Reforestation project

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).



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.



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.






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. 🙂

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.




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.



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.


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!



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!







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














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




We split up to try to find them and keep our eyes on the tree tops.


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!).

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 🙂





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


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.


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 🙂




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! 🙂




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.


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.


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.



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!


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.




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.






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.




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.


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!




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.


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.





Monkeys on the up

There are three troops of monkeys that I work with here in the Lambusango and Kakenauwe forest reserves and surrounding farmland. They’ve been habituated and are used to being followed by me and my guides while we record data about their behaviour, their range and what they’re eating.

One of the troops I’ve worked with the longest (13 years!) is the Kawelli troop. It’s always been a small troop – usually around 25 individuals or so and they live in the remnant patches of forest surrounding the farmland in the village of Kawelli, a 30 minute drive from La Bundo Bundo village where I stay.

Kawelli has always been such a pretty little village and although it’s changed a lot over the years it’s still such a beautiful place with lovely people.






The people are all subsistence farmers and it’s a pretty simple life. Clothes are still washed in the river, days are spent in the farms or at home preparing food for dinner etc.


Although subsistence farming is the main source of food and income, some people also keep cows


As i said before, the farms and forest patches surrounding the village are home to one of the troops of monkeys I work with.


This troop is the most well habituated troop and we can get as close as a few meters from them without them minding at all. The troop last year had 25 members but sadly we lost 19 members of the troop after one of the farmers put poison down in the farm (here’s last years post about it). Because the monkeys have very little natural habitat left they often raid farms for food. This particular farmer lost a huge part of his banana crop to the monkeys. Bananas have a high price at market at the moment so provide valuable additional income, monkey this farmer planned on using for his son’s schooling. When the monkeys raided he was so fed up he spent 6 months worth of income on poison which is put inside bananas. 19 troop members died. This left only 6 – 2 males and 4 females. One of the males was very old, the other young and last year the upheaval and loss of a leader the troop resulted in them often splitting up and foraging alone.



I fully expected to come back this year and find that the troop had disintegrated and that they’d emigrated to other troops or died. To my delight though they’re still here, still together and they have two new babies! So the troop looks like it will survive 🙂





I’ve been out following the troop quite a bit and they’re doing well. I go out with my two guides Rudi and Namsir at 6am and we start by going to the tree the monkeys slept in the night before. If they haven’t moved off we then follow them for the day, recording their behaviour and ranging patterns. If they’re not at the tree then we search their usual feeding places, and ask the local kids if they have seen them. Usually we find them within a few hours and follow them, getting pretty close, until late afternoon if we can.



The young male has really matured and bulked up, taking on the role of leading the troop.


He’s been taking them in to the coconut plantations a fair bit. He climbs up the coconut palm and then twists off the ripe coconuts which fall to the ground where the rest of the troop open them up and tuck in. Bad monkeys! Let’s hope the farmer doesn’t get too angry about this!







After a few days acclimatising in the village, catching up with the families here and discussing the education project plans with the village elders I decided to have a go at trekking in to a more remote area of the forest to see how it was looking. To access this bit of the forest I had to first drive about 40 minutes to the village of Lawele. This village is on the mangroves in a small estuary. It’s the site of the main Market for the area so every Tuesday, Thursday an Sunday morning it’s busy with local people buying and selling produce.


I met up with my guide Safiron and we set off into the forest


It was an 8 km trek or so into the forest. As we started in we saw evidence of rattan collection and some small scale timber extraction. The rattan palm canes are taken out the forest and left to soak on the rivers until they're ready to carry them out to be loaded on to trucks.
20120806-185615.jpg20120806-185624.jpg20120806-185630.jpg Once a few km in though there was little disturbance. Nice big trees and some stunning sights. 20120806-190711.jpg20120806-190738.jpg20120806-190730.jpg20120806-190758.jpg The trek involves a good few river crossings so it’s wet boots and feet all day but it’s worth it. 20120806-191955.jpg I saw evidence of wild pig, saw hornbills and other birds, but no monkeys on the walk in sadly. 20120806-192546.jpg It’s not all about the big animals though. I saw some amazing fungi and some cool insects too 20120806-192742.jpg20120806-192751.jpg And of course the ubiquitous leach! 20120806-204701.jpg The camp site is beautiful, truly stunning, what a place to wake up to 🙂 20120806-204613.jpg20120806-204625.jpg This area of the forest is called Bala, after the parasitic fungus found there – balanophora. A very cool little fungus that seems to pop up all over the place in this part of the forest. 20120806-205548.jpg The walk out was nice but uneventful- apart from some more big trees, a big tree fall and some mahoosive leaves! Oh and a glimpse of some monkeys 🙂 they were high up and very skittish so we couldn’t follow them but it’s good to know they’re there! 🙂 20120806-205808.jpg20120806-210058.jpg20120806-205817.jpg Finally we walked back out through the coffee and cocoa plantations and back to the village 🙂 a great trek through some great forest, with great monkey potential! 20120806-215717.jpg

After getting all my paperwork done and a gruelling trip, I arrived in Bau Bau on Sunday morning. Bau means ‘smell’ in Indonesian, Bau Bau used to be a spice port which is where the name comes from – the smell of spices.
Nowadays sadly it’s more the smell of the open sewers!


