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I’m now back in the uk and before I start posting some other footage and photos I took whilst I was away I’d like to say a final thank you to everyone that supported this project this summer. I am so very grateful to everyone for all the donations 🙂 Your donations enabled me to: – run education workshops in 5 local schools for over 500 seven to eleven year olds all about monkeys, conservation and protecting the forests. Particular thanks to The Canning Trust for this element of the project.

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– work with local communities to install netting around farmer’s fields to help prevent monkeys coming in to the farm and stealing crops. This reduces conflict with farmers and helps protect the monkeys. 25 farmers benefitted this year.

– Provide farmers in the village of Kawelli with chilli and vegetable seeds to plant in their farms. These crops aren’t damaged by monkeys so frequently so this helps to reduce conflict and protect the monkeys.

– Employ 6 local people for 9 weeks to track the monkeys in the forest. They collected data on home range, feeding, behaviour and group composition. This information is vital to monitor the population sizes of the macaques and to help create sustainable management plans to mitigate conflict with local people.

There is so much more to do but none of this would have been possible without your help so thank you!

You can read all about the monkeys and the school visits and the wildlife of the Island on my previous posts – just scroll down 🙂

Thank you thank you thank you! 🙂 xxx

If anyone wants to donate to the project you can do so here :

Help save the Buton Macaque!!

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Time to say goodbye

My time on the island is at an end for this year and I’m now back in Java finishing up and waiting for my exit permit to return to the uk.

So it was bye bye to the monkeys and the amazing wildlife of the buton forests.

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And farewell to lazy La Bundo days

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And a big thanks to my team of monkey guides

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Then I was off for the 3 hour drive back to the capital, Bau Bau.

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I was lucky enough to be able to secure a flight back to the mainland this time so it was straight to the airport to check in.

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Then it was a short flight on a small plane from Bau Bau to Makassar

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Bye bye Buton!

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And hello Makassar!

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Then it was another final flight back to Jakarta.

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Now it’s just a case of waiting for my exit permit to be processed. It’s been an amazing field season this year and I’ve got so many more photos and videos to share so once I’m back I’ll upload more for you all to see 🙂 A mahoosive thanks to everyone that made this work possible this year – I’m tremendously grateful and so are the monkeys! 🙂

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The forests I work in face many threats which makes the work that’s being done here so important.

Logging is a familiar problem for forests all over the world and Buton is no exception. Thankfully due to the terrain (hilly!) illegal logging is not as serious as it could be here, at least not once you get a few km’s from the road, but it is still a significant issue.

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Small scale extraction of timber by locals also takes place. This is mainly for domestic use for farm fences, housing and fire wood. Individually it’s not a massive problem but when everyone is doing it it can still have a big impact.

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Rattan extraction is another problem. Rattan is a palm and the rattan canes (rather like vertical runners it sends up in to the canopy) are harvested and sold for export for the furniture trade. They’re used to make that classic conservatory furniture I’m sure you’ve all seen. Huge quantities are taken out the forest every day.

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New trails and access-ways are being opened up in the forest every day. This trail was opened in the last months. They are creating a trail from the road, through the forest, up to farmland on the other side of the forest. They are planning to ‘pave’ it with rocks dug up from the forest and the idea is to create a road for motorbikes and push-carts to help transport the harvests down from the farms. The government is also widening the road that runs around the island which is further eating in to the forest.

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Farmland is being opened up all the time on the edges of the forest and is gradually nibbling away at the forest. In fact one village not too far from La Bundo Bundo has, in the last 5 years, relocated itself illegally to just inside the reserve and opened up a huge area of farmland within the reserve. Sadly no one seems able, or willing, to do anything about it.

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Buton Island’s main export is asphalt. The soils are rich with seams of it, much of which is sadly beneath the forests. More recently deposits of Nickel ore have been found across the island and it is now being mined at a terrific rate. Vast piles of Nickel ore rich soil lies waiting to be loaded on to ships at makeshift jetties to be exported for refining. Most worrying of all large seams of oil and gas have been found beneath the forests. Two years go the oil company Japex surveyed the forest leaving a trail if destruction in their wake as they cut enormous trails, cleared huge areas for helipads and left all their rubbish and waste in the forest. Thankfully so far they haven’t moved to start extracting it. Hopefully the cost will be prohibitive, as if they do start that will be the end of these forests forever.

