Tag Archives: apes

Saving What Matters: Taking Sustainability Personally

I was asked to deliver a talk to the School of Arts, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University last week.  As I was preparing, I recorded a rehearsal version of the talk and posted that on YouTube:

This version cut off the bottoms of the slides, which included some important source links and some other information.  That information is visible in this PDF: MM talk to ADM Sept 2015 v4


Dr. Merrill will discuss her research on rainforest apes, how these experiences moulded her views on sustainability, and how everyone’s choices shape the future. She will share her adventures watching bonobos (Pan paniscus) in central Congo, and orangutans (Pongo abelii) in northern Sumatra. She will talk about some of the threats to these endangered primates, and how they connect to the decisions people in Singapore and all over the world make about what to buy and do. She will show why these actions and choices have repercussions that are relevant to the well-being of current and future generations of people everywhere. She will provide examples of how we can make better choices, and explain how these choices can have greater effects because of the way humans have evolved to learn.

Leuser Under Threat Again

And yet another sad but important recent article related to my upcoming talk, this time on the Leuser Ecosystem (where I studied orangutans at Suaq Balimbing and Ketambe research sites in 1999-2000) and the palm oil producer (PT. Aloer Timur) who is encroaching on its lowland forests.

A report produced by Greenomics Indonesia presents evidence from spatial monitoring and field observations that documents the clearing of High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests in a PT. Aloer Timur concession located inside the Leuser Ecosystem. RAN confirmed this destruction in June 2015. At the end of June, Greenomics released another report with photographic evidence showing PT. Aloer Timur had still been bulldozing HCS forests as of June 24, 2015.

From Rainforest Action Network

The Curse of Coltan

Planning another of those difficult talks about primate conservation, and came across this summary of the link to coltan mining in the DRC.

Passionist JPIC Australia

Columbite-tantalite — Coltan for short — is a dull metallic ore found in major quantities in the eastern areas of Congo. When refined, Coltan becomes metallic tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge. These properties make it a vital element in creating capacitors, the electronic elements that control current flow inside miniature circuit boards. Tantalum capacitors are used in almost all cell phones, laptops, computers, iPads, flat screen TV’s, pagers and many other electronics. The recent technology boom caused the price of Coltan to skyrocket to as much as $400 a kilogram at one point, as companies such as Nokia, Compaq, Dell, HP, Ericson, and Sony struggled to meet demand.

Coltan is mined through a fairly primitive process similar to how gold was mined in California during the 1800s. Dozens of men work together digging large craters in streambeds, scraping away dirt from the surface in…

View original post 649 more words

Latest article on the Palm Oil threat to the Leuser Ecosystem

A recent summary of the current challenges facing Leuser, where I went 16 years ago to study orangutans, then watched their home being desecrated by the relentless chainsaws.

“Right now, huge swaths of vital forest habitat in Indonesia are being cut, cleared and burnt to the ground to make way for industrial-scale palm oil inyourpalm480pxplantations. These illegal operations produce a cheap supply of palm oil to a voracious international market that is growing at an exponential rate. Demand for this vegetable oil has sky-rocketed in the past decade as palm oil companies have managed to keep consumers in the dark about the hideous crimes being committed against humanity, endangered creatures and the planet.

I hope I have managed to impart even a sliver of the exceptional uniqueness and immense beauty that is embodied by this special place. Only then can one begin to fully understand the weight of loss that is sustained with every single fallen tree. Yet the true measure of this problem extends far beyond the initial insult of deforestation and spreads like a virus into lives of hundreds of innocent people and animals alike. ” ~Heather Rally

Note especially Michelle Desilets’ comment: “May I suggest readers have a look at campaigns by groups such as the Rainforest Action Network and the Union of Concerned Scientists to urge manufacturers and retailers to source only deforestation-free, conflict-free Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.”   This problem is so big and so pervasive that a handful of us tree-huggers refusing Oreos is going to barely make a dent – the companies involved won’t budge without a large, organized push.  So by all means, reduce your complicity, but don’t forget to organize and collaborate for maximum effect.

