Jungle Crusaders

On a crusade to help save the animals of Indonesia.

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Dr Lulu – Our Last Day in Samarinda


I rose with a sense of urgency, because there was so much I wanted to experience and capture before we left. But at the same time I wanted to slow down and take in every last moment. It is not often in life that you feel so connected with a place, and it’s people (and for me, animals!) but I was absolutely present to my connection here and I was already sad to be leaving.

As I squatted in the bathroom washing my hair with the bucket of water, I realized how much I changed over the past 6 days.

Firstly, I had mastered the art of washing my hair without running water, and the lack of a flushing toilet didn’t bother me whatsoever. On the contrary, I had grown to like my new daily rituals because they reflected the simplicity of my new life here. Throwing a bucket of water over my head and heading into the jungle to look after the animals in need is a new routine I would love to continue.

I chuckled to myself as we sped off in the open tray of the hilux to the zoo. In a short week, it had become ‘normal’ to be cruising around in the tray of a ute, overtaking trucks on the inside curb. We were done with telling the lads “this is illegal in Australia!”

I was intrigued to see what a ‘busy day’ at the zoo entailed. Considering that tourists paid the equivalent of 50 cents admission fee and we had barely seen 15 people through the gates on an average day thus far. It was little wonder that there was simply no money to feed the animals, let alone provide basic environmental enrichment and medical care.

I was happy to see rows of scooters at the entrance – at least the locals are interested enough to visit the zoo! But this rapidly turned to dismay as I witnessed the reality of the situation, just like I had been warned. It is absolutely no fault of their own, but local people do not understand how precious their endangered species are. They do not realize the perils of throwing rubbish into the enclosures. My stomach turned as I saw soft drink bottles, ice creams and other items handed to the orangutan, as well as other endangered species. When the gibbon died suddenly yesterday, one of the top differential diagnoses on my list was the fatal ingestion of a plastic or otherwise foreign object. The tourists watched with delight as the Orangutan drank from coke cans (arghhh type 2 diabetes I thought!) and played with plastic bags on their heads.

This brought us to our first interview of the day.

Our first port of call was at the clinic, where COP (Centre for Orangutan Protection) were conducting their weekly ‘Orangufriends’ information seminar, where they teach interested local students about the importance of protecting their wildlife, and hopefully enlist a few new volunteers. They rely heavily upon volunteer support, and especially on busy tourist days like today, when tourists need to be watched like hawks to make sure they are following the rules. I met a lovely local student and Orangufriend named Indah the previous day and she eventually agreed to be interviewed today. Indah was a beautiful, educated and confident young Muslim woman, but thought her English was terrible (it really wasn’t!), hence her reluctance to be interviewed. But she was determined to help raise awareness about the work of Orangufriends so she put on a brave face and the interview went well.

Like all of the COP team and volunteers, Indah was a rare gem. As we had already uncovered, it is very “unpopular and uncool” to work with animals, and especially wildlife, within Indonesian culture. So to volunteer, without the vital few rupiahs to pay for your lunch – well it is unheard of! And yet, I had the pleasure to meet a dedicated young woman who had decided that despite the opinions of her friends and family, she wanted to follow her heart and help the orangutan.

Indah had shared with me during a private conversation the previous day, how she was the only student in her university class of 500-odd students, who was dedicating her thesis to a wildlife subject.

Indah’s thesis is looking at the way in which COP’s educational campaigns were helping to change the way in which the youth in Indonesia viewed wildlife and the importance of protecting their rainforests and endangered species. What a woman! I was immediately in awe of her, and especially when I realized the difficulty of admitting her struggles. She told me in private the previous day, of how her family had essentially forbidden her to work full time in wildlife conservation – and yet despite my best (amateur) interview techniques, I was unable to get her to repeat this on camera.

The interview was frustrating in this sense, but at the same time I was incredibly impressed with the dedication that Indah showed towards her cause at the risk of being ostracized from her friends and family.

It further fueled my idea to have wildlife conservation portrayed as being ‘super cool’ to the Indonesian public.

Now was the prime time for ‘Perth-onality Dr Lulu’ to take hold. I decided to ham it up to the max to my ‘adorning fans’ and hence forth swanned around from enclosure to enclosure, with 2 cameras, 3 assistants and my best friend the diffuser at hand, pretending I was a D-grade celebrity. But in Samarinda – I was the most A-grade they were going to see for many years, so my-oh-my did I work it! My costume change by the python enclosure definitely generated the most interest that afternoon, and I felt a little bad to have had more photographs than the orangtuan that day, but I hopefully I made a lasting impression that ‘wildlife is cool’.

My next ‘interview’ was with Ambon.

At 22 years, he is one of the eldest orangutan at the zoo and the only sexually mature male and does hence not have the cute-cuddly factor of the orphans. But I have to admit he was my clear favourite.

I will never forget my first encounter with Mr Ambon. It was at this point that I truly understood the tragic plight of the Orangutan refugees in Indonesia, when I learnt that Ambon had spent the past NINE YEARS confined to a small prison cage, having committed no crime. The other orangutan in his enclosure, Debby, had been in the cage for even longer. Looking into his eyes, I felt like I was looking into the innocent eyes of a person who had been wrongly accused of murder.

The harrowing part is that he KNEW that he was innocent, and should not be in that cage – and HE KNEW THAT I KNEW! I sat there and looked into his eyes. He looked into mine. He touched my fingers, and he touched my heart. That moment is etched into my soul forever.

