Volunteer gives a glowing account of her time spent with IAR in Indonesia
Volunteer Melati Grey has written a vivid account of her experiences while volunteering with International Animal Rescue in Bogor, Indonesia. She closes her report by recommending the experience to others. Our thanks go to Melati for being such an enthusiastic and dedicated member of the team. We will miss her too!
I find myself walking down to the guesthouse, the place that has been my home for the past two months. It seems like just yesterday that I arrived on that rainy October evening. Much has happened since I started volunteering at International Animal Rescue, and my work has taken me from cleaning macaque cages, to helping out with autopsies, to seeing the release of a leopard back into the wild.
Having studied Biology at university and lived in a big city, Madrid, for a couple of years, I felt the need to get out and back into nature. That started me searching on the internet, where I eventually came across International Animal Rescue. They sounded like a good organisation, working for a good cause and very dedicated to their work. So after a few emails and an anxious wait, I got the good news that I would be able to volunteer at their centre in Bogor, Indonesia.
I arrived in Indonesia and, after a short holiday with my family, I finally met up with Karmele, the chief vet, who was going to take me up to the centre. I remember it was raining that evening and the drive up to Ciapus seemed quite long. After stopping to buy some martabak (a kind of pancake filled with peanuts, cheese and chocolate) for dinner, we drove up to the guesthouse in Sinarwangi. My first impression of the place was very favourable. The rooms were all laid out around a lovely garden. They were basic, but welcoming, with bamboo walls and a private bathroom in each. After the excitement of the first day, it was easy to fall asleep.
Day-to-day life as a volunteer with International Animal Rescue depends entirely on what you are interested in. Here in Sinarwangi, volunteers are given an option as to where they would like to work: either with the macaques, the lorises or the education team. I have been lucky enough to try all three options during my stay here.
Working with the macaques involves a great deal of physical work. I helped the animal keepers perform their duties and assisted them with anything they needed. A typical day would start at 7am when the preparation of the morning's food took place, followed by the feeding of the animals. During the morning shift, many things have to get done -cleaning and scrubbing of cages, making enrichments for the monkeys, fixing any broken enrichments/furniture in the cages, and obviously making sure all the animals are in perfect health. There is the mandatory break for lunch, which we all have together in the guesthouse, and where the food, cooked by Ibu Oti, is delicious! The afternoon shift with the macaques consists of feeding the animals and cleaning the cages after the day's feeding. I spent two weeks with the macaque team and all of this hard work was made very easy by a lovely group of keepers who were always very attentive and helped me in every possible way!
The work with the lorises is a very different story. For starters, lorises are nocturnal animals, which means that all the work with the loris team starts after 5.30pm. Geared up in wellies and raincoat, you head up to the loris enclosures just before the sun sets. Very little is known about lorises and their behavioural patterns, so one of the main things that we worked on was trying to develop an efficient, accurate and easy way of observing these small animals. The main problem I had was the rain. It's very difficult to observe any animal while it's raining and all your papers are getting wet! In spite of it all, we managed to get an ethogram going, which hopefully will be useful in the future.
The week I spent with the lorises was fun, during which I learnt plenty about these fascinating little primates. I also saw the difficulties biologists and behaviourists are faced with when trying to find effective ways of studying such shy and elusive animals.
After my time with the macaques and the lorises, I started working with the education team. This is quite a new section in International Animal Rescue's programme and a lot of initiatives are therefore still at the planning stage, but the time I spent working with them I found interesting, very educational for me personally and lots of fun as well. The team is in charge of a series of activities, from giving talks in schools, to receiving schools at the centre, setting up stands at a range of events, and giving workshops and talks at these events. While I was here, the team was also involved in a very special task: a leopard had been rescued from the wild and now the plan was to release it back into its habitat. The education team had to prepare the entire socialisation aspect of the operation. This meant writing questionnaires, preparing presentations, going and speaking to the villagers, getting their opinions, setting them straight on aspects they weren't sure about... a huge operation, which I found thrilling and very motivating. Other than that, the talks in schools and school visits are what I most enjoyed. The enthusiasm of the children when we explained about animal welfare and their real desire to know more about the topic and help out was worth all the hard work that goes into preparing the events.
My stay at International Animal Rescue hasn't only been work and more work... There have been a whole range of other activities which have kept me nice and busy.Just behind the centre, the volcano Gunung Salak stands magnificently. As a volunteer here it is mandatory to try to get to the top of the Gunung. Whether you make it or not is another matter... The first Sunday after my arrival, we headed up towards the summit and after a very tiring 4.5 hours, finally made it to the top. The descent, however, was much worse! After 9 hours of non-stop walking, we finally got back home. The effects of the walk took a little longer to wear off though... After that walk, I've had many more in the Halimun-Salak National Park, all of them accompanied by a great guide.
I also became an improvised English teacher for some staff members. We had English lessons every evening, which proved to be a lot of fun. Four of us all sat around a table with a whiteboard, and covered many aspects of English, from day-to-day language, to vocabulary specific to animal keeping. My ‘students' were great and it was a real pleasure to help them out as much as I could.
Bogor, the nearest town to the centre, is also a place where you can spend some time on a day off. The Botanical Garden and the general hustle and bustle of the place make it a very nice town in which to spend a couple of days just wandering around. And the excitement of taking an angkot down into town just makes the experience so much better!
As my time as a volunteer with International Animal Rescue in Indonesia comes to an end, I thoroughly recommend this experience to everyone, especially those people with a love for animals. The work done by everyone at this rescue centre is amazing, whether it's the keepers, the education team, security, maintenance, the admin staff or the vets. Everyone works together for one clear goal: to rescue and rehabilitate suffering animals.
I have had an unforgettable few months here and would like to thank everyone for all their kindness and help. All the staff has made it very easy for me to enjoy my stay... to the point that I am finding it very hard now to leave!