Winny Pramesywari is currently on a three month work placement here in the UK. Along with fellow veterinarian Siska Sulistyo, she aims to gain more knowledge and skills that will enable her to enhance her role at Sumatra.
Winny works at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Project (a project supported by Chester Zoo) in the quarantine centre. Below she tells us more about her day to day work and her journey on becoming a vet:
“A nine-year old girl was standing in front of a calendar. Her eyes were staring at pictures of wildlife on each page of the calendar, every detail was read carefully.
“Pa, what picture is it?” she asked her father, pointing to a panda image on the corner of the calendar sheet.
“It is the logo of an organization that works to save these animals from extinction” explained her father.
“Wooww! What should I do to help them?”
“You can donate your money so they can continue their work.”
“I don’t have money. What else can I do?”
“Well…you can be someone with the skills they need, such as a veterinarian”
“OK then. I will be a vet.”
“And here I am now – becoming a WILDLIFE VET, reaching my childhood dream!
“It was not easy! Veterinarian (at that time) was not a prestigious profession in Indonesia. Many people frowned and questioned my dream. I keep insisting, as my parent said ‘be whatever you want as long as useful for other living beings’.
“I chose to study at Bogor Agricultural University, one of the best Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in the country. Yet, I realized that I wouldn’t get enough knowledge of wildlife from education alone. Therefore during holiday breaks I became a volunteer on various wildlife rescue centres and zoos in Java and Sumatra to gain more knowledge that I need as a wildlife vet.
“I also joined conservation-based student activity at the university named Uni Konservasi Fauna (Fauna Conservation Union). Many different science-based students who are concerned with conservation gather and share the knowledge.
“I learned a lot of important things from them. We also did the observations of various wildlifes in their natural habitats, spent days or weeks in the forest. It’s quite amazing to see them in the wild. I believed a deeper knowledge and understanding of animal natural behaviour will be very much needed in my future field work.
“It was my graduation at the end of 2009 – I became a vet and was very excited! Unexpectedly, a month later I got a call from my friend, who worked at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Project (SOCP). He asked me to join them at the orangutan release site at Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park, Jambi. My dream comes true!
“Welcome to the world of conservation!
“I became the only vet in the program with the field-based project in the remote Sumatra forest. Since it was founded in 2002, Sumatran Orangutan Release Centre have released 160 orangutans. Usually there are 10-15 captive orangutans in rehabilitation waiting for their release.
“My main responsibility is to maintain the health of both captive and released orangutans as well as treat any ill or injured orangutans. My favourite areas of work are nutrition and behaviour. To arrange a proper and balance diet for captive orangutans (as well as supportive diet for released one if really needed) is so much fun and can be challenging.
“Observing their behaviour is also very fascinating and makes me amazed at how smart they are. Knowing this gentle and lovely creature more makes me fall in love again and again. I can feel their emotions through their eyes, it really melts me inside.
Observing juvenile orangutans during Forest School. Photo credit: Winny Pramesywari.
“Sometimes my work feels like a vacation. Challenging roads, limited access of communication (need to climb the hills to receive phone signal!), lack of electricity (only four hours a day, sometimes less!), meeting many new people and various wildlife, face different clinical cases, and rescuing wildlife are the sweet and bitter parts of my job.
“I nearly met a tiger while tracking released orangutans, and to hear its snarls really gave me the creeps. My friends even met wild elephants and a bear! But the best part of my job is the moment when I see orangutans free after our help. It is a relief.
Very challenging road to reach Sumatran Orangutan Release Centre at Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park. Photo credit: Winny Pramesywari.
An orangutan is released at Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park. Photo credit: Winny Pramesywari.
“I also face many sad times. I see how the forests change to plantations (mostly palm oil) or coal mines. The weather gets hotter and human-wildlife conflict increases. I can hear the sounds of chainsaws from my field-site, meaning the illegal logging is getting closer. In dry season, the sawdust flies and the smoke goes everywhere. Some parts of the forest are burned to make new plantations.
“We are finding animal tracks closer, surrounding the site, probably moving to a more secure area for them. The most heart-breaking moment is when I need to rescue or treat animals from human-wildlife conflict or illegal poaching. Some of them are even found dead! No matter what, wildlife always becomes the victim of human greed.
“Being the only vet, particularly as new veterinary graduate without a on-site senior vet and supervisor, was not easy and sometimes stressful. Having to work with a very basic medical facility also makes me think efficiently and effectively to utilize the limited resources.
“My knowledge never seems enough to face different cases each time. However, I have an opportunity once a year to meet other colleagues whom work on orangutan conservation through Orangutan Veterinary Conservation Group (OVAG) workshop. The event that is supported by Orangutan Conservation and Chester Zoo is a means of sharing experiences and gaining knowledge that really helps our work and improves the quality. It also makes our relationship closer, like one big family. It is much fun!
The happy faces of participants of OVAG Workshop 2013
“I now work at the SOCP quarantine centre – on the front line of orangutan rehabilitation. It is different from the release centre. This gives me a good picture of the problem for orangutan conservation. Every month we can receive one to two new orangutans. They come due to many reasons – as illegal pets, confiscated from poacher or illegal wildlife trader, rescued from conflicted area, or repatriation from another country. We are lucky enough if they come under good conditions. But sometimes they suffer serious injury or illness, some with very deep traumas.
“Recently, we have seen many new-arrivals which are babies. Their cuteness makes many people want them as a pet. But the tragic story behind this is if you see one baby orangutan in our centre (as a pet or being sold anywhere), it means at least one orangutan died. None of the mother’s give their baby up voluntarily and the poachers need to kill them to take the baby!
“Neither my friends or me can work alone to save them. We need your help! The easiest way is to stop keeping wildlife as a pet! You can also help by using only environmental-friendly products and use them wisely! [Learn more about palm oil here.]
“Together we can act better to save the wildlife.”
I am Winny Pramesywari and I Act for Wildlife!