Monday 19 September 2011

Jessica McKelson

Jessica! What a woman, what a powerhouse!

It seemed as if I already had known Jess for years when I met her for the first time. I heard of her when Michelle, one of the other ‘Incredible Ladies’ and director of Orangutan Land Trust - OLT, posted on Twitter: ‘I can recommend this travel company’. When I opened the link tears shot into my eyes: A trip to Sumatra to see elephants and orangutans… all I ever had wished for, on one little page right in front of me. This was too good to be true.

I sent an email to enquire for more information and got a wonderfully personal email back. We clicked! Many emails and Facebook messages later we eventually met in Medan, Sumatra. During the two weeks that followed I heard incredible stories of how, at age 29, this travel company became the culmination point of her career. From an early age Jess was a woman who sees a need and just ‘does’. To her, fears and worries are there to be overcome. What an example and what an inspiration!

A passion for wildlife

Her passion had always been animals and native wildlife. At a young age she volunteered for five year to a private Native Wildlife Park where she gained experience as a foster carer, rehabilitating Native Fauna to release back into the wild. After completion of one year in the Natural Resource Management Course, she gained employment as a zookeeper at Victoria’s Open Range Zoo, then moved on to Perth Zoo, and currently she is employed at Melbourne Zoo as a Senior Zookeeper. Since 2000 Jess has been working there with a range of exotic and native fauna, until she found her niche working with primates.

Sometimes one just has to be in the right place at the right time: Two years after she started her employment with Melbourne Zoo she did her first trip to Indonesia… and instead of finding dense cover of rainforest where the canopy of the trees is hiding the wonders of the jungle below, she saw palm oil plantations; loads of them. As a matter of fact, hundreds of thousands of hectares of rainforest converted to palm oil plantations. It left her with a deep gut feeling of horror. What was going on and how could we be so ignorant to not see the damage done to one of the most beautiful places on the planet? And not just beautiful… those rainforests are the lungs of the world we live in… a damage of this size and the speed with which it progresses was just incomprehensible.

A life-changing trip

This trip would become a life changing experience to her. When she started her employment with Melbourne Zoo she did not expect to work with orangutans and nor did she expect to travel to Indonesia to pursue a career in becoming an active ambassador to protect our wild cousins and their rainforest home. This is her personal account about Indonesia, the rainforest and orangutans:

Why Indonesia? The world has many wild places. But the forests of Indonesia have always excited me. Home of four major species which act as ambassadors to the forests, the Sumatran tiger, orangutan, elephant and rhino, it is one of the most bio diverse regions on the planet and one of the most culturally diverse places to visit.

Indonesia, however also has a rapidly growing industrialising economy, with a large, growing population, putting strain on its resources and the poor. In a wildlife conservation context, there are important differences between South East Asia and ‘western countries’; i.e. the former faces greater population pressures, lower standards of living, and weaker government capacity and regulation. These contribute to significant and complex conservation challenges.  And it is Indonesia where one will find some of the world’s best environmental non-government organisations and professional working on a broad range of conservation programs. Needless to mention that I also chose Indonesia as it is the home of the orangutan.

When I got there for the first time, I saw the damage, and most of that immense damage occurred to a species so close to us, that shares 97% DNA to us humans - the famous orangutan. Then I heard how they came to end up in rehabilitation centres, and I witnessed the damage and the suffering. I was actively involved in rescue missions and I saw their grim future. Since then I have not turned my back on the significant issues that threaten the remainder of wild Borneo, but have become inspired to take part in the urgent action needed to save the orangutan species in Borneo and Sumatra.

The Orangutan Crisis is why I became involved as a volunteer for the ‘Borneo Orangutan Survival’ (BOS) Australia, from 2002 - 2007. I spent a majority of my own time filling the role as ‘Fundraising and Merchandise Coordinator’ for BOS Australia, which entails organizing and implementing fundraising activities and managing merchandise orders. 

After returning to Australia things fell into place. Jess applied to the ‘International Specialised Skills Institute’ and was awarded the youngest fellowship in Australia where the Pratt Foundation was her sponsor. The aim of the fellowship was to study and gain first-hand information on conservation programs and the methods and practices involved for long-term successful outcomes, to acquire practical skills and techniques used in project design and management, and to then apply the knowledge and skills in Australian zoos to assist them to improve their capacity to support conservation programs.

