Saturday, April 21, 2007

A worthy cause.

Article from the Jakarta Post.

Greed, vanity leads to horror stories for wildlife
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Trisha Sertori, Contributor, Yogyakarta

On any day, a walk through Central Java's bird markets will net you dozens of Indonesia's endangered bird, reptile and mammalian species. The auburn-coated orangutans from Kalimantan, Sumatran tiger cubs that are bordering on extinction, baby sea eagles, the almost extinct white cockatoo from Papua, a veritable barrel of Sumatran gibbons, and a Sun Bear or two thrown in for good measure can all be had for the asking.

These animals are destined for the backyards of the wealthy, chained to dead tree limbs and shown off when guests visit. Or in the case of Sun Bears, these honey-loving bears from Kalimantan will have their paws cut off, their livers cut out and their blood bottled to make traditional Chinese medicines.

These are the animals that the Yogyakarta Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (PPSJ) -- a non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to animal rescue, rehabilitation and release, and education on conservation for the public -- searches out in the bird markets, in back alleys, caged behind shop fronts or dumped in garbage piles. And there are those delivered to the center by disgruntled owners who are no longer enamored with their now adult gibbons, so unlike the cute and cuddly babies they once were.

Trapping, selling and buying Indonesia's endangered wildlife is illegal, says zoologist Sugihartono, who heads the PPSJ, but the money to be made, the ease of passage from the archipelago's outer islands to Central Java's bird markets and a failure to enforce the laws protecting the nation's wildlife wealth means it's open slaughter.

And when it is understood that for eight orangutans to be in a Semarang market has cost the lives of 40 other orangutans, the horror grows. "We need to understand that for one orangutan to make it to market means three mothers were killed trapping three young. Two of the young die in transit, so for every one orangutan found in the market, five have died," Sugihartono explained. "It's tragic, and when that is coupled with loss of habitat through illegal logging and fires, you can see extinction written on the walls."

Rehabilitating these animals for release back into the wild is a long, slow and costly process, he continued, but highly worthwhile.

But the story of Sumatran gibbons rescued and now living at the PPSJ has no happy ending. According to Sugihartono, these magnificently arboreal primates can be rehabilitated, but never sent home to the jungles of Sumatra. "There is no longer a home for them to go to," he said, stroking the human-like hand of one of the dozens of gibbons now trapped in no man's land. "We can't send them back to Sumatra. Their forests are disappearing too fast and the minute we released them, they'd be shot. Sending them home is a death sentence," said Sugihartono, acknowledging that he is watching extinction of Sumatran gibbons in action.

To prevent this inevitable extinction and offer the PPSJ gibbons a home, what is desperately needed is the creation of a gibbon sanctuary in Sumatra, he said, but to date no one has stepped up to the plate with the land or funds needed.

The news is better for the six Sun Bears discovered caged at the back of a Chinese herbalist's shop on Yogyakarta's Jl. Malioboro. The Sun Bears from Kalimantan had been bought at a Central Java bird market and were destined to be killed for their paws, a highly valued but possibly useless ingredient in some traditional Chinese medicines.

"We found them in cages at the back of the shop. Fortunately, we were able to save them all. Rehabilitation and release is successful with Sun Bears. We have sent five Sun Bears home in the past and these will also be returned to the wild," said Sugihartono, spraying water to cool down one happy Sun Bear that looks cute -- until she roars and flashes her 10-centimeter claws in warning.

As well as mammals, bird life is also under threat across Indonesia, said Sugihartono, citing the six white cockatoos left in the wild in Papua, the 200,000 migratory birds trapped annually and cooked for sale in Indramayu, West Java, and the rare Java Sparrow that has made its home in Prambanan Temple, Central Java. "The greatest population of Java Sparrows in Java is just 40 birds. They breed at Prambanan Temple, but the management there cleans out the nests and eggs every year, so we are losing them also. We tried to convince the management that the birds are endangered and need protection, but the nests are still being swept away," said Sugihartono.

The short-sightedness of aiding the endangerment or extinction of a species through trapping or outright shooting is staggering, according to Sugihartono.

Indonesia's wildlife disappearing act

Indonesia's reputation for loss of species is growing legendary.

In 2003, the IUCN-The World Conservation Union identified in Indonesia that:
* 147 mammal species were on the verge of extinction
* 114 bird species were on the verge of extinction
* 91 fish species were on the verge of extinction
* 28 reptile species were on the verge of extinction
* 28 invertebrate species were on the verge of extinction

Four years later, it is reasonable to believe the numbers of species under threat of extinction has grown, and that some of these species have already been lost forever.