Vernal Thoughts

Four quick thoughts on events that come around this time of year…

1. Solar zenith in Singapore and what the Equinox is all about

At 1:11 PM Singapore time, the sun passed directly overhead here in Singapore. Vertical structures cast no shadows.  We are a couple of days behind the Equinox, because we are about 1.3° North of the equator.  (For those of you who don’t grok what the Equinox is, it’s one of the two days of the year when the sun is directly overhead when viewed from the Earth’s equator.)

Equinox Day arc at 0° latitude (Equator) The arc passes through the zenith, resulting in almost no shadows at high noon. (from Wikimedia)

2. Earth Hour – how useful is it?

I’m all in favor of events that make people think seriously about sustainability. Earth Hour is meant to help people think about energy conservation, by asking people to turn off their lights for an hour (Earth Hour: 28 March 2015 at 8:30-9:30pm local time, wherever you are).  As this hour of “lights off” passes around the globe, we will no doubt save a lot of energy.  This is one of the bigger environmental events in Singapore, and lots of usually excessive lighting in/on skyscrapers goes dark for the hour. Perhaps, around the world, people will get to see more stars with darker skies, and remember that not everything needs constant illumination, and you can have a lot of fun in the dark.  I hope that’s how people take it.

However, I worry that people will continue to associate conservation with deprivation.  I’m all in favor of doing less with less when appropriate, but we can also do a lot more with less harm as well.  This event (and other “turn it off” events), perhaps fail to highlight that sufficiently, by putting the focus on sacrifice instead of innovation.

3. Ape-ril is almost upon us

Ape-ril is a great excuse for a silly fundraising campaign by my friends at Sumatran Orangutan Society.  Get in touch with the 96.4% of your genome that is indistinguishable from orangutans.  Gents, prepare to grow that facial hair!

Beards are beautiful (especially when orange)!

 4. Earth Day is April 22nd

Earth Day has been happening every year on April 22nd since a couple months after I was born. I believe this makes me one of the key organizers, somehow. Well, I was involved in planning local events in California for 9 or 10 of those years, starting in 1987 or 88 at Todos Santos Plaza in Concord, CA.

Earth Day has become a fairly international thing, but I haven’t been involved this year or in 2014, as it doesn’t seem to be celebrated here in Singapore.  I’m hoping all my friends back at Cabrillo Green Steps are getting party plans in place – I’ll be thinking about you.

Enjoy Spring!


Conservation Drones?

When I was slogging through the swamps and slipping down the mud-slicked trails of Sumatra, following orangutans, I often daydreamed about how the right tech would make the job so much easier.  I even started to write a novel about it.

Now one of those gizmos I so wished for is a reality: small aircraft with cameras that can get above the canopy to see what’s going on up there from a much better vantage than on the ground.  And a colleague and friend, Serge Wich, who worked in Zaire and then on Sumatra at roughly the same time as I did (but always much more skillfully and proficiently over much longer timeframes), got some support from National Geographic to set the things up.  Here’s some video of my buddy Serge Wich talking to Nat Geo reporters:

and here’s a TED talk by his co-conspiritor at ConservationDrones.org, Lian Pin Koh:

Great job, team!


News from Indonesia’s Forests

Visiting Mongabay.com/Mongabay.org is always an emotional roller-coaster.  The reporting is great, and what they have to say is… often not so great.  The latest news out of Indonesia (especially Sumatra) is a typically mixed bag.

Despite moratorium, Indonesia now has world’s highest deforestation rate 😦

Observational Learning in Sumatran Orangutans

Sumatran Orangutans, in lowland/wetland “protected” forest, just before the forest there was illegally, selectively logged in 1999.

ConAgra adopts greener palm oil policy 🙂

Elephant poaching soars as Sumatran forests turn into plantations 😦