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Curried Hornbill

Last Wednesday, Pungky was presented with the skull of a black hornbill. Threatened by hunting and habitat loss, all 13 species of hornbill are protected by law in Indonesia — for some of Pungky’s pupils, however, it’s still on the menu.

Walking back home from the orchid nursery, Pungky was greeted with strange news. “Someone in the village cooked a hornbill,” related Ibu Suratin, the mother of the family who’ve taken Pungky in since he began teaching inside the Kerinci Seblat National Park, in southern Sumatra.

And there he was. Standing in the shadows outside the house, a boy called out to Pungky. The boy was one of Pungky’s 10-year-old students who he’s been teaching for the past six months.

Kak [older brother] my dad caught a hornbill,” he said shyly. “Look, here’s the head.”

“What? And where’s the body?” replied Pungky, in shock.

“My mum already curried it,” replied the boy. “We had nothing else to eat…Will my dad go to prison?”

All 13 species of hornbill are protected by Indonesian law. If caught hunting one, the maximum prison sentence is five years, or a fine of Rp. 100.000.000,00 (about 5,000 pounds sterling). These facts will have been known to the boy after passing the Endangered and Protected Species in Sumatra topic that comes fourth on our specially-developed curriculum.

But Pungky didn’t scold the boy. He knew that the boy’s father was a hunter who makes his living by selling songbirds from the Sumatran rainforest, often illegally. In a region where few parents went to school, and where economic opportunities are even scarcer, hunting and poaching are common occupations. The hornbill accidentally got caught in a trap. Lacking meat on the table at home, a father brought home sustenance for his young family.

“I’m not going to eat it,” said the boy, regardless, and ashamed.

Pungky’s Philosophy

Pungky has an odd approach to environmental education. Though he often teaches the lima T (the five t’s’) of protected species — which in Indonesian stand for don’t shoot, don’t own, don’t sell, don’t eat, don’t hunt — he realises it serves little function if children don’t understand why.

The Jungle Library Project’s philosophy when it comes to hornbills is not one of punishment, nor scholarship. It’s actually one of poo. (In Indonesian it sounds like this: filosofi ee, pronounced ‘eh, eh’.) Which is to say that we present children with ideas that they themselves can grasp.

“All animals that eat fruit are dispersers of seeds,” says Pungky. “The flesh of the fruit is digested, but the seeds come out the other side. When frugivorous birds fly, they poo, and the seeds fall to the earth. They could be jackfruit seeds, rambutan seeds, or durian, and when the rainy season comes the seeds begin to grow. The poo becomes a fertiliser; it grows the whole forest.”

This is ecology, Jungle Library style. We learn to read the forest. We understand processes before our eyes, not theories. And we let the children decide for themselves what outcome they’d like.

Because after The Philosophy of Poo-Poo, then comes the catch:

“If you kill all the hornbills, all the bears, all the fruit-eating animals,” says Pungky, re-enacting what he says to students class, “would you want to every day eat fruit and go all over the forest pooping out the new trees?”

“No way, Kak!” would invariably come the reply.

“So don’t go around shooting the hornbills, then,” Pungky would advise.

Environmental Education

The boy came to Pungky’s house to show him the skull, because he wanted to be sure about it. He wanted to know whether this was one the fruit-eating animals he’d learned about in class.

“They’re like my detectives,” says Pungky with a laugh. “They’re still young, so they’re honest. They haven’t learned to lie yet. They bring me all kinds of things: hornbills, porcupines, pangolins.”

One student even admitted to owning parts of a tiger skin. But it’s not Pungky’s philosophy to enter into a community and tell them right from wrong (Pungky comes from Java and does not speak the local dialect). Many parents engage in illegal activities for reasons of greed; but others are just trying to put their children through school, or buy their wife a motorbike. His hope is that the next generation will choose to take a different path in life, and know exactly why they are doing so.

Because the concept of the Philosophy of Poo-Poo applies to all animals. Tigers kill pigs. Kill all the tigers? Then you’ll have to keep the pigs off your dad’s plantation. Eagles eat baby monkeys. Kill all the eagles? Then you’ll have to keep the monkeys from eating your uncle’s rubber trees. Turtles clean the rivers of dead organisms. Eat all the river turtles? Then you’ll have to clean the river every day, and you won’t be able to swim.