This was also the moment that I truly understood that Orangutan share 97% of our DNA. When you look into their eyes, there is nothing different to looking into the eyes of another human being. The words of Leif Cocks rang through my mind… one day we will look upon the incarceration of orangutan like the way we once viewed slavery. At the time it was radical to free them. That was only a few decades ago! I desperately hope that I will both contribute to, and witness the day that animals are given the rights that they deserve.

The final night in Samarinda was just perfect. The lads took us to the most up-market restaurant they would allow. I begged them to take us to somewhere that served beer, but that was “far too expensive, we would rather spend the money to feed the orangutan”. I felt so horrid to have even suggested it. By now, I knew full well that every $5 made such a huge difference to the well-being of the animals, and these guys know exactly where their priorities lie.

Dinner was delicious. A traditional Indonesian buffet washed down with fresh lime and soda, interjected regularly with spontaneous and candid speeches. When I stood up to speak and to present our donation, I was likewise unprepared for the words that came out of my mouth and tears (AGAIN!) that flowed as I expressed my gratitude for the warm hospitality that the team had shown us, and for having changed my life. I spoke from the bottom of my heart when I told the gang that I had a new family in Kalimantan.

As I write this 2 weeks later, I miss them deeply and profoundly.

I realized that the small amount of cash we had raised would go a long way to fund previously unavailable medical equipment, but I realized that more than anything, we had provided moral support to this inspirational group of young activists.

To know that despite facing adversity within their local community, we had given them further proof that that they have the support of the international community, and what they were doing in their daily struggles is so honorable, heroic and incredibly inspiring. Not very often do you meet a person who is dedicated to changing the world every day – and I had just spent an incredible week with six such individuals.

Sipping warm bin tang back at the house that night, we conducted our final interviews whilst the power was on, using torchlights behind diffusers to create some impressive field lighting techniques (great work Courtney!) and had sing-alongs to guitars and harmonicas when the power was out.

I realized how much I was going to miss the COP team. Spending 6 long and emotional days, and 6 entertaining and heartfelt nights together has forged friendships that I know will last the tests of time and distance. I would not have thought that it would be an easy task for 9 people to live harmoniously in a living (and working!) area of 20 square meters, but I was wrong!

And finally I realized that the focus on my future was changed forever. No longer would I be able to tell myself that one day I would be in a position to help the endangered species of the world. There can be no more excuses of waiting for when I make more money, when these guys are earning around $5 day, but making every day count. There can be no more waiting full stop. My life will now be about taking action towards this goal, and taking action every single day.

I cannot ignore the memories that have been etched into my memory forever.

The screams of the Otter wanting water not only to drink, but to swim in, like they are supposed to, rather than being suspended in a hot metal cage.

The Sun Bear’s claws as he reached through the cage.

The depressed and vacant stare in the eye of the illegally kept Gibbon on the street.

The Macaque pacing constantly around his cage.

The deep and longing stares from the eyes of Ambon, Molly and Wati who begged me to give them relief from their prisons.

The dedication I witnessed from all of the COP team who work so tirelessly towards their goal to protect the rainforests, and who take action towards that goal every single day.

These memories are with me forever, and I cannot ignore them. I will not ignore them.

If you would like to help, there is so much you can do, no matter how much time or money you have. Even by sharing the blog and helping to raise awareness, you are making a difference.

Please subscribe to our blog so we can keep you informed of how you can help. If you would like to become an Orangu-friend, then send me an email to louisafenny@gmail.com and let me know how much time you can volunteer.

Even a few minutes a day can make a huge difference, so please get in touch.

Dr Lulu

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Day 7 – readying to leave Borneo!

The sun was searing early this morning; the fan was on full speed but we managed to have a bit of sleep this morning after the exhausting day yesterday.

It was my turn to go and find some food today – Dr Lulu had gone to the local kitchen down the road the previous day and had a hilarious time ordering food from a little old woman who had probably never seen a buleh (western foreigner) before, and certainly didn’t speak any English! She came home eventually with a ‘surprise’ meal which ended up being chicken livers. Surprisingly tasty!

After a few unsuccessful attempts at Charades, I gave up, though I managed to find something small before I left. Turns out the little old lady doesn’t cook that early on a sunday. Figures!

We had a fair bit to do before the days end so we packed in the morning. The next morning we would up up at the turn of dawn for a ride in the truck (at full speed again) to Balikpapan. From Balikpapan, we would catch our plane to Jakarta.

Once packed and fed, we headed off to KRUS to find a very busy zoo. There were people everywhere, with all the small makeshift shop huts open and motorbikes parked all over the show. We headed towards the clinic where we conducted our first interview of the day with an lovely woman known as Indah.

Indah is part of a group known as ‘Orangufriends’, set up by COP (Centre for Orangutan Protection) to teach interested university students about the importance of protecting orangutan, wildlife and their habitat. Indah immediately took to us with her warm smile and upbeat disposition. As we filmed the interview I could tell that all three of us were in awe of this inspiring young woman. She is currently studying Communications at her local university, and the direction of her study is dedicated to wildlife conservation. This was excellent news to us. For someone who is incredibly passionate and dedicated to give up her free time to do something like this is reassuring as well as inspirational! She is a woman to be admired. Wait for the documentary and you will see why!

