From the suburbs of Eastern Pennsylvania to the Bridger mountain range in South Western Montana, my eagerness to continue my environmental education has brought me many exciting places, in which I have been able to promote compassionate coexistence with wildlife. Currently my travels bring me to Balikpapan, Borneo, Indonesia to promote the compassionate coexistence that Coyote Watch Canada, and so many others around the globe , believe so strongly in.
Here at the Kawasan Wisata Pendidikan Lingkungan Hidup (KWPLH for short), we are trying to promote environmental education, responsible pet ownership, and promote appreciate and respect for the Sun bear and all other wildlife in Borneo. My role, as vet nurse and volunteer, is to work to maintain healthy animals at the facility, both with medical needs and enrichment for mental stimulation and also to teach others the importance of wildlife in the area around them. Indonesia is a developing nation in south east asia, with all the problems you would expect socially, politically and economically, which makes centers like these especially important.
Socially there are a lot of issues here that are not unique to this part of the world. There is a clear lack of equality and freedom for women, and with Islam being the most prominent religion here it doesn’t seem likely to change rapidly. In most environmental science courses the woman’s role in the world is a clear topic for the semester. If you allow a woman all the rights and freedoms of male citizens, you allow for more change than you could really think of. A woman’s right to more education, control over her body and ability to express her ideas brings about lower populations, higher educated population and brings more intelligent minds to the work force than if you eliminate half of your population. Education that focuses on the environment is rare. I remember being told how important it was to protect our planet and its inhabitants since before I can remember,but here that is severely lacking or missing entirely. There also seems to be little realization of the impacts your own actions have on the ecosystem around you. Riding in public transportation you often watch in disbelief as people throw garbage out the windows without a care in the world. If you say something to said polluter, you are usually met with an odd stare or blatant disregard for your input. In order to preserve Borneo’s wildlife and the ecosystem in which we live, much needs to change socially not just here, but across the globe.
Politically, Indonesia behaves as only an oil and coal producer knows how. Pertamina, Indonesia’s state run oil and natural gas producer, has as the locals will tell you, ” Has their hands in everyone’s pocket” meaning corruption for the sake of consumption is rampant. Everywhere you turn, Pertamina’s logo is on every sign, label, and commercial ad. Many people here don’t seem to mind the presence, but there are those who understand that Pertamina is not just bringing jobs. Those few realize there is increased pollution and deforestation. Even if they don’t truly understand the impact of those things, they still recognize it. There is a budding interest in political change coming from the youth in this country. They may not have protests, or media outlets for opposition, but they are talking amongst each other, which is a start. A good friend of mine here always says how much Indonesia is changing, just slower than some western countries are. The youth really are the heart and soul of this country, and given a voice I think there will be great change for the sake of all who inhabit this island, both human and animal alike.
As a third world developing nation the economy is just that, developing. The main employers are Pertamina, Chevron and various construction jobs. This country is utilizing its natural resources in an unsustainable way to boost its economic development and create jobs. You cannot blame them initially, everyone wants a well paying job and money to spend, but at what cost? Is there no middle ground between the developing of lowland forest and the sustainability we all hope for? I talk eagerly with local youth and those I work with at the center. I urge them to learn how they can preserve their island ecosystem and at the same time, raise their standard of living. Being aware that I may be coming off as the arrogant American tourist, I make sure to mention that I am not suggesting Indonesia does not have the same prosperity as the western world, I am merely saying “Be smarter than the west!”. Don’t make the same mistakes we have made in mismanaging our native species in the United States. Don’t pollute your water and soil for the sake of oil like Alberta, and many other places do. However bleak things may seem at times, some positive news is on the way for Borneo. There are a few local people and even some expats with the environmental knowledge and motivation to start more eco- friendly travel options for tourists. Eco-tourism has been a blessing to the economies of Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, which makes sense. If you focus on the beauty of your country and how willing people are to spend money there, you can earn more in the long term than oil can earn you short term. That realization is quickly becoming a reality for those few braving this new venture here in Indonesian Borneo. Turning an unsustainable future of fossil fuels, into a bright future of preservation and sustainability.
My journey here in Indonesian Borneo is far from over. During my time here I will continue to urge people to focus on education, coexistence and the preservation of this beautiful place. The people here are open to change, if only they are show how to. Indonesia is full of intelligent and caring people who want better not only for themselves but also for their island. Interest in wildlife is not abscent from this place, it is just muddled with the daily struggles in life. As all countries develop over time, they struggle with the best methods to do so. Indonesia is a budding country with so much potential. It is my hope that with time, Indonesia can inspire the world to do better. We all have to share this planet together and no country is without is faults, especially environmentally, but we can make a difference. With all social, political and economic issues aside, it gives me great pleasure to be here in their fight for preservation and coexistence.
Brandon Castner is a senior at Montana State University. His passion for a compassionate coexistence has brought him from state to state and eventually, from America to Indonesia, in order to cultivate that passion in others. He aims to share his view with future research, education, and support for those who share these ideals.