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It’s not just the forests themselves that are at risk. The animals within them are too. Hunting for food is thankfully not a massive problem but it does take place. The balinese transmigrant communities go hunting regularly with their dogs. They hunt for pigs (the wild endemic sulawesi warty pig) but will catch and kill other animals too if they can. The endemic Anoa (a small, highly endangered, forest buffalo) is also hunted for food. So much so that they’re rarely seen now. In 13 years I’ve only ever seen 3 individuals.

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Other animals are trapped to be kept – either for breeding stock like the jungle fowl (a wild chicken and the ancestor of all domestic chickens), or to be kept and eaten at a later date like the deer.

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I met these little boys one day on the way back from the forest. They were out fishing. When I asked them about it they told me they were catching little fish from around the padi fields to keep as pets. I thought that was quite sweet, then they clarified that they’d just keep them until they were bigger and then eat them! 🙂

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Birds are often trapped to be kept as pets. Hornbills are particularly sought after but children will catch the little Sulawesi hanging parrots and smaller birds too. Sadly none live long in captivity. This little boy’s parrot had just died. His older brother had caught it for him. As sorry as I felt for the little boy it was such a tragedy – such a beautiful little bird’s life wasted for no reason at all.

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There is also a local Bajo (or sea gypsy) community which lives just off the coast not far from La Bundo. Although traditionally a nomadic seafaring culture they are now semi-settled but still live mostly at sea building off shore temporary housing on stilts. They are particularly fond of keeping birds – especially sea eagles and small parrots.

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Monkeys are also kept as pets. Usually they are not actively trapped or hunted though. Often people end up with them when infants are dropped by the adult females when being chased from the farms. People pick up the infants thinking they are doing the right thing, not realising that if they left it the mother would most likely return and collect it. Monkeys rarely do well as pets. They may last a few years like the two pictured here but once they start to mature they become difficult to handle and aggressive and are either killed or left tied up and ignored to die a slow and lonely death. Usually the infants don’t make it past a few months. People don’t know how to look after them and they die of malnutrition and stress. The little baby monkey I found in the village last year sadly died a few months after I saw him – from what his owners tell me it sounds like it was malnutrition. In a way though it was probably for the best as he has at least been spared a life of misery.

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Reptiles aren’t immune to these threats either. The giant frogs which inhabit the streams here are hunted for food and very occasionally salt-water crocodiles are trapped and kept in small pits as pets. Turtles are also trapped and kept either tied up to jetties or in small wooden cages in the water. Their eggs are also collected and sold at the market.

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So as you can see, this may be a small island and there are protected areas on the island but the wildlife and forests here are under tremendous threat. This is why the work I do is so important and why I’m so grateful to everyone who has supported the project this year 🙂

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As someone who is somewhat vertically challenged I feel I have an affinity with the smaller beasties of this world so I wanted to share with you some of the smaller beauties in the forest. This post is just a collection of photos of flowers and small beasties – some beautiful, some not so, but all wonderful. I’ll let the pictures do the talking 🙂

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Cicada

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This scorpion I found in my room!

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This big beast is a long horned beetle ( with a big bite!)

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The monkeys aren’t the only primate on Buton island. One other tiny little primate lives here – the tarsier.

This tiny little primate, no bigger than my fist, is nocturnal. They live in small family groups and feed on insects. They’re called tarsiers because of their massively elongated tarsal (ankle) bone which enables them to jump huge distances – they can jump over 7 metres, that’s like us jumping over an office block! They have enormous eyes, each eye ball is bigger than it’s brain, and it’s stomach.

They spend the day tucked up inside fig trees and venture out at night to hunt for insects. As they leave their sleeping tree, and in the morning when they return, they call to each other and this is how we find them in the forest.