Throughout our time at KRUS today, we were incessantly followed around by ‘Celebrity Dr Lulu‘ fans. Lots of smiling faces were on offer as snaps were taken of us as we walked around with cameras, tripods, and other film equipment. It all started when we were doing a piece to camera in front of the beautiful Orangutan Abmom. Ambom is the eldest of all orangutans kept at KRUS, and is one of the reasons COP would like to build the island for him, and his girlfriend Debbie (Read this post for more information about building a home for Ambom!). We proceeded to the next orangutan enclosure where we did another piece to camera where Dr Lulu worked her magic again, with even more enquiring faces peeking and peering to see what was going on!

We had one more interview to do, and it was significant too; we wanted to talk to Ape Defender Captain, and our captain of the household where we have stayed the last week. To do this interview we had to escape the fans and find somewhere in the jungle that was away from the bustle of the zoo. It was a relief to only walk a short distance and find a spot that was shady, where the only sounds we heard were of animals and insects, and a cool breeze blowing lightly in the tree tops above us. This interview was a bit of fun, and very informative. It was also tinged with sadness though, as we knew it was one of the final interviews from this COP camp.

We said our goodbyes to KRUS. By now we could see the amazing work being carried out by COP and felt happy and confident this zoo – while illegal – could only go from strength to strength under the watchful eyes of the COP team.

To show our respect and appreciation for what these guys do, and obviously what they have done for us, we decided we should celebrate. It was our last night, and as new members of the COP family it was only natural!

We all jumped into the truck, but we weren’t sitting inside! We decided to live a little, (because its legal over here!) and Dr Lulu, Courtney and I got into the back trailer of the truck and sat in the open air as we drove to a restaurant. Before getting to the restaurant we made a little detour to a department store to pick up T-Shirts for screen printing.

As explained previously the COP guys create these awesome images and print them on T-shirts. They only sold a few here and there but we saw an opportunity to help raise funds for these guys! As soon as we know, we will have them up for sale! In a variety of colours and sizes. We’ve already got a few for ourselves and they are very cool! Such a small cost and you get to wear something out of it – while contributing to an amazing cause.

It was at the restaurant when things became a little emotional. Dr Lulu became teary eyed again as she got up and gave a beautiful speech thanking the COP team and their friends for treating us all like family, and promised that this was the first small step in a long future together, protecting the rain forests and its animals together. She presented Dr Imam with the funds raised from our fundraiser at the Brisbane Hotel (once again, if you were there or weren’t but supported – THANK YOU!) – AUD $350 cash. In Indonesian rupiah this amounts to 3,468,277.53, which is more thantwo months wages. This cash donation will be used to buy medical supplies; to say the COP guys were thrilled would be an understatement!

We finally returned home, not before stopping to buy some (warm) bin tang beer. The guys haven’t enjoyed beer in two months, mostly because they can’t really afford it. As we were filming last interviews and laughing at yet another power outage in the area, we were entertained by the guys music; a mix of cover songs and some beautiful original songs. They’re very talented on the guitar, and their vocals just awesome. You could tell they love their music. It was the perfect end to a beautiful night.

We would just like to mention another heartfelt thank you to all members of the COP team we were lucky enough to meet and those we didn’t. We can’t thank you guys enough and you’ll be sure to see us in the near future!

Remember, you can support VFO here, or you can click on the link to the right side bar. If you’ve been reading so far, you will know that your donations do mean something. Please help us out!



Day 6 – illegal zoos and an autopsy… not your average day!

It looked like we were going to have a catch-up day of work and perhaps some rest.

Then, we received an email from Hardi – founder and director of COP (Centre of Orangutan Protection). He invited us to come to Jakarta (JAKARTA!) to join him and other COP members as they stage a protest in the city center. The protest is part of a new campaign by COP to free orangutan kept as illegal pets in Aceh. Dr Lulu’s (Louisa) eyes widened, and suddenly we had to fit five days of filming into two days. Thank goodness we’re organised!

First, another delicious Indonesia lunch prepared by the COP members to keep us all going. They have been feeding us well, and we’ve all been able to enjoy simple but beautiful Indonesian Cuisine whilst staying with the boys. We then set off to visit another local illegal zoo, in order to compare the conditions at KRUS – the illegal zoo where COP assist and where we have spent most of our time.

When we first arrived at KRUS, we were shocked at the living conditions of the animals. The COP team told us that things were far worse before they stepped in to help, but we found this impossible to believe.

We were thoroughly mistaken.

The cages at this zoo were tiny, fouled with days worth of rotting food and faeces, and Louisa observed that the animals were suffering from a myriad of health problems as well as being really, really thirsty.

We found two deeply distressed oriental small-clawed otters in a tiny cage. They both emitted high-pitch screeching, which was absolutely painful to bear for all of us. It was clear they were not getting enough food and water. We had to knuckle up for the filming, but Louisa couldn’t hold it in for much longer and broke down in tears again. It soon turned to anger, and she vowed to return as soon as possible to have these animals rescued.

We found a sun bear pacing, which as Louisa explains is a behavioral response to stress and lack of environmental enrichment. She also identified some other health concerns.

Moving around the zoo we found a macaque with a bolted chain around his neck. It was awful considering he was already locked in the small cage. He seemed to be quite friendly however, and was fond of Louisa.

We found several turtles. One was floating at the top of the surface and quite obviously dead. 