'Adopt an Animal' program

Funding the rescue, rehabilitation and release of Indonesia's illegally captured wildlife is an expensive exercise. Feeding, housing and preparing just one sea eagle for eventual release into a national park costs Rp 81,000 per month. Rehabilitating and releasing an orangutan costs Rp 191,000, and a cassowary Rp 258,000 per month.

Over the past year, the Yogyakarta Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (PPSJ) has housed, fed and rehabilitated almost 600 animals at a cost of around Rp 450 million.

To help in its fund-raising efforts, the center has started an animal adoption program through which the public can "adopt" an animal at the center.

Adoptive parents can choose the animal they wish to sponsor through the rehabilitation and release process.

For more information on the program, contact the PPSJ at (0274) 7493977 or email maskutilang@yahoo.com.



It's been a while since blogging. This seems to becoming a constant refrain, an opener if you will, for just about every post lately...or is it just that I’m thinking it is? No matter. Truth to tell, not much has been going on lately. The weeks are falling by with regular constancy, its work, family, gym, and on the weekends the occasional night out with friends. I’ve been following the news avidly each day, the ‘Australian’ (right wing garbage most of the time but gives an interesting perspective from the ‘other side’, the ‘SMH’ (somewhat colloquial, yet endearingly left of centre most of the time), the ‘Age’ for a somewhat stodgy conservative outlook yet seems to refuse to play sides, and the Jakarta Post for national news and at times a good laugh at the machinations of the Indonesian government, business, police, military and so on. The comments made by various officials are at times hilarious, not sure if it’s due to the translation or what, but it’s hard to imagine how they can say what they do with a straight face.

In particular, the cops come up with classic lines. Take this guy for instance. One Adj. Comr. Hilarius Duha (I kid you not), head of the crime unit for Jakarta. His men shot and killed one robber and arrested another two. One escaped. Hilarius said the four men were suspected of two burglaries, the first one in Senen and the second in Joharbaru. Hialrius goes on to say: "In Senen, they were caught in the act, but managed to escape with the loot after a shoot-out, while in Joharbaru they robbed an empty house," he said. Shot for robbing an empty house? Makes you wonder what would have happened if the house had something in it.

Had a phone call from my eldest brother in Sydney this morning which was a welcome surprise. Haven’t spoken to him since I was in Sydney last July. He tells me his eldest daughter is turning 21 in two weeks time and the second eldest just turned 18. You know you’re getting older when the kids around you start to become adults, then it all comes crashing home. I remember bouncing his daughters on my knee, motorbike parked outside, hair a respectable length and leather jacket and jeans my favourite mode of dress. Not sure the daughters would appreciate my bouncing them on my knee these days, then again my crook right knee would probably collapse, don’t have the motorbike anymore, sold that in the dim dark past of my twenties, hair is just about all gone now, (I’m threatening to shave it all off if it doesn’t quit receding), lost the leather jacket (or did I give it to a charity-the memory is a bit faulty on this one) and the jeans, well ok, the jeans are still a favourite item. Bro is turning 50 next year, which means I’m no longer all that young myself. Ye gods. Where on earth have the years gone?

While chatting, he asked me how long we had been over here and I said without even thinking that it will be five years when my contract comes due next June. Then the reality sunk in. Five years? We will have been in Indo five years next June? Another ye gods is in order. Time does go faster as you get older, the weeks whiz by and before you know it, plans are being made for Christmas etc. Maybe I should be following my brother’s example. Every year he sets himself a goal of some sort and works towards it. Last year he climbed Kilimanjaro, the year before it was a trek through the mountains of New Zealand, this year it was wandering the hills and dales of Tasmania, now he tells me he is thinking of a trek through a place in Chile. Incredibly fit with his climbing, biking and what have you, I can only hope to be like him when it’s my turn to hit the big 50.

So, five years in Indo next June. He asked me what our plans were for after my contract and while we have been pondering this very issue lately, there have been no ‘eureka’ moments. No epiphanies, no bright lights flashing, light bulbs appearing and so on. It would be nice if someone would come along, look over everything then give professional advice. “Well Mr.D” (adjusting the pince-nez and glancing briefly at his assembled notes), your next step is to…” and at this moment all is revealed. We would thus pack and move on confident that the next step was the best option available, leading us safely to the twilight years. Given that this is not going to happen, some serious contemplation will be in order for the next few months. It is coming to crunch time, either return to Australia and settle down, climb the educational ladder and raise the kids in the burbs, or continue on, heading off to another country in SE Asia in pursuit of the good life and interesting moments.