Prior to receiving this fellowship Jess had the opportunity to meet one of her childhood idols, Dr Jane Goodall, at the orangutan sanctuary. After talking about the programs around chimpanzees Jane had developed during her lifetime, Jess asked for her opinion about working in the conservation industry. She was awarded with the advice to harness her enthusiasm and motivation and direct these energies into Indonesia. This was the last push needed to gain the confidence and to channel all her efforts into this direction.

The Future
Jess is now focusing her efforts into three main areas, which in a way support and influence each other:

Orangutan Conservation

Jess keeps visiting Nyaru Menteng, the world’s largest primate rescue centre, to help develop programs to enrich the lives of orphan orangutans and to support their rehabilitation. Nyaru Menteng is the center which was founded by Michelle and Lone Droscher-Nielson and it is the project via which these three fantastic women are linked. Jess' work as the 'Works Project Manager' includes:
  • A Works program, where she facilitated an Australian welder and electrician to travel to Nyaru Menteng and help train some of the local employees with skills they would not have received otherwise.
  • Assisted in helping expand and develop the ‘Environmental Enrichment’ program for the orangutans so they are mentally and physically stimulated within their captive environment until they are released. 
  • Helped facilitate three local technicians to come to Australia and work with the orangutans at Melbourne Zoo in a ‘Capacity Building Program’.
  • Participated in daily operations including rescue and intensive care of orangutans that come into the centre.
At SOCP: Jess, Ian and Gober a blind mum of twin babies

More recently she started supporting the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme – SOCP, led by Ian Singleton, in their activities to re-introduce orphans back into the wild and to provide a permanent home for orangutans who cannot be rehabilitated due to major injuries, like blindness through airgun bullets (Full story of the two blind Orangutan parents of twins).

Elephant Conservation

The Sumatran elephant is critically endangered and the Sumatran Elephant Conservation Program of the Conservation Response Unit (CRU) is a project that has been with Jess since her beginnings at Melbourne Zoo. It is a programme in which she is actively involved by spending time working alongside ex-illegal loggers to help protect and save the Sumatran wild elephants natural habitat, while finding ways to give captive elephants the best live possible. She works on broad-scale habitat conservation, as this is the home of the Sumatran orangutan as well. She works closely with a local community living on the edge of Gunung Leuser National Park and has developed a number of programs to assist in its protection. Her main concern is to create win-win situations for all parties involved. For this reason she built the Raw Wildlife Encounters eco travel agency, employing the elephants in a way that is close to their natural behaviour, giving the local population a sustainable income while protecting the rainforest habitat through education and raising awareness. The programs include:

  • Development of 1ha ‘Elephant Conservation Garden’ as an educational resource on sustainable and organic farming methods.
  • Redeveloping the eco-tourism activities with the CRU, like elephant patrols into the Gunung Leuser National Park.
  • Developing a ‘Forest Ranger Training Program’ together with Deakin University representatives, which included training local community members in GPS and data collection skills.
  • Initiating a ‘Conservation Teachers Training Workshop’, training 14 local teachers and headmasters a conservation program, which can be delivered to their schools.
  • Facilitating four elephant mahouts to come to Australia and work with the keepers at Melbourne Zoos elephant program in a ‘Capacity Building Program’.
  • Teaching English to the mahouts and forest rangers.

Raw Wildlife Encounters

The commitment to helping conserve local communities and their natural environments has changed her life. Her love and passion for orangutan conservation is helping to conserve the entire ecosystem of the region, including the people who live there. Working alongside key conservation leaders and communities, Jess realised that one more, big leap would be necessary to sustain those projects for the future: She would build her own eco-travel company, Raw Wildlife Encounters (RWE). And this company would incorporate all her believes and conservation values. She would prove that strong ethical principles and ecological ideals are a way to economical success, allowing her to support those programs.

In 2008 she took the leap and at the age of 26 she founded RWE while still working full time as a zookeeper, supervising the Primate Collection at Melbourne Zoo. She says:
‘The least thing I needed was a hobby as a business owner and manager, but I am so grateful that I took that step. Only a year later, at age 27, I became the director of this amazing eco-travel agency. My aim is to deliver high-quality travel encounters that provide our guests with life-changing experiences. So many of our guests have given me positive feedback about how much their travel encounters have impacted their lives. Consequently, I now have a whole support network believing in the work of RWE, and that encourages me more than ever. Even more importantly, it is so gratifying to know that our supporters can come with us on tours to see where their money goes.’