Finally I wanted to leave. But Louisa was determined to get some water to the otters who hadn’t stopped screeching. She questioned one of the keepers and with the help of one of our COP guys, we were able to organise some water for them. Even with the water it was clear these little guys wanted out, desperately.

We left the zoo feeling incredibly depressed and frustrated we were unable to help them.

On the way back to the house, we stopped by a small roadside house where a Muller Bornean gibbon was being kept in a tiny cage. Initially I was hesitant about even getting out of the truck after that zoo visit. Seeing yet another animal in a tiny cage left out in the searing sun in appalling conditions was the last thing I wanted to see. Nonetheless I joined the others.

As it turns out, the gibbon had been left in that very cage for all 11 years of his life. Louisa pointed out he was dehydrated and probably hungry, and looked very depressed. Courtney also mentioned how monkeys can convey so much emotion in their faces. This little guys face only really spelt despair and sadness.

Talking to the owners about the gibbon, the lack of education they have when it comes to taking care of animals was evident. To see an animals like this kept in these conditions is appalling, let alone endangered species.

We weren’t undercover at this point, but it’s important for COP to build relationships with locals and earn their trust. The COP member with us told the family he was a veterinarian, so if the family had any health concerns about their gibbon, they can go directly to COP at KRUS for free veterinary assistance. This is a great way to ensure the gibbons well-being is being looked after.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at KRUS to finish filming, and completed an interview with Dr Imam against a backdrop of lush, green rainforest. As the light was fading, we began walking towards the truck ready to go home.

Suddenly, a COP member approached us with him some very sad news: one of the Muller Bornean gibbons had died. We shot up to their enclosure, and became silent as we found one of the male gibbons lying still in the cage. Gibbons are monogamous creatures and mate for life, therefore as Dr Imam and another COP member retrieved the body, they had to be mindful of the distressed female gibbon who was trying to protect her mate.

Louisa grabbed him and was straight down to the clinic with Imam. They both decided to perform an autopsy on the gibbon to ascertain why the poor creature had died. The clinic was bare and lacked some of the equipment needed to perform an autopsy but Louisa and Imam did what they could. This is just another problem of being a vet working for COP in Borneo with no funds.


Courtney and I had never been present during a surgery/autopsy so it was certainly a new experience for both of us. Louisa and Imam performed the autopsy together while we filmed. Louisa will have a short report on the findings later.

According to Louisa, Courtney and I did really well; apparently most people can’t stand the smell nor seeing a creature like that being cut up with its insides all over the table. Courtney and I concluded we are just hardcore!

After we finished, I suggested that we name the gibbon. We only received one name by that stage from one of our readers, so we went with that: Gadget – for their ‘go-go-gadget’ arms. Thanks to Matt Morrison for that!

We finally finished the night by burning the gibbon on a bed of fire. In Australia and New Zealand we dispose via clinical waste but here there are no such luxuries so the COP team burn deceased animals to safely remove infections and diseases.

We stood around for a while staring at the fire, watching the boys build it and place Gadget on top. A mysterious mix of melancholy and warmth fell on the group as we watched the gibbon burn in the fire, I realised that we really were surrounded by people who do this work with their hearts. And they know this kind of thing will happen again and again. But they just keep moving forward going with the beat of their hearts because they know it is the right thing to do. There is a real sense of pride within COP, and for all of us to be involved and help them with their goals is a blessing. It gives us a sense of responsibility, and determination even in the face of illegally kept pets, the awful zoos, and lack of protection for those most endangered.

We are also able to understand some of the more frustrating complexities of the world we live in. And when it comes to illegally kept pets, the zoos, and the lack of education regarding these things, it only drives us further to act and change things for the better.

Finally, that night we worked on some screen printing of T-shirts to raise funds. Well, the COP guys did and they are awesome! We will be selling them too, so let us know what you would like! There will be variety of colours and sizes, and when we have the prices we will let you know as soon as possible!

See you soon!


[Dr Lulu’s Diary]

Coming soon!

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Hold on a minute!

As you may have noticed there hasn’t been an update yet. As it stands, we’ve had a massive change in plans and we’ve all been super busy. Day 6 is almost ready. We’re just getting the photos sorted and final editing.

Tomorrow morning we are up at 4am for the four hour journey back to Balikpapan in the Ape Defender 4WD, and then jump on a plane to Java. At the last moment, Mr Hardi Baktiantoro, the founder of C.O.P, invited us to fly to Jakarta to accompany the Ape Warriors in their protest rally to have a chained-up Orangutan named Jack set free. We are all very sad to be leaving, but so excited to have the opportunity to see the Ape Warriors in action, and to meet the inspiring man behind C.O.P.

So stay tuned, and we’ll let you know when the next post is up!

Team Jungle Crusaders!


Help us name the Bornean gibbons!

At the illegal zoo, not only have we found orangutans but there’s a few other species about the place: sun bears, crocodiles, macaques, turtles, eagles, and gibbons. Like the other animals, they are kept inside small cages. As we were documenting the animals at the zoo, we became aware of the fact that there were a few of them that did not have names. This gave us an idea!