In my 20’s I used to think that the meaning of life would be apparent by the 40’s, I would have it all figured out, comfortable in the wisdom gained through the years. Ha! No one told me that the 40’s are merely an extension of the 20’s. You still don’t know everything, nor have the answer for most things, still make mistakes, still look at other guys of your age group and wonder how they do it, still dream of making it somewhere/somehow (though the term ‘making it’ has ever changing guidelines of just what that is) and still have the whole world available to travel, experience and live in. I used to think that time was this immense thing in front of me, stretching into the far distance, no need to worry about pensions, stocks, property values and so on. Instead, l realise I don’t have a pension plan, don’t play the sharemarket and don’t have much in the way of savings in the bank. I guess I should be concerned. Then again, I’m not. I have always lived by the principal that things will take care of themselves with a bit of gentle shoving and pulling along the way. And in most cases they have. If one were to measure life purely by material wealth, then we are comfortable (as long as the house in Perth doesn’t burn down- the boom in real estate there has it sitting quite pretty these days), and as long as I can work to pay the bills all is ok. If one were to measure life by those moments that truly standout, then again, I don’t have much to complain about. Living here has certainly made life interesting.

If the standard was by attainment of a higher order of thinking, then most probably I would fail miserably. “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance” was put aside years ago; I rarely sit with friends, red wine in hand and discuss philosophy, nor do I get all heated up by the doings of politicians/businesses or governments. Sure, I get the snarls at blokes like Howard who have destroyed Australia and what it means to be Australian, and I don’t like whaling, I think Bush is a first class idiot nor do I believe that the UN is effective. But it’s all a matter of perspective. One knows that time moves on, and what is maybe the big thing right now is not going to be in a month, a year or two years from now. Remember Pauline Hanson? What about Jo Bjelke Petersen? Apartheid? The Berlin wall, the list goes on. I’m not advocating sitting back and doing nothing, but I do believe that no matter how much we think something is the biggest thing this century, it eventually gets buried in the flotsam and jetsam of life. Time moves us all along. Yes, we can make decisions which will have wide ranging ramifications down the years, and yes, we can force change where needed, and yes, we should not be complacent. But I think we should also be aware that the accumulation of wealth, the charging about on white horses, the efforts to create a utopian world, all of these are dust motes in the timeline of life, the universe and everything. I’m not a supporter of nihilism, nor am I standing for cynicism, instead I believe in reality checks. I argue for less conviction, less patriotism, a lightening of rigid beliefs and standards, an admission by experts that they are not experts, and a heightened understanding that no matter what we do today, next month it all looks different. Further, that for the majority, seemingly earth shattering events are but incidents to be viewed from the outside, possibly commented upon, then forgotten or filed away to be reviewed at a later stage.

Last week a house that is being built a few streets away partly collapsed, 3 workers were killed, and another 6 injured. For the following few days, every time I passed the house there was a crowd of onlookers standing around gazing at the rubble that littered the front of the house. It was big news, and caused a lot of gossip as to the owner, the builder, safety standards etc. Undoubtedly, the families of those killed and injured are working their way through grief and loss. Yet for the wider community, it was a spectacle, a thing to look at and wonder about, pointing at the fallen columns, the heap of cement, and the broken bricks. Today when I drove past there were no onlookers, instead a group of workmen clearing away the rubble. By Monday I know when I drive past it will all be cleared and the building will go on. No trace of the catastrophe that had occurred. Outside of those immediately affected, life moves on unchanged, waiting for the next spectacle to go and see and gossip about.

This incident brings to mind the question of just what is important for all? Life is a microcosm of events that affect some directly, some indirectly, and most not at all. We read and watch the news about Iraq but does it directly affect us? Or the crisis in Afghanistan, Sudan, the Congo, and so on. It doesn’t. Some will get all het up about it, others will shake their heads in disbelief/anger/horror then go back to their own lives, some will shrug and ignore it all, but in the final analysis, what happens elsewhere doesn’t directly affect them. Thus, while we can feel responsible, feel that we should do something, anything, to help, the majority does nothing tangible. And that is my point. We can’t really know what is important in life, it’s mostly guesses or outside influences (politics, religion, values). Most focus on something and that becomes our reason for living. Suffice to say that unless it directly affects us, most will continue on paying the bills, working, and trying to make a difference within our own sphere of influence.