Environmental education in our tiny project in southern Sumatra works by giving students the knowledge to understand the consequences of their actions. It works by showing what we want to protect, and how to protect it. It works by honesty, practicality and truth — the boy even offered Pungky some of the curried hornbill, following customs of hospitality. (He turned it down.)

“We will fight together to solve this problem,” wrote Pungky in a facebook post about the curried hornbill. “Education is key to make people realize, and I see hope in the young generation.”

Photographs by Pungky Nanda Pratama.  

Story and interviews by Joshua James Parfitt.

Pungky takes a selfie after teaching a lesson a class in Endangered and Protected Species.


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Rio the Malayan Racer

Some more good news to share with you all today ! 😀

We rescued a little snake, the “Malayan racer” (Coelognathus flavolineatus), in front of my house together with a few local kids.

We decided to give him the name “Rio”, to let the children familiarise themselves and not be scared with reptiles – especially snakes.

So, earlier, I heard yelling outside my house and I saw there was a snake trying to fight a big chicken. Unfortunately, some of the kids tried to kill the snake by throwing stones and branches at it. Immediately, I jumped out of my seat and ran as fast as I could to STOP! them all. Finally I caught the little snake.

The kids who throw stone and branch asked me, “Why did you stop us killing this venomous snake?”
I told them that certain kinds of snake do not have any venom – like this one. They believed that all snakes were venomous and could kill them. I felt so proud to be their ‘older brother’ (kakak in Indonesian) and their teacher, when some of younger kids said:

“So many snake eat rats on our plantations and our paddy fields, so we must not kill them all!”

After that, they argued a little about the snake, and I tried to teach them the difference between venomous and non-venomous snakes, and what we should do when seeing a snake or – God forbid – getting bitten.

Some of kids were very curious, and looked long and hard at the snake. I let them touch it, for some it was the first time in their life, and I saw a beautiful response to the little snake. Some of them said its skin was so soft, and its eyes so cool! A few were still scared about snake… Gotcha! They will be the next helpers to join me on a search for reptiles.

After that, we released together Rio in a good habitat far from the school. They’re still wondering why I wasn’t scared with snake.. 😀

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Three little kittens

I have wonderful news to share! 
Slowly, but surely, we're seeing proactivity to save our wildlife in southern Sumatra. Meet 'Leon' – a leopard cat (Prionailurus Bengalensis.) He was rescued by a villager who found him with two other siblings on patch of cleared land yesterday. In total I got three kittens (Leon, Leonita, and Tiger) and they're in my care here, supported by lot of people
The villager was taken aback when he found three kittens which looked like leopards crawling on the open land. He took them all and brought them to us. He knew these cats from a TV show, which explained they were under legal protection, and he called some of his colleagues involved with wildlife conservation.

I'm glad more people are protecting biodiversity in their own way, although oftentimes they take the wrong path. We must provide education, and let people know what work we do, so that villagers will re-release endangered species back into the wild – and not into the black market for extra cash.

Thanks to the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Agency of South Sumatra and Agroforestry Management Agency of Lakitan, who took part in monitoring these leopard cats 

Update: the local newspaper reported on this story, and I got noticed in town!

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‘Tommy’ the Slow Loris

We had an absolute blast today!

A wild slow loris (Nycticebus Coucang) was rescued and released back into the wild. We named him 'Tommy'. We'd received information yesterday from a student that a slow loris had appeared in the village earlier. We tried to look for him, but found nothing.

Suddenly,  a young man called to me, and said he'd found a slow loris on his house in the early morning. I asked him: "What did you do with the slow loris?" He gave me a bag and he told me that the slow loris is safe; he was inside the bag.

"Please, release him back into the wild, don't let him get more stressed" the young man said. Our conversation attracted the attention of some other villagers. A student among them excitedly informed us that kukang – a.k.a. slow loris – are protected by law and it's illegal to sell them as a pet.

I was so happy when I heard that. Our education programme can truly change the mindset of villagers, and had these two individuals not understood environmental education, this slow loris may have been sold to traffickers. We hope the indigenous peoples will preserve their wonderful biodiversity by their own hands. And sooner, rather than too late 



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