And the scheme is spreading! The work she started in the Tangkahan area is now being picked up by other communities living at the margins of Gunung Leseur National Park. She seeded a grain and made it thrive through passion, commitment, persistence and a good deal of guts. What an example and what an inspiration! What an Incredible Lady!

The Raw Conservation Commitment

Monday 25 October 2010

News about Nita

A sweet short story by Michelle Desilets

Rika, thanks so much for sharing Nita's story when I met her for the first time. She has changed so much since then. Now her hair is not so long, and I think this is because she is so active climbing and playing with her friends, it breaks (The most rough and tumble orangutans seem to have the shortest hair). She is fiesty, like a mini-Kesi, and plays rough with the babysitters sometimes. As I work in Lone's office in NM now, at the end of the day, she likes to come up to the window and press her face against it, or knock at the door. Then she returns to playing with her orangutan buddies. She is in perfect health. I believe Nita is available for adoption at a number of BOS sites.

Saturday 23 October 2010

Michelle and the Orangutans

Michelle Desilets: Founder of BOS UK and OLT

- The Orangutan Lady -

When I started to introduce the Orangutan issue to IL, I got in touch with Michelle who at that time had just started to found her new charity Orangutan Land Trust. Her response to my email and enthusiams was so inspiring that I kept diving deeper and deeper into the matter. Once in a while I keep nagging her with the one or the other question and I always get a wonderfully elaborate answer.
The last one containing a wonderful article about a little baby Orangutan Nita. That was when I found that her story should go up here: What an Incredible Lady with an Incredible Story.
As a profile however I would like to only provide links to various sources where her story is already depicted from so many angles, you will get to know her from those so much better then from whatever I would write:
Michelle's recommendation for Eco-Tourism
Raw Wildlife Encounter - 12 days Elephant Odyssey Adventure, Sumatra