We can go out and help those in need (in which case it becomes ‘my cause’), and many good women and men have done just that, or we can look and focus on what needs doing within our own paradigm of life and influence. I think the key is to recognise just what that sphere of influence is and then act upon it. For me, it’s my family, myself, my friends, my students, and so on. Notice that the one constant word is ‘my’. If I were a politician, then it would be my community, my district, my country and so on. We are all seemingly obsessed by how things relate to ‘me’ and for good reason. Consciously or not, we recognise that our time on this earth is limited. Time waits for no one (to use such a cliché is forgivable here). Thus, for me, while I am now looking at the last 20 – 30 years of my life if I don’t get hit by a speeding becak, I don’t worry so much about those things I can’t change but instead try to focus on the things I can. I stay informed of world events not to ‘tsk,tsk’ but to observe, learn, and study as to how it influences the world around me, how I can make changes in my world based on what I’ve learnt, and I think that goes for most people. I hope.

So how did this all start? Ah yes, the prospect that in a years time my world will change. And those directly influenced by it will be my wife and children. Their world is part of my world and vice versa. I’ll let you know in about ten month’s time what this world will look like. Just have to keep an eye out for the becaks.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Easter or "Eastre"

This Easter was all a bit ho hum, most probably due to it not feeling like Easter, no hot cross buns etc combined with only having Friday off. Not much else to do except go out for dinner Friday night at a nice five star buffet where they grilled yummy king prawns and endlessly filled ones empty wine glass (all made for a slow wakeup call on Saturday) then spent a quiet weekend with the kids. We did do the obligatory egg hunt for the first time given the kids are now old enough, well, Lil C is, I think Lil D was a bit mystified by the whole process and who can blame him? A life size rabbit bounding about delivering eggs then some idiot goes and hides them to be found after a frustrating search, you then sit around trying to eat one, discover hard boiled egg is just a touch dry, spit it out, give the rest to the cat (who sniffs disdainfully and wanders away) and raid the fridge for the chocolate eggs stashed away artfully behind the molding lettuce. Eat copious amounts of chocolate then go into a sugar induced frenzy and attack your older sister…ah yes, Lil D had a good day of it.

Turned on the TV that evening and switched to ABC news only to find various old codgers of various institutionalised (giving rise to the thought that maybe they should be) religions waffling away on whatever rules/beliefs/guidelines they are meant to toe the line on. Promptly switched to DVD and spent the evening watching season 5 of the Sopranos. Tony and his guilt ridden excesses make far better watching on a Sunday evening.

Given that Easter is not exactly a Christian born event but rather the product of pagan rituals subverted by a church keen to seek converts and gain control of the masses (no pun intended), it does give one pause to think about its origins.

Easter embodies many pre-Christian traditions. While its origins were in the early years clouded by mysticism and misinformation, it is generally accepted that a certain chap in the 8th century by the name of St.Bede (and don’t ask me why he is a saint-possibly invented beedies?) hit the proverbial nail on the head when he declared that the mystery was solved and Easters origins come from the Scandinavian “Ostra” and Teutonic “Eastre”, Goddesses of spring and fertility celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox. Vernal is the Latin derivative of spring, thus the spring equinox which occurs around March 20 every year. ‘Equinox’ by the way, is when “the center of the Sun spends an equal amount of time above and below the horizon at every location on Earth” (Wikpedia).

Such festivals, and the stories and legends that explain their origin, were common in ancient religions. “Greek legend tells of the return of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, goddess of the earth, from the underworld to the light of day; her return symbolized to the ancient Greeks the resurrection of life in the spring after the desolation of winter. Many ancient peoples shared similar legends. The Phrygians believed that their omnipotent deity went to sleep at the time of the winter solstice, and they performed ceremonies with music and dancing at the spring equinox to awaken him.” (Wagnalls, 2005). Apparently the Saxons, always up for a good time, made merry over the return of spring in a good old fashioned hoe down of a festival.

Then along came the early Christian missionaries who took one look at the festival and decided that by merry happenstance it coincided with the Christian observance of the Resurrection of their Christ. If you want to change the ways and traditions of a people, what do you do? Don’t throw out everything. Spread the religious message through the pagan festivals by claiming them as your own. It made sense to alter the festival and make it a Christian celebration, winning the converts over time. The early name, “Eastre”, was eventually changed to “Easter” in 325 AD by Constantine. However, there are several traditions associated with the festival that have survived such as the Easter rabbit, a symbol of fertility, and coloured eggs used to symbolize spring and traded about as gifts.