Here is a little recording of their calls

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And some footage of one of them coming out of the sleeping tree (apologies for the occasional camera flash and me whispering in Indonesian to my guide! 🙂 )

I particularly like tarsiers as they look like they’re smiling 🙂

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They scent mark the branches, urinating and using their hind feet to spread the scent around the branch

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Here is some amazing footage from some camera traps set up by a friend of mine, Vicki Tough from Canopy Access Ltd.  It gives a rare insight on to what they get up to when they’re inside their sleeping trees. He looks like he’s doing a little dance! 😉

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The last of the three troops I work with is the Kakenauwe troop of monkeys. I thought it was about time introduced them to you. This troop lives in the Kakenauwe Forest reserve which is just next to the village of La Bundo Bundo. They also come out into the coffee, coconut and cashew plantations and occasionally into the surrounding farmland.

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The reserve has been heavily selectively logged and as a result has fewer large trees and a lot more undergrowth. This makes it a challenging place to follow the monkeys. One thing it has a lot of though, and one reason the monkeys thrive here, is a large number of fig trees.

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Like the other troops we start early in the morning and try to find the monkeys at their sleeping tree. My guides for this troop are Tamrin and Adi .

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If we’re lucky the monkeys are at the sleeping tree, if not then we have to search for them.

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Once we find them we watch them and record their behaviour every 20 mins and record what they’re eating etc. The fig trees are up to 40m tall and watching the monkeys at the top can give you a bit of a sore neck so bless my guides, they made a little bench near one of the fruiting figs the monkeys were spending their time in!

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This gives a little idea of what it’s like following the monkeys through the forest

You can see how hard it can be to spot the monkeys

But sometimes you get amazing views. This troop has over 35 members, including 8 infants. When they move through the forest though they are often very spread out so you tend to see only a few at a time.

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They spend their days foraging for food and then resting in the shade, grooming and playing.

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As well as foraging in the forest they also come out into the cashew and coconut plantations which involves crossing the road. There’s only one road on the island so this is the main thoroughfare for the island and has quite a bit of traffic but it doesn’t seem to bother the monkeys much!

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The Kakenauwe forest has a few other surprises too. The forest is growing on limestone karst which is essentially fossilised coral. It means there’s not much topsoil, frequent tree falls and that the rocks are flipping sharp if you happen to fall on them (as my shredded knee and shin are testament to!). It also means there are lots of caves! Usually full of bats 🙂

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Including this handsome little fellow – Rhinolophus philippinensis

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The forest is also home to Damar trees. These trees are highly valued by the locals as when the bark is cut it produces a resin which when hard can be used as a natural, fragrant firelighter. For many people who still use wood fires for cooking this is a god send as it saves spending money on kerosine or other lighter fuel.

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Tamrin has a few trees he harvests resin from every year. All he has to do is cut the bark this year and return next year to collect the resin. This year he decided to cut a slightly more unusual pattern in the bark though … 😉

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One of the most important, and enjoyable, parts of my work out here is the education workshops I do with the local school children. Over the past 13 years I’ve run workshops in schools across the island. Thanks to the generosity of The Canning Trust and everyone who sponsored me and donated to my fund raising activities I have been able to continue this work this year too.

Basically it involves half day workshops in local primary schools (age 6/7 – 11). With the help of Pak Mantan, the ex-headman of La Bundo Bundo who is also a well loved local elder, I do a range of activities with the children. This year we did an interactive presentation, held drawing competitions, made posters for the schools and activity books for the children. The focus is on monkeys but we talk about preserving the forest for all animals.

This blog post is a bit photo heavy but I think the best way to show you all what it’s like is to see the photos 🙂 so I apologize now!

To start with though here is a little video to give a taster of the presentation

We take all our own kit to the schools. They have no electricity so we have to take a generator too (which is unfortunately a little temperamental!)

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The children are usually pretty excited about the workshops – in fact they are queueing up to get in 🙂 And their parents and siblings often peek in from doors and windows to watch too!

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And now on to the workshops! 🙂

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There’s a great little project going on in La Bundo Bundo village, in conjunction with the forestry department who manage the two forest reserves. It’s a reforestation project. Several of the local guys, my guides, are involved. They collect seedlings of two species of tree which are common to the forest but have been targetted for logging in the past – Bayam and Mangga Hutan (local names).

