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Projects in Sumatra, Indonesia

Drought in Way Kambas

Vanessa Gagne

Enduring the dry season in Way Kambas National Park (WKNP), Indonesia, August 2016

The month of August brought with it increased temperatures, dried grassland, and big challenges for the WKNP Elephant Response Units (EURs).  The dry season gave rise to the illegal burning of alang-alang grasses and in this one month alone, the ERUs who call the park home reported 22 forest fires. These fires were believed to have been started by wildlife hunters to facilitate wild deer hunts mainly in the Bungur and Tegal Yoso, with the latter hit hardest.  

    Managing forest fires was not an anticipated task for the WKNP mahouts who have not been trained to fight fires.  Due to the unpredicted need and lack of budget for firefighting equipment the ERUs rose to the challenge and worked feverishly using tree branches to help extinguish the fire. Water was also used from their water bottles to saturate surrounding areas in order to prevent the fires from spreading. The Bungur ERU found one case where an area of 2 hectares of grassland had been destroyed by fires.  Tegal Yoso had the most prolific illegal burning within their patrol region reporting 21 cases.  In 10 instances the grasslands were burnt 2-3 days previous to patrols.  The remaining 11 cases the Tegal Yoso ERUs encountered were active fires which required immediate attention by mahouts to prevent further destruction of the park.

    The three ERUs assigned to the park, patrol a very large area that stretches over 125,261.3 hectares. On patrols they continually try to deter and prevent any illegal forest activities while monitoring and protecting wildlife.  An enormous thank you goes to the ERU teams who rose to the difficult challenges they faced and put their safety secondary to protecting the biome and the inhabitants of the WKNP.   Our donors also deserve many thanks for helping supporting the patrols the ERUs carryout.  In the case of emergency situations, such as the ones the Way Kambas encountered in August, every donation is crucial to the future of the wildlife and forest protected by the ERUs.