Magical Moments with Nita
(to the German article)
I fell in love today all over again. For nearly 15 years I have been falling in love with orangutans. Which ones stole my heart the most? There are so many. I suppose they would have to be Lomon, Alma, Beethoven, Pahawan, Sumo, Martizen, Deri, Datos, Samantha, Jeffrey, and my first love that changed my life: Somalia.
And today it happened again. I didn’t realise it until I came home tonight. I spent some time yesterday with Nita, having admired her since I arrived at the Nyaru Menteng Project greeting her everyday, but not really spending time to get to know her.
Let me describe her: Nita has the longest hair of any baby orang-utan I have ever known. She is about 2 to 3 years old with amber coloured eyes. She shuffles around on her bottom, not bothering to straighten her legs, or slides along on the tiles, clutching a towel and cleaning the floor along the way. She doesn’t climb or play with other orangutans, but she plays happily by herself.
Nita is an ex-pet, and as far as I can tell, she was loved and looked after. She doesn’t much like to be dirty, but she’s starting to get used to it. She appears to be in fairly good health—a big appetite and she drinks plenty. We are just waiting for the tests to come back negative so she can go into the forest with the others. For now, she lives in the isolation unit with Kle, Klara, Frankie and Pista.
Recently, because she was on a drip for a little while, Nita has been spending time inside the building rather than on the playground, and today needed a little encouragement to venture back outdoors. When I arrived today, I stood at the door and called her name. From the opposite corner of the room, she slithered along the floor with her towel, stopping every so often as if she had forgotten where she was going. I’d call her name again; she’d look up, and then slide a bit further, manoeuvring her way around obstacles such as other orangutans. Finally, she reached the door and reached up to me.
I took her first to the bench outside and tickled her mercilessly, as she squeaked with delight and covered her face. This was followed by some cuddling to give her a chance to catch her breath. The wind was actually blowing (a rarity in steamy Borneo), and in the middle of an otherwise sweltering day, it was so refreshing in the breeze and out of the rather airless room. Nita lifted her face into the breeze and closed her eyes, taking it all in.
After she dined on a handful of rambutan fruit, I took Nita over to the climbing frame, and sat down on the first rung of a large ladder made of logs. She immediately began to explore this log, running her fingers along the grain, picking off some of the bark and testing it with her nose and then lips and then tongue, exploring with her foot the joins used to build the ladder. Eventually, three of her four “hands” were busy exploring her world, one hand left firmly gripping onto me.
Over time we proceeded one rung at a time up the ladder, until a half hour or so later, we had reached the platform. Here, after a slightly hesitant start, Nita dared to venture a few feet away from me, exploring more of the structure and its features. If boisterous Kle came along, she was immediately back in my arms for protection. As soon as he moved on, she began to explore again, still shuffling along on her bottom, the rough wood fraying her nappy. Eventually, intrigued by a twisted rubber swing hoisted above the platform, Nita reached up, extending her legs at last!
It was not long before Nita realised that from the platform she could see beyond the fence that enclosed the isolation unit and its playground. She watched the technicians and babysitters coming and going, some manoeuvring wheelbarrows laden with a variety of tropical fruits. She gazed for a long time at the baby sun bear wrestling with his older companion in the enclosure adjacent. And she watched as bold older orangutans who had wandered out of Forest School stealthily stole coconuts and great bunches of bananas and climbed high into the tress to indulge in their booty. The wind blew again, and she raised her head and opened her mouth wide to breathe it in deeply, her hair literally flowing in the breeze.
For hours, Nita explored various parts of the playground, the different platforms and the views to be had from each. The babysitters provided us with a ready supply of fresh fruit on the platforms (all for Nita)—her favourite were sweet oranges, which taste a bit like satsumas. But poor Nita didn’t really know how to open the oranges. Thus began a lesson in eating oranges. I showed her how to push her thumb into the bit where the stem used to be, along with how to get a hold of the orange and break it in two, then how to use one’s fingers or lips to pull the segments off one by one from the skin. These she would pop in her mouth and suck on, trying to get all the juice out, but not doing so well. So the next part of the lesson was how to bite the tip of the segment off with your front teeth so that the juice has an opening to escape from when you suck on it. This now meant that Nita was able to get almost all of the goodness out of the segment, and she seemed pleased with the accomplishment. We managed to stretch this lesson out through 4 oranges--my student very attentive at all times--and finally on the last one, she managed to peel the orange herself and proceed with some success on the segments, leaving behind the last two, presumably because she was full up!
In the late afternoon, Ruby came into the unit, suffering from a bit of dehydration. Ruby is bigger than Nita but remarkably gentle. She was very interested to make friends with Nita, and came along to touch her remarkable hair. Nita was not impressed and buried her face into my chest. Ruby took Nita’s leg in her foot, and Nita responded by peeling back Ruby’s toes and pushing her foot away. But Ruby, the social butterfly, was insistent that Nita should be her friend. She brought her face close to Nita’s, who had turned to face this curious creature, and kissed her softly on her eyelids. Nita rebuffed Ruby with another firm push with her foot and Ruby moved along. Ruby didn’t seem put out, but more like she understood that the newcomer was still a bit wary of orangutans. I recalled this reaction from a number of orangutans who tried to make friends with a very reluctant Lomon when he first arrived. They tried a few times to introduce themselves and initiate play, but it seemed they sensed Lomon was frightened of them, and they didn’t bite him or insist too hard. They just let him settle in in his own time. Eventually, when he was ready, it was Lomon who initiated play with another orang-utan.
It was late afternoon and the sky grew dark, threatening another evening of heavy downpours. I took Nita back into the unit, held a bottle for her as she drank, changed her nappy, and gave her a fresh towel to sleep with. She draped the towel around her neck and clutched the ends, and lay herself down without a fuss. I packed up my things, raced home, not quite missing the onslaught of the torrent of rain.
The electricity is out as I write this by candlelight. Everything is quiet bar the sound of frogs and crickets now that the rain has stopped, and the occasional cough or whimper of an orang-utan baby next door in the nursery.
And in this solitude and calm, given a moment to reflect, I am suddenly overwhelmed by such love for little Nita that I have to catch my breath. Somehow, those golden eyes have spoken to me, have told me her story, and have made me know her—all without words. It is hard to explain this feeling, or even to understand it myself, why some orangutans out of the hundreds I have known, affect me in this way. It’s these moments that remind me why I do what I do, and just how privileged I am to know orangutans.
Michelle Desilets
Founder of BOS UK and Orangutan Land Trust