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When they’re out in the forest they collect young seedlings from places they won’t survive – like the edges of trails or roads. They then take these back to the village.

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Back in the village they’ve made a little propagating shelter and they plant up the seedlings there. They cut the leaves back to stimulate growth and nurture them for a few months there, keeping them watered and shaded.

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After a few months the seedlings are transplanted back into the forest in areas which have been logged. They have a target of 5000 seedlings that they hope to plant. It’s a small but vitally important little project and it’s brilliant to see the local guys so involved and excited about it. 🙂

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The wildest of the monkey troops I work with is the la Pago troop. They are the only troop out of the three that live completely in the forest, never venturing into the farmland so they’re of particular interest as they offer a glimpse of truly wild behaviour.

It’s a fair trek to get in to the area of forest they live in. Me and my guide Ludin trek in from the road through ever denser forest.

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It’s a nice trek with only a few hills! On a recent trek in we decided to take a different route and came across a local sacred site known as ‘rumah fobula’, or ‘house of the white mango’. It’s quite an amazing place. It appears out of nowhere on a hill, suddenly the forest gives way to a patch of rattan palms and then what looks like a perfectly cleared farm with a small hut and a pair of stone graves. Behind the farm is a large, gnarled and twisted old mango tree – the White mango.

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Local Legend has it that a long time ago one of the Sultan’s of Buton came to this place after escaping persecution. He and his wife arrived with nothing but one mango and one sheath of rice seedlings. They ate the mango and let the seeds drop to the forest floor where a new mango tree grew. When the mango fruited though the fruits were white skinned, not green and yellow like normal mangoes. The one sheath of rice was not enough to plant out a full farm but he began to plant it anyway and from that one sheath a hectare of rice plants grew. To this day the locals say that when the mango fruits, the fruits are still white (sadly it wasn’t mango season while I was there to see this!). After these two miracles became known to local people they would come to the Sultan to ask for blessings. After the Sultan and his wife died they were buried in the farm.

Their graves are still visited today. Anyone who comes to this site must remove their shoes before entering the farm and contribute to keeping the area clean and clear of weeds etc.

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Local people come before the harvest time to wish for good harvests, to ask for help when loved ones are sick and to wish for children or whatever it is they desire. They come with a village elder bringing water to be blessed and a small amount of food. It’s said no matter how little food you bring there will always be plenty for everyone when it comes to eating it in this place. They sit in the farm hut and offer prayers and bless the water and then return to the village.

The whole village also come here after the cashew harvest. If it has been a good year they bring some of the harvest as thanks. They spend the morning here then return to the village for ‘Pesta Panen’ or harvest party where they share food and drink and dance the night away to celebrate the cashew harvest. 🙂

So after that interesting little detour we carried on into the forest looking for the monkeys. First we had to avoid the rattan though! And other vicious plants!

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All the while keeping our eyes peeled for monkeys. There are some amazing sights though – huge epiphytic ferns, massive fig trees, flowering lianas, more cool fungi!

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There’s other wildlife too – squirrels, eagles, parrots, woodpeckers, hornbills, cuscus (basically a marsupial sloth!), spiders, cool caterpillars, moths, lizards, snakes!

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My two other guides La Mimi and La Tilili go ahead to try to track down the monkeys and we communicate via radio.

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We split up to try to find them and keep our eyes on the tree tops.
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We also look for signs like the smell of monkeys in an area (yes they have a very distinctive smell!) and monkey poop on the forest floor (if we can find it before the dung beetles do!).
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It can take hours to find the monkeys so we take lunch with us and chill out in the forest eating it. It’s always a good opportunity for the guys to collect some rattan and make some of their traditional brackets too 🙂

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You have to be careful though not to pick up any hitchhikers at these stops!

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When we finally find the monkeys we take a gps reading to record their location then start recording their behaviour, what they’re eating and where they are every 20 mins.