Female Gibbon No. 1 with Baby Female No. 4

Introducing the Müller Borneo gibbons! Like the orangutans, the gibbons are also endangered. They are native to Borneo, and inhabit mostly the northern and eastern part of the island. They eat a lot of fruit, and live in the rainforest amongst the orangutans. At the zoo, there are four of them in total; two adult males, one adult female, and one baby female. The gibbons are enclosed in two separate cages; one gibbon is kept by himself for the time-being as the keepers found him to be quite aggressive toward the baby while the remaining three are in a slightly bigger cage. They desperately want wide open spaces and with the right funding, this could happen. They also need names, and we want YOU to name them!

So, first we need to get your ideas! Please comment on this blog post, or through other sharing social media tools such as Facebook – don’t worry you’ll see them. The best names will then be compiled and we will poll them so YOU can vote for them.

Gibbon No. 2

Gibbon No. 3

As well as that we need to raise funds for these wee guys too. They require around $300 each to be fed correctly per year. That means any one donation up and over $300 will give you the chance to name one of these gibbons, and feed them for a year. If you can’t donate that much but want to donate what you can – thats great. Your funds will go towards feeding them and building better enclosures for these guys so they can live happier, healthier lives.

To start, we need your ideas. Since you’re here now reading this, why not comment below and give us an idea? The poll should be up within the next few days so put your thinking cap on now and get typing!

Jungle Crusaders


Palm oil – make sure you are aware of what you buy!

Credit: Australian Catholic University blog 

The next thing you can do TODAY to make a difference is check your cupboards for any products that contain palm oil and STOP BUYING THEM! Even “sustainable” palm oil is not ok- don’t buy those tim tams! the lack of government regulation and level of corruption means that companies are not necessarily following protocol..To be really conscientious you should stop buying products containing vegetable oil, because many of these are actually palm oil. Until our government ensures that all palm oil products are stated on the label, you cannot be sure if you are consuming palm oil and contributing to the mass destruction of our forests. So do your health as well as the rainforests and orangutan (and thousands of other species!) a favour and don’t consume vegetable oil! It is carcinogenic anyway!

Dr Lulu x


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Day 5 – operation orangutan rescue!

When we woke up this morning, we had a list of things to complete as we film the documentary. Now that we’ve been here almost a week (and it certainly feels longer), we considered the list to be pretty normal for us: interviews, specific shots, and other important things that will tie this documentary together. And orangutans were definitely involved! This is the new normal!

We got some interesting footage this morning! Dr Louisa was in the orangutan enclosures, mucking in and getting knee deep in the mud while she helped the other COP team do the weekly clean. She did her hair and makeup for the first time since filming began, and looked really nice. Waste of time that turned out to be! She was covered in mud, sweaty and her hair was stuck flat to her head. Great look Louisa! While she was in the enclosure she had to deal with Memo the orangutan who kept stealing her shovel (and actually started digging a hole), and almost pushed her into the muddy water-ways she was cleaning out! We missed out on that footage, but we got some footage of her looking her muddy best. 


Then early morning we came home and learnt that COP had been informed of an illegal pet orangutan that had escaped from its owner. COP were still waiting on permission from the Government to go and save the orangutan. We thought that was as exciting as the day was going to get.

Boy were we wrong!

As a few of us dozed off, we were interrupted and told that the Government had given COP permission to rescue the orangutan. This was great news because it often take days and not the few hours it did today. Then he told us that we had permission to go see the rescue in action! We were so excited because we were told at the start of the trip that ‘Buleh’ (Western Foreigners) couldn’t attend reduce missions! We were quickly on the road, four of us jammed in the back seat (not very comfortable!) for a drive that we were told would take two hours. In order to get to the orangutan quickly we hauled ass through torrential rain and flooded roads to get to this creature. It was important for us to get to him soon. We had to cross a river on a boat which was quite an experience. The thought we were actually going to be involved in this orangutan rescue was amazing. 

We met two informants who had gotten in contact with us, and followed them to an address. We were told not to tell people exactly why we were with them, or why we were in Indonesia, who we were etc. We were just told that if anyone asks, we say we are official COP photographers, and thats about it. We joked that we should just tell them that we couldn’t understand their English! We arrived at the address, jumped out of the car with cameras and Louisa the vet in tow, and careened down the side of this property that was almost submerged in water. We had to jump over rocks, climb on half constructed fences, and almost sink into mud as we moved quickly through the property out the back to rice fields where we found the Orangutan.

This is Emon trying to escape from us!

Long story short – this orangutan had escaped from its owners place and had traipsed across to the opposite house. It had gotten inside the house and made a big mess, and we assumed that it might have been hungry, or something like that.

The orangutan tried to dramatically get away from the COP members. With the help of the owner, they lured him out of the small tree he was desperately clinging onto, and tranquillised him. It didn’t take long for it to take affect. At this point it started pouring with torrential rain, and I was worried about the cameras as we filmed and took photos. The Crusaders whipped up the orangutan in his arms and he sped off to the front of the property, where as we all fumbled about to grab all our gear – medical and media. We were in a hurry to get this guy quickly to a Government office. The anaesthetic would only last 20-30 minutes and the office is located 20-30 minutes away! Waving goodbye to the owner and the cluster of locals that had gathered to watch the very quick and dramatic rescue, we jumped into the truck and off we went. 

Dr Imam

The woman to the right is actually the owner

Reza, and Paulinus

We got to the office in time, and put the orangutan in its temporary bed. Technically, COP cannot take the orangutan back to the zoo, because it is now up to the Government to decide what to do with it. We placed the delicate & dozy orangutan inside its cage (yes, a cage – you will understand why when you watch the documentary), and did some more filming which is where we met two other orangutans that were part of previous rescues. 

