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The Sumatra Wildlife Sanctuary

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Photo by Danielle Da Silva.

Anybody should be lucky enough to encounter a situation that causes enough conviction to actively change life's course of events, even if a sacrifice must be made.

For the last few months, I've volunteered for Photographers Without Borders. CEO Danielle Da Silva had such a life-changing opportunity when she went on a photo-documentary assignment in 2015 with photographer Gita Defoe, where the two documented the work efforts of Orangutan Information Centre (OIC) in Sumatra, Indonesia. Out in the field, Danielle had a rare opportunity to interact with orangutans in the wild, even getting to follow a mother orangutan and her baby, while watching them in their natural habitat.

As tremendous as that opportunity was, Danielle's life was changed when she accompanied OIC on a rescue mission that removed a baby orangutan from deplorable living conditions in an amusement park. To remove an orangutan, the mother must first be killed, leaving the baby to live its life in captivity. Quite often, the conditions are unsanitary and a far cry from life in the jungle. The orangutan, named Cece, was brought to a rehabilitation facility where it will be released in the wild after receiving proper care.

Sumatra is home to many endangered species. Critically endangered tigers, elephants, and rhinoceros all inhabit Sumatra's beautiful rainforests, which are being rapidly depleted by deforestation in support of a growing palm oil industry. Palm oil can be found in everyday products like vegetable oil, candies and many desserts. Rainforests in Sumatra and Borneo, as well as the animals and vegetation that make their homes there are in a dire situation. Animals like tigers, elephants, primates and exotic birds that once roamed freely are now without a trace in these environments due to over-production and deforestation by big agriculture businesses. The effect on the environment is devastating as the rapid deforestation of these rainforests means the extinction of many species, and the end of a way of life for the people of Indonesia.

The solution is complex - simply saying "no" to palm oil also means destroying a huge industry that supports the livelihoods of people on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo who see the palm oil industry as a means of stable income. However, palm oil production also drains massive amounts of water, forcing villagers to purchase bottled water. Deforestation also depletes the world of oxygen-creating plants, causes erosion, and creates an environment more susceptible to natural disasters. Interest in preserving the rainforest is not only from the perspective of saving these endangered species, but also in a vested interest in the health of humankind.

Danielle, along with photographer Gita Defoe and a number of like-minded individuals have been fundraising with the aim of purchasing 40 acres of land in Sumatra to set aside as a wildlife sanctuary. To date, $100,000 USD is needed to purchase the land, which will serve to rehabilitate endangered animals back into the wild, and guide them away from palm oil plantations and into the larger forest. These are normal people who have chosen to make a personal sacrifice to do an extraordinary and tangible thing to help combat this disaster. People can donate here.

We encourage you to participate in a more hands-on way and get involved any way you wish. On behalf of PWB, Danielle and award-winning photographer Kristi Odom will be presenting a photography masterclass in partnership with Sumatra Wildlife Sanctuary and Orangutan Information Centre. Participants will have the exciting opportunity to see the wildlife sanctuary first hand, while learning and telling the story of the wildlife and people affected. All proceeds from the workshop will support the Sumatra Wildlife Sanctuary and Orangutan Information Centre by conserving the rainforest land from deforestation.

I firmly believe in the power of humanity to build a better world, despite war, and greed, and destruction. It has been inspiring meeting Danielle and discussing these issues and realizing that these initiatives have tremendous impact. They are not as unobtainable or far away as I often think they are. These goals are realistic, and the impact is world-changing, from people just like myself. If Danielle, or anyone involved can save the Sumatra rainforest, this implies a strong, powerful, and exciting responsibility. If she can do this - I can do this. Anyone reading this article can do something. These actions, big or small, are not being carried out by people with power, or money, or prestige. As humans, we are privileged to live in this world and we should strive to care about humanity and keeping this planet beautiful, colorful and full of diverse wildlife. We are able to do this, not because of money or influence, but because we are human, and we are all on this fight together to build a happier, greener space.

Sign up for the Photographers Without Borders Sumatra Masterclass here.

More info about Sumatra Wildlife Sanctuary here.

More info about Orangutan Information Centre here.

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