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Unlike the Kawelli troop who spend most of their time on the ground or in farms, these monkeys are usually high up in the canopy. So most of the views of them are mainly of their bottoms! But it’s still exciting nevertheless 🙂

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We follow them as long as we can, until we lose them or it gets dark. Then we head back – either to camp in the forest or back to the village. There’s always a chance to appreciate some of the majesty of the forest on the way back! 🙂

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Nuts to the monkeys!

The main livelihood for the people of La Bundo Bundo is farming. This is why monkeys raiding their farms and stealing crops is such a big problem for them. As well as farms of subsistence crops like maize, sweet potato and bananas most people in La Bundo also have farms of longer term crops like cashew nut and coconut which they sell to bring in extra income.

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The cashew harvest is once a year, in December and is very dependent on the weather. Too much rain and the harvest fails. This year it’s looking good though as it’s been relatively dry. Interestingly the monkeys aren’t a problem when it comes to cashews. In fact they are welcomed in to the farms. This is because the monkeys only eat the fruit of the cashew, which leaves the nut which hangs beneath the fruit to drop to the ground where it can easily be collected. The farmers tell me they like this as it saves them having to climb the trees to harvest them!

Coconuts on the other hand are a different matter. The main use for coconuts is to be sold as copra. Copra is essentially the dried coconut meat and it’s sold for use in cosmetics and food production. It’s a more reliable livelihood as the coconuts are ready for harvest every 3 months so you can get an income all year round.

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Depending on the species it takes around 7 years for a coconut to start producing fruit so most people’s farms are pretty old. The standard practice is to start planting coconuts amongst the subsistence crops when you open a new farm so for the first 3- 5 years you focus on subsistence crops while the coconut etc is growing, then you leave it to just mature.

Every 3 months the coconuts are harvested. This involves climbing up the trees and cutting down the fruits.

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You can pay someone to climb the trees for you – the going rate is 3,000 rp per tree (approx 25p) or you can climb then yourself. This farmer, La Sali, can climb up to 40 trees a day harvesting coconuts! That requires amazing strength, and nerve!

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100 trees produce around 2000 – 2500 coconuts. Once the coconuts are harvested they are collected and the husk is removed, the nut is opened and the water drunk or discarded. The nuts are then split and left in piles in the farm hut to dry. They often light fires under the hut to help dry them.

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It can take up to a week or more to dry them. It’s now copra! The shells with the dried meat are then cut up further and sorted in to sacks.

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Each sack contains about 60kg or so. 400 coconuts yields about 100kg of copra. Once the sacks are ready they’re stacked up ready to be driven to the capital to be sold. It costs 32,000rp (approx £2.45) per 100kg to get the sacks transported to the capital Bau Bau (a 3 hour drive) using local public transport.

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Once there it’s sold to an exporter. Prices at the moment are low and La Sali told me only yesterday that his latest crop only fetched 3,800rp per kg (approx 28p). Unfortunately there is only one buyer in Bau Bau so people have no choice.

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All this takes nearly 2 weeks of extremely hard work per average sized farm to complete and in return they get about £100, which means a total of about £300 – £400 per year. In return they risk their lives climbing to get the coconuts. There are frequent falls and internal injuries or death are not uncommon. So you can imagine why they’re not that happy about monkeys stealing their coconuts!

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There are few ways to stop monkeys getting the coconuts. People have tried wrapping the trunks in things like left over roofing aluminium, to stop them climbing them but the monkeys just jump over it. The only option is to guard the farm all day.

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The problem is it’s not just monkeys that raid the crops. It’s also pigs, wild Sulawesi warty pigs. Although the pigs can’t get to the fruits in the trees they do destroy young coconut palms and eat any fallen, or harvested fruits and raid the drying husks too. The only way to stop them is high strong fences, which most people can’t afford or just simply aren’t possible in the terrain, or guarding the farm. Pigs tend to come at night though so it means all day guarding against monkeys and all night guarding against pigs. These are some of the problems I’m working with farmers to find solutions to. Like the monkeys the pigs are an endemic species and of conservation concern, and like the monkeys they are vulnerable to persecution. Sometimes farmers resort to desperate measures like poisoning or calling in the local Balinese community who bring their dogs and hunt the pigs to eat. I’m helping farmers to find solutions which let the wildlife live in peace and protect their livelihoods.

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