At this point we all sort of had to sit down for quite a while – the afternoon was very exciting but it turned out to be incredibly emotional for all involved. We all learnt first hand what it was like to do the sort of work COP are doing. Louisa became very emotional and broke down. The day took its toll on all of us, but personally I had no tears. I guess that kinda makes me seem like a jerk; I’m not, because I dealt with it in my own way. I think today was definitely a turning point of Louisa’s vision and project, and really cemented what we were all thinking this week, and why we got involved. It was hard to leave the beautiful creatures in the cages, but unfortunately at this point we can’t do anything about it. It is all up to the Government what happens to those orangutans. 

Despite rescuing Emon today, she could have several months to wait in this cage until there is somewhere better for her to go. The two other orangutans – Molly and Wati – have been waiting in their prison since February. All of the rehabilitation centres are full, and so they will be waiting in these tiny cages until the new rehabilitation centre is created. There is still a huge amount of funding to be raised before they can even purchased the land so it could be a long wait yet. 

This is why we need the funding now and Louisa is determined to raise enough funds to have the Centre completed by the end of the year. She’s ambitious! 

We eventually went back to the property where the orangutan was being kept. We needed to find out all information available on Emon, and to do that we had to talk to the owner. Turns out she was very co-operative, and gave us all the information COP need. She also explained that while she will be very sad to see her pet go, she knows it is the best thing to do. She also realises it is the right thing to do. This gave some hope to COP that their work in the media to raise public awareness about orangutans kept as illegal pets is working. The locals finally brightened up the mood by bringing us some delicious tea, and asking us to be in pictures with them. 

It was 10pm by the time by the time we arrived back home. We grabbed some roadside duck for dinner, and sat around the table with the crew reflecting on the days events. Today has definitely changed us all on many levels. It was dramatic, intense, saddening, exciting, exhilarating, and solemn all at the same time. I have only known Louisa for a week, and Courtney for three years but I feel confident that I am surrounded by inspiring, beautiful people who care enough about going after their passions, and really making a difference in the world. 

It’s days like this that makes it real: We need your help, please. Donate by clicking here, or use the link on the side bar. Please share this around with your friends and family and donate whatever you can. This is important for all of us.

As Louisa’s boss at Infinite Wealth tells her all the time, the only the thing that makes a difference in life, is taking action. And the only time that matters, is now. So what are you waiting for? 



[ Louisa’s Diary ]

Wow. Today was huge. I started off shovelling shit in the animal enclosures and ended up assisting the undercover rescue of an illegally kept orangutan. Things really hit home for me this afternoon and I was unable to hold back tears when we took “Emon” to what is essentially a refugee camp for orangutan. She will be living in another cage outside the government office alongside 2 others, whilst they await a new home. All of the Rehabilitation Centres are currently full, so there is literally nowhere for them to live right now. And the Ape Crusaders estimate that there are another 30-40 illegally kept orangutan in the area awaiting rescue, but there is no point rescuing them until the new Centre is ready. My determination to raise enough funds to have it opened ASAP is even stronger now and I will not stop until it is done. I will never forget having my heart torn to pieces when Molly and Wati, the 2 refugees who have been in those tiny cages all year, kept tugging at my shirt, staring at me with their beautiful big eyes and seemingly begging me to help them. I made a pledge to them today that I will raise enough funds to have the Centre up and running and a safe new home ready before this year is out. I hope you will help us. Please start by subscribing to the blog so you can be kept updated with the documentary, our fundraising events as well as stories and images of the orangutan. And PLEASE SHARE the blog and encourage your friends to subscribe also. We can all make a difference, so what are you waiting for? 

Dr Lulu x


Day 4 – knee-deep in the tropical rainforest

Day four saw us out with the young orangutans as we followed team Centre for Orangutan Protection (COP) out into the jungle for ‘forest school’ – an important part of orangutan care and welfare, where they get to learn many important things.

Forest school was an exciting day for us because we got to go on a jungle trek with the young orangutans. It’s an important part of life for orangutan who are kept in rehabilitation centres around Indonesia and Malaysia, especially for those orangutan whom are planned to be released back into the wild.

Orangutan learn how to climb trees, and swing. They learn how to find food and navigate their way through the rainforest. They also learn how to make a nest which is essential to these tree-dwelling primates. Particularly important is also learning how to keep away from dangerous animals, such as snakes. Paulinus gave us a colourful and dramatic example of how to do this but you will have to wait until we release the short documentary.

All of this is essential education to enable rehabilitation for these young orphans. 

Ideally forest school should happen every day and requires one keeper per orangutan. This is because they need to be watched closely to ensure they don’t swing away out of sight. They also need to note down important observation remarks too. For example this could be anything from observing a particular fruit that an orangutan eats, right down to observing another orangutan who isn’t climbing at all.

Currently the COP do not have enough funding nor volunteers, and due to the private nature of the illegal zoo not all the orangutans can go at once, as to keep paying tourists happy. Both of these factors mean that this forest school trip we went on today only really happens once a week.

We accompanied three members of the COP team into the forest to look after the four young orangutans on their outing to Jungle School. Untung kept us all busy when went off on his own accord. He’s a bit of a rebel amongst the young orangutans at the Centre. He was up and away having a riot. The younger and more cautious Ping Pong was quite hesitant to climb up the tree, but with a bit of encouragement from all of us he became a bit more adventurous.

