, coffee ‘Luwak’ is originated from Indonesia. Different regions produce their own unique beverages. The most common beverages locally produced across the archipelago is called  ‘Tuak’ which is made from fermented rice made from rice fermentation.Food

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Feast Tumpek Uduh

By W. Wang

The Full Moon, April 26, 2014

This is the day when Hindu people in Bali celebrate the Feast Tumpek Uduh/Tumpek Pengatag. Today is the day one of the Gods, Sanghyang Sangkara, descends from heaven to save and protect the life of all plants (the trees) as food source and the most important living things. He blesses all vegetation to be free from pests diseases, to live abundantly and to give other living creatures plenty of foods, more than ever before.

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Portuguese and Dutch influence

In the 16th century, Portuguese and Dutch traders sought spices in Indonesia. During this time, the Portuguese were quite rich on their amount of spices and continued to trade with Indonesia. The Portuguese traders caused influence with their music. Dutch people, however, made a much larger influence with Indonesia, being the European country to colonize Indonesia. When Dutch colonizers came, they influenced the Indonesian architect, religion, language, and government.

Despite Indonesia’s independence in 1945 (1949 in Dutch eyes), Dutch’s influences are still shown within many aspects of Indonesia today. For example Bahasa Indonesia, official language of Indonesia, uses the Dutch alphabet and pronunciations (Embassy of Indonesia “Indonesian Culture; Arts and Traditions”). Dutch also brought Old Dutch Penal Code and religious influence such as Catholicism and Protestantism over to Indonesia.

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