Conservation ambassadors bring optimism to Devon

Published: 1 May 2017

Conservation ambassadors bring optimism to Devon

A delegation from the frontline of wildlife conservation has visited Paignton Zoo to share some optimism. The visitors were all involved in a project founded by the Zoo called Selamatkan Yaki – “save the Sulawesi crested black macaque” – on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

The party included Harry Hilser, Programme Manager for Selamatkan Yaki, Yunita Siwi, Selamatkan Yaki’s Community Conservation Officer, and Ibu (meaning ‘Lady’ or ‘Ma’am’) Khouni, the first lady of Bitung City. As the Mayor of Bitung's wife, she is well known in Sulawesi. A passionate advocate for conservation, she is an official Yaki Ambassador.

The Yaki Ambassador project recruits conservation–minded volunteers ranging from secondary school pupils to well-known public figures and experts, and empowers them to spread the message of yaki conservation. The Yaki Ambassador message is simple: we need the macaques and their habitat, because the macaques benefit the forests by spreading seeds and attracting tourism while the forests benefit people by providing water, food, medicine and regulating the climate.

Harry Hilser was in the UK to represent Selamatkan Yaki at the Conservation Optimism Summit held on April 20th and 21st at Dulwich College, in London, followed by a public event at ZSL London Zoo on April 22nd, which was Earth Day.

Dr Andrew Bowkett, Programmes Manager for the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, the charity which runs Paignton Zoo, explained: “Conservation news is often very ‘doom and gloom’ but conservationists themselves tend to be an optimistic lot! Our people in Sulawesi are always positive when visiting schools and talking to communities and the idea of Yaki Ambassadors is to spread the word far beyond the area our small field team could reach on their own.”

Sulawesi crested black macaques have faced massive population declines over the past 30 years and are now listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In Northern Sulawesi, Indonesia, yaki are considered a delicacy and are hunted at a highly unsustainable rate.

The party met primate keepers and was given an insight into Paignton Zoo’s group of Sulawesi crested black macaques. They also held meetings with key members of the Zoo team, participated in education sessions with local schools and gave a talk to update Zoo staff, students and volunteers.

At the Conservation Optimism Summit, Selamatkan Yaki presented a session entitled Collaborative Conservation together with their partners Tangkoko Conservation Education, Macaca Nigra Project and Tasikoki Wildlife Rescue and Education Centre. The idea was to show how these different organisations with an interest in macaque conservation have formed a nature conservation alliance in North Sulawesi to pool resources and work together instead of competing for funds and media attention.

Zoo spokesperson Phil Knowling said: “Harry, Yunita and Ibu Khouni were filled with energy, enthusiasm and optimism – it is really inspiring to see how much Selamatkan Yaki has achieved.”

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