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Taronga’s CEO Sumatra Challenge

In 2017, Taronga organised the CEO Sumatra Challenge. This group of CEOs, which included the Ottomin Foundation’s Chairman, Richard Kovacs, travelled to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, an area that has undergone massive human development, deforestation and agricultural growth, which has seriously threatened the Sumatran tiger and its habitat. In Sumatra, Taronga remains involved in a regional conservation for the tigers, which includes breeding, fundraising, research and community action to support sustainably-produced palm oil.

Dear Friends and Supporters,

Well we made it back safely from the wilds of Sumatra in what was an incredible ‘Challenge’. Following our transfer from Jakarta to south Sumatra, we headed to the Way Kambas National Park, which covers some 130,000 hectares and home to the rare Sumatran rhino (as few as 150 remain), tigers (as few as 400 left in the wild), elephants and sun bears. Inside this park we visited the Elephant Conservation Centre, which caters for rescued and endangered elephants. This free- range environment allows the elephants to roam about, supervised by a team of dedicated keepers. This facility places elephants in a protective space where previously they may have been literally bumping up against villages encroaching into their traditional territory. Never a good ending for the elephants.

Next, we spent time at the amazing Rhino Sanctuary. This Sanctuary area can be described as a giant pie, divided into various sections housing specific rhinos. The Sanctuary not only provides protection but also forms part of an important breeding program. We had the opportunity to get up close and personal with the rhinos, including feeding, hosing them down, and raking out the stalls. You realise just how pre-historic and precious these animals are and how any change to their environment can affect their numbers. We were put to work planting trees (future rhino food) in the park as part of an ongoing plant renewal program following logging in the area some years ago. This land clearance is typical in many areas of Sumatra and indeed Indonesia. The community education program on the ground in managing the local environment, combined with our shopping choices, such as understanding the palm tree oil content of products, will go a long way to sustaining the forest environment in places like Indonesia.

We embarked on a boat ride to head deeper into the forest and link up with an area wildlife protection unit. These mobile units are at the vanguard of protecting endangered animals from poaching and any other illegal activity. It’s pretty hard going for these guys, being isolated for days on end in difficult conditions. We ventured around with these units to get a first-hand look at the traps used by poachers and surveillance cameras placed strategically along animal routes. We constantly battled leeches everywhere – they line the tracks waiting to jump on to whatever animal goes by, in this case us! We stayed overnight in a large make-shift tent – we were warned about late night loo visits as the jungle was active at night and you wouldn’t hear a tiger or elephant until too late. Let’s just say it was a quick visit! Finally, the proof here has been the success of the anti-poaching squads, now numbering up to 200 members, allowing endangered animals to start recovering in numbers.

Some of my key observations and take-aways included:

  • At the end of the day, it’s all about these incredible, endangered animals, that require our human support to survive. If we are contributing to the threat to these animals, we must also be responsible for finding the solutions. It’s up to us today to ensure future generations appreciate these incredible animals.
  • The dedication of the on-the-ground keepers, vets, anti-poaching squads is remarkable and humbling at the same time. Looking after wild animals in Indonesia is not a glamorous job or a priority for most Indonesians. We felt that our role, in part, was to acknowledge the incredible service these people perform.
  • The amazing role Taronga Conservation Society is playing in the conservation and preservation efforts of critically endangered animals. Taronga’s partnership with the conservation teams in the Way Kambas National Park shows the importance of global partnerships. Taronga’s recent opening of the highly innovative Sumatran Tiger exhibit, replicating a small Indonesian village and entrance to the “Sydney” Way Kambas National Park is truly world class, including the exit shopping mall with a focus on making informed home shopping choices.
  • Financial support here goes a long way and can make a real difference. We are confident that our small contribution, including that of our supporters, will make a real difference. Thank you or terimah kasih in Indonesian.

Finally, we all felt privileged to have been given a unique insight here and I am sure we will all carry special memories of our visit for a long time to come.

Thank you for your support and to Taronga for making this happen.