Sasha is a Biodiversity Research Officer for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Indonesia programme. We caught up with her to chat about what got her interested in conservation, and her role at the WCS.
Quick Fire Questions
Where did you grow up?
Where do you work now?
Wildlife Conservation Society – Indonesia Program
Gibbons and tigers. Can’t decide which one I like more!
What got you interested in conservation?
Seeing wildlife live freely in their natural habitat always made me happy. That is why I’m interested in conservation. Also, being aware of environmental issues motivates me to contribute directly to wildlife conservation.
Tell us about one of your best wildlife experience?
I think it was when I was researching the reintroduced gibbon pair. I was involved with the javan gibbon rehabilitation and reintroduction program during my internship in my undergraduate degree. I observed the behaviour of the rehabilitated gibbons, the pre-released gibbons, and the released gibbons. Following them in the wild wasn’t easy, especially if the terrain was very steep!
Have you got an exciting story from your fieldwork?
Before I worked for WCS and after I graduated from Imperial College London, I was in a part-time job for the University of Indonesia (my undergrad uni). I was going to pick up several students at the entrance to the forest. At that time I was at the visitor lodge inside the forest area, so I had to walk about 2-3km to pick them up. As I was walking, I heard several javan gibbons giving an alarm call, which meant that there was danger near them. I was walking alone at that time, don’t know why I thought it was a good idea. I was very familiar with the area though, so I was very confident I wouldn’t get lost. I thought the call was because there was a leopard around, so I kept walking with caution. After a quite long walk, I heard their call loud and clear, they might have been just several meters from where I was. I was still in high alert, just in case there was a leopard nearby. Then, when I passed them, they just suddenly stopped. I was confused. Was it because the leopard was gone or was it because they were scared at the scary red barong face on my t-shirt?! Well, either way, nothing happened, and I arrived at the forest entrance safely. Definitely not a good idea to wear a flashy shirt and walk alone in the forest though!
How long have you been working for the WCS?
I’ve been working for the WCS since early 2017 – so over three years now.
What is your job role within the WCS?
Mostly supporting the field staff and The National Park with data analysis and survey design. I also give trainings related to ecological surveys, such as camera trap surveys and faecal DNA sampling.
Your work involves analysing human-wildlife interactions. Where do you get the data on human-wildlife conflict?
I mostly work with human-wildlife conflict data from around Sumatra, from WCS work in Northern (Gunung Leuser National Park) and Southern Sumatra (Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park and Way Kambas National Park). Together with the government officials and local communities, we collect data and mitigate human-wildlife conflict around the National Park.
Which animals come up most in human-wildlife conflict?
In Sumatra we have a lot of reports on elephants and tigers. This is because it is illegal to kill them, and it’s often difficult to herd them back to the forest. For elephants, it is usually because they ate someone’s crops. As for tigers, it’s because they prey on people’s livestock.
📸 Avijan Saha
In your opinion, is human-wildlife conflict getting better or worse?
I think it’s getting worse because of the increasing human activities and infrastructure development. Collaboration between government, NGOs, and local communities is definitely needed to effectively mitigate the human-wildlife conflict without killing the wildlife.
What has been your favourite population to work with?
I mostly work with tiger data, so I’ll pick tiger.
What have the results shown so far?
We haven’t published the one that I’m currently working with and the analysis is not final yet. I’m sorry, but for now I can’t share anything. However, it’s always interesting to see whether there’s a female tiger with offspring or if there are some individuals from previous surveys recorded again in the latest survey.
Sumatran tigers and clouded leopards are both amazing species. What have you learnt when you’ve been analysing their populations?
The stripes on each tiger are different, same as the “clouds” on clouded leopards. I’m always excited every time I identify them individually, hoping they were recorded in a different area and/or different survey period.
📸 Dr. Alexander Sliwa
We hear you train park rangers to carry out biodiversity surveys. What is it like working with park rangers?
Most of them are cooperative, I guess. They definitely need several refresher trainings and guidance though until they’re confident and independent enough.
The training depends on the National Park management. Either they ask for our help to train the park rangers or we address what kind of training they need by asking the National Park management first. They’re the ones who have the bigger picture for the protected area management.
How do you train the park rangers?
We usually hold a class with a presentation for the basic theory and then give them some demonstration on how to do it. Then, let them try it out on their own with either dummy data or a simulation with a “what-if” scenario. I always try to make the materials easy to understand and don’t give them too many abstract concepts. Also, I try to not use jargons to avoid confusion.
Are you positive about the future of terrestrial wildlife in Indonesia?
I think some species will go extinct eventually. But, at least if we keep actively raising awareness and aiding policymakers with data and information, the rate will slow down (hopefully).
How can people at home, or on holiday in Indonesia help your work and conservation of wildlife in Indonesia?
Help raising awareness is the simplest one. Don’t buy any products related to wildlife trafficking. And if you already did, report it to the authorities and don’t purchase it again in the future. By doing this, you also help to fight wildlife crime.
Top three tips for working in conservation?
- Being passionate about it is important. Working in conservation is not an easy job, but if this is your passion then I think you’ll enjoy the hard work.
- You’ll hear a lot of depressing news such as wildlife trafficking, population decrease, wildlife dying due to conflict or poaching, etc., so be prepared.
- The result of your hard work might not be instant and maybe it’ll take years to see the change, so be patient and don’t give up.