April 21, 2020

The Wonder Women of RER: Srikandi – Srikandi RER

Woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep — Robert Frost, poet

As city dwellers, our impression of jungles is that they are remote, even hostile places. In Indonesia, nature enthusiasts (pecinta alam) and nature-related jobs tend to be closely associated with males and masculinity.

But at RER we’re fortunate to have a diverse team, including Dr Chela Powell, RER Restoration Manager, and Tiurma Rosinta, RER Communication Officer. Although they have different jobs, their backgrounds are somewhat similar. Chela holds a PhD in Conservation Biology, while Tiurma is an accomplished Molecular Biology graduate. Both share the same lifelong passion toward the natural world.

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Dr Chela Powell, RER Restoration Manager. She has to juggle her roles between motherhood and work plus working in a foreign country.

Since she first set foot in RER, Chela has made several important contributions, from species specific assessment to improving RER’s management and restoration plans. She has also helped raise the quality of RER’s science publications and papers.

Yet, despite her busy work schedule which is filled with numerous field visits to the  Kampar Peninsula forests, Chela still makes time for her little two-year-old and husband.

“When the day’s work is done, your next job begins as you reach home and switch roles to being mother to your children,” said Chela.

Chela said that when she was young, her mother taught her that there was no limitations to what she could do with her life, and to always strive for what she was interested and passionate about. This is a credo she continues to try to live by.

At the beginning of her career, there were times when she needed to prove she was worthy and capable of the work. But later, after many enriching years, she realized that capability comes with attitude and experience.

As a huge fan of Sir David Attenborough, Chela believes that educating people about nature should not be done through agonizing numbers or depressing (albeit true) statistics. This is why her work in RER is important.

From her first day, she has relished good news, including the discovery of more plants and animals, improvements in forest cover, continuously moist peat forest throughout the terrible 2019 fire season, and best of all, the first record of an endangered and never-before recorded species in Sumatra.

This cat species, is one of the least known and rarest cat species in the world. Chela is currently leading the RER team in learning about its distribution and habitat requirements and is developing conservation management planning for the species on the Kampar Peninsula. 

But personally, the species in RER which has caught her attention the most is the Sunda Pangolin. Being the only mammal with scales, it is listed as Critically Endangered (CR) by the IUCN. Pangolins are being poached almost to extinction for their meat and scales for medicinal purposes, even though there is no evidence of their effectiveness.

In spite of its look, the Sunda Pangolin is in fact a lovely animal, Chela said. Female pangolins will often have their babies in a den or even a tree hollow, but when they venture out to forage for ants and insects the mothers will carry their babies on their tails.

“I feel very honoured to be able to work toward protecting and restoring the habitat of this unique and critically endangered species,” added Chela.

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Tiurma Rosinta, RER Communication Officer. With her relatively young age, She has to face common stereotypes that women do not fit in the forest.

By joining RER, Tiur has taken a pathway that deviates quite far from her background. Having been educated in molecular biology, she used to spend her school days in labs extracting DNA, sifting particles through electrophoresis, conducting PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) tests, and analysing lab samples. 

However, as part of the RER Communications team now, Tiur currently manages RER’s digital and social media accounts, and also takes part in handling visits to RER, as well as events that RER organises.

Tiur is therefore in the front line of ensuring that all RER news is delivered to the public accurately and responsibly, and improving public awareness about RER on social media.

Even though she has hung up her lab coat for good, Tiur does not mind as she really enjoys working in RER.

“The communal call of the Agile Gibbon, the chirps of songbirds, the aqueous monotonic sounds of the Serkap River flowing, and the forest leaves rippling in the wind – these are all refreshing substitutes to dreary and boring desk work,” Tiur shared. 

Four years and counting in RER has been full of moments for Tiur. The more she is involved with the forest, the more she is mesmerized by it. One experience she will never forget is when she took part in the rescue of a trapped Sumatran Tiger in 2019 that occurred beyond RER’s concession areas.

“I was nearly crying when I saw the tiger’s condition. This king of the jungle was lying helplessly and needed intensive care due to the wounds caused by the poacher’s inhumane trap,” said Tiur as she recounted the experience.

Despite this, the Sumatran Tiger remains the most intriguing animal for Tiur. When tiger cubs reach adolescence, a tiger mother kicks them out and they have to start hunting by themselves and claiming their own territories. Yet sometimes, these mothers still look after their young by giving them leftover prey – a tiger mother is still a mother, Tiur said. 

Another more positive moment happed in February this year, when Tiur was part of the documentary filming project team for RER which had her camping in the forest for more than two weeks. During the whole time, she realised the value of city conveniences, as she had to live without access to the phone or Internet, bathe in peat-coloured river water, and sleep in a small tent with mosquitoes and other insects keeping her company. However, she was granted rare and unobstructed views of the stars and Milky Way every night.

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