Tue, 22 Aug 2000

Sahabat Satwa roars for foreign donors and volunteers

By Maria Kegel

JAKARTA (JP): Ragunan Zoo is quiet these days, and it's not because the lions aren't roaring.

The numbers of volunteers from Sahabat Satwa (Friends of the Zoo) have been disappearing since the crisis started, and they have taken with them the lively atmosphere that used to prevail around their activities at the zoo.

Expatriates have always played an essential part of the nonprofit group at Ragunan Zoo since the group's establishment in 1990.

However, the downturn in the economy and political instability have resulted in more expatriates leaving the country than coming in, and that is worrying the remaining members.

Inge Zein, a special advisor to Sahabat Satwa's board, is especially concerned about their departure from the group.

"It began with the crisis when half the expatriate members left and continued leaving without any replacements coming in. We are now left with trying to find active members or members who really care about animals."

Together with the then director of Ragunan Zoo, Linus Simanjuntak, a small group of expatriate women formally founded the organization 10 years ago with a mission to increase public awareness of Indonesia's diverse wildlife and to provide additional support to improve the welfare of animals housed at the zoo.

Since then, foreigners have played a key role in helping the organization achieve its work, with expatriate housewives making up 90 percent of the active volunteers, and 50 percent of the "nonactive" volunteers, or those who support the group simply enrolling as members.

But those were the old days. Now, there is only one expatriate on the volunteer force.

"We are really trying hard to recruit Indonesian members, but they are struggling in their daily lives with work and school. And that's the difference: usually it's been expat wives who have the time, money, their own transportation, friends and connections with companies -- a whole network."

She explained that big companies were a past source of funding as they usually had a reserve budget allocated for environmental programs.

"And if we have a foreigner as a volunteer, perhaps from him or her we can get a link to a major company."

Donations to Sahabat Satwa have severely dropped along with the reduction in members, and Inge said there was no stable amount coming in now.

And that is not good news for the animals which benefit from the mealworm and mouse-breeding projects the group helps maintain, or for the carnivores, including the endangered Sumatran tiger, who depend on the group's efforts to help the zoo meet the high cost of their all-meat diet.

Since the onset of the crisis, the zoo has faced problems in meeting the cost of meat, which has also risen dramatically in price.

"It (lack of funding) is affecting the animals a lot, not only with feeding the big cats, but also the smaller things that are needed, such as building shelters for the animals and improving animals' enclosures. Even the mice, which are bred for the diet of birds of prey and snakes, need cages as they reproduce rapidly."

She said they had lost money from all different sources, including from various charity bazaars.

"We used to get a good income from them as we were the only vendors at the socials, but now when we join them there is so much more competition," Inge said.

She said some donations go directly to the zoo, while some go to the zoo through Sahabat Satwa. The most expensive things to fund were the meat to feed the carnivores, and the vaccinations for the animals.

There is also an urgent need to build cages and enclosures for the animals at the zoo which are not on display. These animals, Inge said, were dropped at the zoo by owners who bought them from animal markets when they were small and cute, but later found them unmanageable when they grew.

"At least 20 percent of the animals here at the zoo have been dumped by owners -- that's a lot. That's why you can see the cages are also overcrowded. Wild animals are not pets. People don't realize that animals grow up and eat a lot of meat, which is expensive, so they bring them here but there are no cages."

In addition, the group also helps the zoo's nursery where baby animals rejected by their mother are raised. They supply formula, food, towels and heating lamps.

The zoo management, which works directly with the group and largely determines the ways in which it can help, wants Sahabat Satwa to continue, Inge said.

"The management of Ragunan Zoo has been very helpful to us."

Foreigners have also meant a connection with the media, as well as the international schools, allowing the group to educate and promote a greater awareness of the zoo's inhabitants and the group's functions.

"Reaching out to children is very important and we are now really trying to get into schools to give them information about the zoo and us."

There has also been a noticeable drop in school tours, and a volunteer who has been the tour guide for visiting international schools, Diana Ridgeway, is teaching Indonesian volunteers to be guides.

"We need Indonesian volunteers to go to the schools as these schools complain that we (the zoo) are so far away and to charter a bus is so expensive, about Rp 1 million for a full day," Inge said.

An active member, Jennifer Duginan Sugiyono, said it was just as important to reach out to Indonesian schools.

"We are striving to reach the younger Indonesian generation, as it's what stays here that counts. Expatriate students will go home where they don't have these problems in a developed country."

Not only do schools gain from the education and participation of tours, but volunteers also benefit from studying the animals.

A third year university student at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), Dila, 21, enrolled in the group on Friday and participated in the leaf-feeding program for primates, which started at 10 a.m.

"I loved animals even before I became a student. And I am becoming a member of the group so I can feel closer to the animals and know that I am helping them."

She learned about the group and its activities during her participation in a two-week practicum at Ragunan Zoo as part of her veterinarian studies.

The bulk of current active volunteers are the younger generation, whereas the older members are on the board, Inge said.

"But they will soon be going back to school, and we'll have to understand that (they won't be able to continue)."

Hopeless feeling

With a dwindling membership and an unstable source of funds, Inge said at times she felt hopeless about the situation.

"It's been very sad for all the members. I've been here 10 years, and the others for about seven, so we've witnessed the whole decline. Sometimes, I feel like I have to close Sahabat Satwa because of a lack of active volunteers, which is the main reason, but then I see the eyes of the animals. I also think of the incredible efforts of the founding member, Ursula Pangaribuan, who is a dedicated woman and gave all her time and energy to start this organization. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night (if the organization was closed)."

Jennifer added that the group was struggling just like everyone else was.

"We're struggling for the animals. Directly or indirectly, they will lose the benefits (we give them), but it would be very sad for the people to lose the opportunity to learn about them," Jennifer added.

If you are interested in helping Sahabat Satwa, please contact Devi at the Friends of the Zoo office at telephone/fax: 780-6164.