Two years ago, an outpouring of generosity following the devastating fire at Monsoon Forest, allowed us to fund pioneering conservation efforts in South East Asia, and here’s where we are today…
This week, the doors of the rebuilt and improved Chester Zoo Monsoon Forest reopen once more, as our recovery from the December 2018 fire comes to an end.
It’s been a long two years since that time. The world we find ourselves in now certainly isn’t the one that surrounded us back then. But ever since, we’ve been busy, and so have the people around the world that have been touched by the outpouring of support following the tragedy.
The Monsoon Forest Fund – a £200,000 pot of money raised by a truly wonderful collection of generous donators – has been put to use across the forest islands of South East Asia and here at Chester, to help prevent the extinction of some the region’s most threatened species.
Here’s what you helped to achieve in that time.
Saving the man of the forest
In the Sebangau forest of Indonesian Borneo, fire is an equally unnatural part of the ecosystem as it is here in Cheshire.
The digging of canals for logging activity decades ago has sapped away the soil moisture, degrading the peatland forest that is crucial habitat for orangutans and other key biodiversity. Today, the loggers are long gone, and yet the canals they forged remain. With the water table lowered and the region much drier than previous years, fires easily spread out of control during annual dry seasons.
Our good friends at the Borneo Nature Foundation have been fighting to end fire damage to the region, through a community focused approach. Working alongside the people of Sebangau, action is ongoing to reduce the susceptibility of the peatland vegetation, to fire, whilst ensuring blazes that do occur are brought under control rapidly.
£30,000 of the Monsoon Forest Fund has directly supported this work in 2018/19 – equipping community firefighters with the tools they need to safely fight the fires encountered on daily river patrols, and aiding the restoration of the water table by building dams throughout the illegal logging canal network. Thanks to their efforts together with local partners, orangutan habitat in Sebangau is still standing today.
While solutions are being found to problems in the wild, ex-situ efforts here in the UK are also crucial for orangutan conservation. Amongst Chester Zoo’s Monsoon Forest residents is a family of Sumatran orangutans, critical to the European breeding programme. With their habitat at the new Monsoon Forest restored and improved, some of the Forest Fund has purchased new tools and equipment to help our keeper teams manage this important population. Over the coming months and years, our primate keepers and behavioural researchers will continue to work side-by-side on increasing our understanding of orangutan behaviour, and to make evidence-based decisions towards maximising their breeding success.
For the critically endangered bleeding toad, the Monsoon Forest Fund provides the beginning of a conservation journey. Prior to the Monsoon Forest Fire, we’d begun to work with partners in Indonesia to build a better understanding the situation facing this colourful species. The bleeding toad is Indonesia’s only protected amphibian; it’s rare, with its population highly scattered in small pockets, but we must understand more to prevent its extinction.
Part of the Monsoon Forest Fund is being used to bring together experts from across Indonesia and around the world, across all sectors ranging from conservation experts to government officials, to draw out a conservation action plan. Through uniting stakeholders and expertise in one place, we hope to fully identify the threats to the bleeding toad, and enact solutions to reverse its decline. In-country capacity building in the areas of care, population management, and health screening will be a key part of the path to success.
The first meetings, hosted together by Chester Zoo and the Conservation Planning Specialist group will begin before the end of 2020.
Planning for the conservation of this species has implications for other amphibians in South East Asia, and we aim to reflect that at Chester Zoo. The Monsoon Forest Fund has allowed for the development of an amphibian focused exhibit showcasing fascinating species from the region and sharing stories of the challenges these species face.
Javan Conservation Breeding
The Cikananga Conservation Breeding Centre has been one of Chester Zoo’s closest partners in South East Asia, who we’ve been proud to support since 2011. The centre aims to establish viable breeding populations of critically endangered species found only on the Indonesian island of Java, and ultimately release them back into safe habitat within their geographic range.
Among Cikananga’s aviaries are breeding populations of javan green magpie, black-winged myna and rufous fronted laughingthrush, visually striking critically endangered songbirds, whose value to poachers has driven numbers to the brink of extinction. Habitats for endangered javan warty pig’s are maintaining a pure population, while in the wild, hybridisation with the European wild boar threatens the species.
Monsoon Forest Funding is helping to keep these ex-situ populations thriving, whilst experts across the world collaborate to solve the challenges of threats to wildlife in Java.
A future for hornbills
Mass deforestation has been taking its toll on populations of hornbills, a unique family of birds well known for their monogamous mating and rearing rituals. Pairs bonded by courtship seek cavities in old, large trees in which the female will keep her young safe from predators, while her male alone provides for the nutritional needs of the family. Suitable trees to nest in and forage nutritious fruits and insects from, are becoming rarer as habitats decline, bringing these wonderful birds to the brink of extinction.
Chester Zoo has maintained a population of Rhinoceros hornbills for a number of years, a South East Asian species now classified as vulnerable by the IUCN. Following years of research to improve breeding and management strategies by Chester Zoo Keepers and Scientists, in 2019, our hornbill pair successfully reared two new chicks, a huge boost to the European Programme.
Monsoon Forest funding has allowed us to develop new facilities during the rebuild. A new separation area allows us to closely study Rhinoceros hornbill breeding behaviour, and in the future, will be used to introduce new pairs and manage young birds as we mirror the natural processes through which hornbills establish their mate for life.
We’ve replicated the natural conditions needed for breeding, through specially designed artificial nest boxes and hope soon to see the successes of 2019 repeated. With research ongoing to study habitat usage, activity and courtship behaviours, our understanding of this threatened species continues to evolve.
This knowledge too has consequences for the wild. Monsoon Forest funding has added to a long-established partnership between Chester Zoo, the Hutan-Kinabatangan Conservation Programme, and Gaia – providing artificial nest boxes for hornbills whose habitat is running out. Just weeks ago, endangered Wrinkled hornbills were recorded exploring these nest boxes, an exciting moment of hope that species such as this can be saved.
Over these two years, the generosity that you have shown Chester Zoo during one of the hardest events in its history has had significant positive impacts on the lives of both people and wildlife around the planet. Thank you so much for your support.