Easter is further confused by the fact that it is not just based on a pagan tradition but also the Jewish festival of Passover which is celebrated for 8 days and commemorates the flight and freedom of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The early Christians were by and large raised in Jewish households thus viewed Passover favourably. It was a natural step to replace Passover with something of their own, hence they chose the suitably timed "Eastre".

So, there you have it, Eastre, or if you prefer, Easter, in a brief nutshell. Pass the buns.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Start of the Week

Well, today was a bit of an ‘oops’. In fact, the past few months seem to have been leading up to this point. I hurt my right knee some time ago, though have no idea how and have been hobbling around, particularly if I have been sitting for too long, it gets tight and sore. So, finally went to an orthapedic surgeon on Friday who tells me I have a stressed knee and try to avoid climbing stairs. Given that my school is over four floors and I’m regularly going up and down this was wasted advice but he did manipulate it and something must have gone right cos afterwards I felt as if it was not so bad. Still sore, but not nearly as bad. He did want me to do an MRI just to check it all out but found out it cost a fair amount so I’m waiting to hear if the school supplied insurance will cover it. If not, bugger it. Better things to do with that sort of money.

Then today. Head to the gym, hit the weights, and am doing incline dumbbell presses when on the third set I lose my concentration. God knows what I was thinking of, but you know how it is, thoughts flitter across and before you know it, the mind is examining the possibilities of the June break rather than on the job at hand. Next thing I know, my left arm just gives way under the weight of the 40kg dumbbell and the arm twists back and I drop the dumbbell with an almighty thump. Everyone in the gym turns and looks at me so I’m thinking this is not a good look. At the same time as I’m dropping the bell I hear, very distinctly, a soft ripping noise, akin to tissue paper being torn. Oh hell, torn muscle. Bugger, bugger, bugger. Avoided the rest of the dumbbell workout and did some machine work instead, but I’m feeling the damage. Have to admit, it was dumb, very dumb, not to focus on how the arm was holding up while carrying the dumbbell. That I’ve been so careful these past 7 months on the weights, knowing that an injury is easy to come by, makes this event doubly irritating. So, now I’m one crook knee and one sore shoulder.

Maybe I should head for the old folks farm.

On a lighter note, we are now planning our June break, the cause of the aforementioned accident, and looking forward to it. We were tossing around the idea of North Sulawesi but hear it’s pretty isolated up there, relaxing maybe, but no where to go. The diving is supposed to be spectacular but given Lil C and D are too young to strap on the tanks!, we figure maybe Amed on Bali’s east coast is a better bet. On the beach, quiet, relaxing, but still in range of places to go to if the need arises to do some sightseeing. Hear there are some lovely hotels around there, and then we’ll head to Sanur for a few days. We’ll see.

Lil C is looking a bit peaky at the moment, this from a girl who never gets sick. Refused her dinner last night and tonight, and looking quite pale around the gills. Early to bed, hope she is doing better tomorrow. If not, a trip to the local doc to get her checked out.

Lil D on the other hand is fast becoming a handful. Correction. He is a handful! Loves the kitten we now have, and delights in finding ways to make life as tough as possible for it. We are continually rescuing the poor thing yet it seems to like Lil D and will usually seek him out for some rough housing. Just hope it survives.

C is hard at work on her studies, spending hours reading and writing up her assignments. It’s a tough course. Most students are doing 12 points in the first year, then 18 in the second. She’s doing 30 points in twelve months. Reading the course materials brings back a lot of the stuff that thankfully I left behind. There is only so much room in a classroom for the lofty ideals of educational academics. Assignments are flowing in and out at the moment and she will be heading back to Australia in May for another two week intensive course.

Looking at the papers today brings some news. Air safety person made a statement that the black box of the ill fated Garuda flight reveals an argument between pilot and co-pilot on whether to come around again or land. This was later denied by another official.

The rail way track which connects southern east Java has finally succumbed to the mud flow, as has the main road. Malang is now cut off except for the roundabout road which adds up to four hours driving between Surabaya and Malang. Officials have also warned that the gas pipeline (running alongside the road) is in imminent danger of collapsing as well. No mention has been made of the fact that under the road runs the one major communication line to Bali which provides all phone and internet to the island. When this goes Bali will effectively be cut off. The tourist industry will be in turmoil if it goes, but as yet, no plans have been announced of running an alternative cable to Bali. Also running under the road is a water pipeline which supplies 20% of Surabaya’s water. Guess some areas can expect sever shortages when that goes. SBY (President) has ordered the building of a new road, gas pipeline and railway line to bypass the mud flow but estimates run to two years for completion.

So, another week has begun.


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