Had a quick meal at a local restaurant before setting off to the village. As it’s now the fasting month the restaurants are all shuttered over – they still serve food but it’s not polite to be seen eating in public.


I then started the 3 – 4 hour drive to the village of La Bundo Bundo. It’s an ok drive, along the main road which encircles the island, mostly tracking the coast and passing through lots of small villages. Ironically Buton’s main export is asphalt and yet the roads are awful and rarely repaired so it’s a bumpy ride, but the scenery is great!


The village of La Bundo Bundo is a small village of only a couple of hundred people, most of whom are farmers.


Days are spent in the farms or in the village at the little shops (warungs) selling vegetables from the farm, sarongs, snacks and bottles of petrol for passing motorbikes



Or doing some drawing


Or grating up some coconut for dinner later


Lazy la Bundo days 🙂



Local fishmonger


My very own alarm clock (or cock!). He actually a jungle fowl – the ancestor of all domestic chickens (not this one personally!)! He’s a very handsome chappy bit he’s got his morning crows a bit off – he starts at about midnight and doesn’t seem to have a snooze function 😉


It’s great to be back here. Since arriving I’ve been on a few forest treks, been out with the monkeys and started planning the education projects – watch this space for more updates 🙂

I finally finished with all the bureaucracy here in Jakarta and am now fully equipped with a valid research visa, a research permit, a police permit, a permit from the Ministry of internal affairs and a forestry permit! What a palava!



So now it’s farewell Jakarta


And hello two plane trips ….to Kendari, the capital of south-east Sulawesi







Then a meal and a night in Kendari before the boat ride to the island of Buton







And it’s hello Buton!



So now it’s a 3 to 4 hour drive to the village of La Bundo Bundo where I’ll be staying. Hopefully I’ll be able to find a phone signal somewhere near the village so I can keep posting updates 🙂


Red tape diaries…

Good morning Jakarta!


Another day, another trek around government departments!

So a bit more of this :


A fair bit of this:


Some of this:



A little bit of this on the way to various depts (embarrassing I know but it does demonstrate the level of tedium… And jetlag!)


Then some minor success



And finally some of these… Research permit and police permit – tick! And aside from calling me ‘Mr’ Nancy Priston on the police permit it’s all good (gonna risk letting the Mr slide… Can’t face trying to correct it! I will just grow a moustache to complete the look 😉 ).


Just got to sort out my immigration permit and forestry permit now….. Oh and then all the local permits…!

I left the uk on Saturday 14th, back off out to Indonesia and the project


After 24 hrs of traveling I arrived in Jakarta, checked in to the Hotel Paragon in central Jakarta, then headed out for some food.



First thing this morning morning the fun began – the permit process started today! First I had to report to the Ministry Of Research and Technology to get my research visa



After a few hours of sitting about I got some of the letters I needed and headed off to the police headquarters and the Ministry of Internal affairs where there was a bit more of this:


Unfortunately they all finish work at 3pm so that’s as far as I got….

Tomorrow it’s back on the permit trail again!

So, I’ve cycled 60 miles (in a monkey suit) ….

Sold 450 pieces of cake ( also in a monkey suit) …

Raffled off 10 fab prizes (no monkey suit this time)…

Sold a load of my stuff at a local car boot (with my mum’s help 🙂 )

and collected 82 bin bags full of old clothes (483.4kg!)…

was nominated and awarded £500 from the Canning Trust

and have probably annoyed all my friends and family in the process of all of this!

But it was ALL worth it!

I’ve just done the final count up…. and in total, including the £500 from the Canning Trust, I’ve raised…………

…… *drumroll*….

a STAGGERING £4, 123. 70!

I am gobsmacked! I simply can’t believe it! I can’t thank you all enough! there are too many wonderful people to thank but please please know that I am truly grateful to every single person that took the time to donate whatever they could and for all the amazing support I’ve had. I can never repay you all but trust me there are a LOT of favours owed to all of you so feel free to call on them any time! 🙂

This will make a tremendous difference to the project and I can’t wait to get all the projects started. Watch this space for updates on how the money gets spent. I fly to Indonesia on Saturday 14th for 9 weeks so I’ll be letting you all know how it goes with the farmers and the monkeys.

Thank you Thank you Thank you! 🙂


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