Normally, young orangutans stay close to his or her mother until they reach 10 years old or thereabouts. But since these young orangutans are orphans, the COP volunteers have to ‘play’ the role of the Mother in order to ensure these orangutans are to become the successful stories of orangutan rehabilitation.

During forest school we interviewed COP vet Dr Imam, and talked to him about his role here at the COP. Later on as we moved away to follow the rebel Untung, we interviewed another of the Crusaders.

At this point we were knee-deep in the tropical rainforest of Borneo, surrounded by enormous tree foliage, a myriad of insect species and several species of ants, (Louisa was bitten by a bull ant). It was within the rainforest that we found an intimate clearing where we stopped and got to know a few of the Crusaders a bit more whilst observing the orangutans climbing and playing in their natural habitat. They also tried to get involved in the filming process.

One of the things we also learn’t today was that COP is a lot more than just the few volunteers we have been working with this week. There are a lot more people involved in COP and each member is part of a different arm of COP. Each arm represents different aspects of running COP –

  • Ape Warriors
    • The Ape Warriors are the campaigners of the organisation, and their headquarters are based in Malang, on the island of Java. They process all the information consisting of photos, film and stories from the field and use them to campaign for Government reforms, as well as educate and raise awareness in schools and the general public. The Ape Warriors also stage public protests. We are hoping to go to Java to meet the team and its various volunteers and see what they are doing before we leave next week.
  • Ape Crusaders
    • This is the arm of the organisation that we have been working with all week. These are the guys out finding evidence taking photos, film footage and stories out in the field. They work undercover to locate orangutans kept illegally as pets, as well as educating in schools and rescuing orangutans whom have fallen victim to the palm oil trade, mining, and general deforestation.
  • Ape Defenders
    • The defenders are the rapid response team who are involved in the ‘extract and rescue’ operations in the field. They treat the orangutan and relocate them to various rehabilitation centres. These include: BOSF in East Kalimantan; BOSF and OFI in Central Kalimantan. COP hopes to have its own rehabilitation centre soon. Dr Imam who works at the clinic here at the zoo is part of this team.

This trip has been surprising and very educating to say the least. Seeing the zoo in its state, and wondering what the zoo was like before COP came to the centre, you can easily get caught up in the despair and feel very overwhelmed. But talking to these guys here, seeing what they do, and what they want to achieve gives me hope that these orangutans, and other wildlife species have a better future.

To encourage this better future we need your donations NOW. Please donate by clicking here, or find the link on the side bar.



Day 3 – Getting our hands dirty

Today our focus went from the orangutan to one of the other creatures here at the Centre. Introducing Winnie the sun bear. Winnie the sun bear shares an enclosure with boyfriend sun bear, Dandy.

Winnie the sun bear!

Unfortunately we don’t know a lot of history about Winnie, or how she got here. But we do know she needs a lot of assistance and this is where Dr Louisa’s vet skills came in handy. Paired with vet Dr Imam Arifin – the only vet currently working for the Centre for Orangutan Protection (COP) – and the rest of the COP team, they needed to tranquillise Winnie in order to examine and treat her safely whilst Dandy is still within the enclosure. Winnie was given an Ivermectin injection to treat suspected Demodectic mange which causes generalised alopecia (hair loss) and pruritis (itchiness all over the body). They checked her teeth and discovered she has severe periodontal disease, her gums and teeth are rotting, has root abscesses, and needs dental extractions. This is probably due to lack of appropriate diet and bark that cleans their teeth while they chew.

They also discovered that Winnie is blind in the left eye, and will need to have it surgically removed. Louisa also wanted to take skin scrapes to diagnose the skin condition but there is no microscope at the clinic. Louisa is concerned that Winnie could have the skin disease due to a weak immune system, and wants to run blood tests.

These blood tests however, are not straightforward. The nearest veterinary laboratory is in Java, and by the time the samples arrive there, they will have aged too much to be diagnostic. There is a possibility of Louisa flying the samples with her into Singapore when we depart but we won’t know until next week at this point. This is just one of the many logistical issues Louisa and Imam have to work out regarding how to go about diagnosing and treating the animals here.

As stated previously, Imam is currently the only COP vet here, and is new in many respects. New, as he only started at the Centre early this year. And new, as a brand new vet straight from school. Imam graduated from University in December last year. It is difficult for Imam because he has almost no veterinary equipment required for basic vet diagnostics and treatments, and very limited veterinary medical supplies. Louisa and VFO (Vets for Orangutans) will be helping to purchase vital medical supplies and arranging donations of vet equipment from clinics in Australia. They also want to assist him and COP by coordinating future vet volunteers.

One of the things Louisa is doing to assist Imam and the clinic is working with him today to build a basic administration infrastructure. This is a huge task, as Louisa discovered today as and Imam went through the pain-staking job of setting up animal records, which did not really exist before we arrived at the Centre. They went through medical history for each orangutan and the other animals, and discussed plans to help them and talked about diet, environment enrichment, and other important issues that need to be rectified, or changed. They also wrote a long list of medical supplies and equipment that will be needed, either sourced locally or donated from Australian veterinary clinics. They spent all afternoon working, while Courtney and I were upstairs sleeping peacefully – no comment!

One issue that did come up was the dietary requirements for animals and how much animal feed cost each month. Ideally to feed all the animals at the Centre, they need around $2200 per month. Unfortunately they run short of around $600. To break it down:

  • $900 comes from the COP/VFO
  • $700 comes from the Zoo Management

The remaining $600 or thereabouts would ensure that all animals are being fed enough, but most importantly, the animals are getting the right diet and nutrition in order to stay healthy and happy. If Winnie the Sun bear had the right diet and nutrition, he certainly wouldn’t have all the problems he does now.

It hasn’t always been this way though; in the past they had access to a lot more animal feed when COP had an agreement with a department store that often gave them seconds or food that was rejected. Over time the quality of the food got so bad and COP discovered that the department store employers were taking some of the better quality rejected food for themselves. Eventually, COP just said no because they could not allow the animals health and welfare to be compromised.

These are just a few of the complexities of running the Centre within the Zoo. I will admit I came expecting vets in white coats, and a well organised working hub. Instead we found ourselves within an illegal zoo, one of many found throughout Indonesia. We found ourselves with a team of people who worked for no money, and a team who had no assistance from the Government but who cared deeply about the animals to help them and turn the zoo around. And this is why we are here, so we can make a difference and help save the orangutan, and help organisations like COP to ensure animals are being treated with the right respect and care they all deserve.

We are also here for moments when we get to see Louisa’s pants being pulled down by Untung, one of the young orangutans. Courtney, photo! Stat!

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Day 2 – it’s a jungle out there!

Borneo Day 2-1

After only being in Borneo for two days, we have all learnt a lot.

Borneo Day 2-3


Borneo Day 2-2

Borneo Day 2-4

We first learn that young orangutan are cute and eager to jump into Louisa’s arms. Young PingPong below literally climbed up the wall of his enclosure and jumped into her arms! Louisa is madly in love already! They also love feeding time, and showing off.

Borneo Day 2-5

Borneo Day 2-6

Borneo Day 2-7

Borneo Day 2-8

Borneo Day 2-9

Borneo Day 2-10

We also learn the complexities and frustrations of working with the Centre of Orangutan Protection which is where we feel overwhelmed to start off with. We start to grapple with illegal exotic pet markets, and the frustrating Indonesian Government bureaucracy.

Borneo Day 2-11

Borneo Day 2-12

The day started off with a tour around the Centre, which originally was a Botanical Gardens. Previously no orangutan or other animals lived here, but over time it has developed into a makeshift zoo to house animals that have fallen victim to  the illegal pet trade following loss of habitat due to the palm oil trade, mining and general deforestation. When the COP discovered the state of the orangutans being housed here, they recognised the desperate need for assistance. COP do not own the facility, but have been granted access to improve the living conditions of the animals housed here. Unfortunately there are illegal zoos like this all over Indonesia, so this one is lucky to have the assistance of COP.

The Captain of the Ape Crusaders (COP) also told us that the Botanical Gardens – the ‘zoo’ – is illegal. Compared to Animal zoos and sanctuaries back home in Australia and New Zealand, you can see why; small cages that house some of the animals that we would consider inhumane, run down enclosures, lack of maintenance, and rubbish everywhere.

Borneo Day 2-14

Borneo Day 2-15

Borneo Day 2-16

It is from one of these small cages that we learn about Government Bureaucracy, and how awful the situation really is. We meet two big orangutan – Debby and Ambon. Debby is 20 years old, while Ambon is 18 years old. Both have been kept in this small enclosure between seven to nine years because the Indonesian Government refuses to allow the COP them to create a new home. This new home is actually an island, an area that they want to clear to allow them to live in trees so they have space, and can live out in the open. It isn’t expensive, and if they could, the COP would start work on that today. Due to the fact the Government considers it a Botanical Garden, and the zoo aspect of it is illegal, they will not allow this to happen. Which makes you ponder: Why does the Government allow big companies to clear land and destroy native rain forests, yet does not allow the COP to clear a small portion – which would be nothing in comparison – to create a new home and create better living conditions for these two old orangutan?

Borneo Day 2-17

Borneo Day 2-18

There is some good news however.

Borneo Day 2-19

Currently the COP and other Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are working together to find land in Balikpapan to create a new Rehabilitation Centre, which if all goes well, could happen in June or July. This is good news for Debby and Ambon, but even better news for orangutan in Borneo. But nonetheless, there is nothing guaranteed.

Borneo Day 2-20

It’s still frustrating for the volunteers who work for the COP, because essentially a lot more red tape means they can’t save more. One crucial example of this is waiting for permission to go out and save injured orangutans. Waiting on that permission, whether it takes 3 hours or 3 days, means that some of the orangutan that could be getting treatment and protection do not. We may think of this as being backward, and most people would be in uproar over this at home in New Zealand and Australia but it is unfortunately one of the realities of working for a NGO in Indonesia.

Borneo Day 2-21

Borneo Day 2-22

Borneo Day 2-23

To mix up the day we went on a jungle trek with ‘Captain Crusader’ and ‘Captain Jungle’ Mito where we got to learn about a few plant species, and discovered where they want to  excavate and create the island for Debby and Ambon. In the searing heat and humidity, we all joked about hotels and pools, and mango margaritas amongst the lush beauty of the jungle. There really is nothing like it anywhere else.

Borneo Day 2-24

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