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Zauberhafte Zeit mit Nita
(zum Englischen Artikel)
Heute habe ich mich total verliebt. Seit fast 15 Jahren verliebe ich mich regelmässig in Orang Utans. Die Namen derer die mein Herz am meissten gefangen nahmen? Da sind so viele, aber nennen muss ich doch Lomon, Alma, Beethoven, Pahawan, Sumo, Martizen, Deri, Datos, Samantha, Jeffrey und meine erste grosse Liebe die mein Leben veränderte: Somalia.
Und heute ist es nun wieder passiert. Es geschah ganz heimlich und ich merkte es erst als ich heute nacht nach Hause kam. Gestern habe ich eine ganze Menge Zeit mit Nita verbracht. Seit ich in Nyaru Menteng ankam habe ich sie bewundert, sie jeden Tag begrüsst, habe jedoch nie die Zeit gefunden sie richtig kennenzulernen.
Wie kann man Nita beschreiben? Sie hat das längste Haar dass ich jemals an einem Baby Orang Utan gesehen habe, sie ist 2-3 Jahre alt und hat bernsteinfarbene Augen, und sie rutscht auf ihrem Po, viel zu faul die Beine zu strecken; oder fest an ihr Handtuch geklammert, rutscht sie über die Fliessen und wienert den Fussboden. Sie klettert nicht und sie spielt nicht mit den anderen Orang Utans, spielt aber ganz glücklich mit sich allein.
Nita ist ein ehemaliges Haustier und soweit ich sagen kann wurde sie gut versorgt und geliebt. Sie mag es nicht wenn sie schmutzig ist aber langsam lernt sie auch das. Sie scheint recht gesund zu sein – hat eine grossen Appetit und drinkt viel. Wir warten jetzt auf ihre Gesundheitstests und hoffen, dass sie negativ ausfallen, so dass sie mit den anderen in den Wald gehen kann. Im moment lebt sie noch auf der Isolierstation zusammen mit Kle, Klara, Frankie und Pista.
Kuerzlich brauchte sie für eine Weile einen Tropf, sodass sie mehr in Haus sein musste anstatt auf den Spielplatz zu gehen. Heute nun brauchte sie ein bisschen moralische Unterstützung wieder nach draussen zu gehen. Also blieb ich heute als ich ankam an der Tür stehen und rief ihren Namen. Sie war am anderen Ende vom Raum und kam Stückchen für Stückchen auf ihrem Handtuch näher gerutscht, immer wieder hielt sie and als ob sie vergessen hätte wo sie denn nun eigentlich hin wollte. Sie kam ein weiters Stückchen näher als ich ihren Namen rief, rutschte um einige Hindernisse wie andere Orang Utans herum und kam endlich and der Tür an um an mir hochzureichen.
So trug ich sie zunaechst nach draussen auf die Bank um sie ordentlich durchzukitzeln. Sie fing an begeistert aufzukreischen und ihr Gesicht abzudecken, sodass wir zum Atem zu fassen ein bisschen Schmusen mussten. Es war windig (was wirklich selten ist in dem Dampfkessel Borneo). In der Mitte eines ansonsten brütenheissen Tages hatten wir hier draussen wunderschöne frische Luft, verglichen mit der Stickigkeit des Raumes. Nita hob ihr Gesichtchen in die Luft, schloss die Augen und tat nichts als geniessen.
Nach einer Malzeit bestehend aus einer Handvoll Rambutan Früchten ging’s auf zu den Klettergerüsten. Wir nahmen auf der ersten Sprosse Platz und sie fing sofort and das Holz zu untersuchen. Die Finger fühlten der Maserung entlang, ein bisschen Rinde musste mit Lippen, Nase und Mund getested werden, während der Fuss die Verbindungen untersuchte, die die Leiter bilden. Am Ende waren drei ihrer Füsse dabei die Welt zu erkunden, die vierte jedoch blieb fest an mich geklammert.
Eine halbe Stunde oder so später hatten wir uns Stufe für Stufe hochgearbeitet und endlich die Platform erreicht. Nun traute sie sich zunächst zögerlich von mir weg und began das Bauwerk in seinen Einzelteilen zu untersuchen. Wenn die etwas stürmische Kle vobeikam, war sie sofort wieder in meinen Armen, bevor sie ihre Erkundigungen wieder aufnahm – und immer auf dem Po rutschend, die Windel war schon ganz zerrupft. Und dann passierte es: Ganz beindruckt von der gedrehten Gummischaukel die ueber der Plattform hing zog sie sich hoch und streckte ihre Beine, endlich!
Und dann entdeckte sie dass man von der Plattform aus ueber die Einfassung der Isolierstation und des Spielplatzes sehen konnte. Sie beobachtete wie die Assistenten und Babysitter kamen und gingen, manche mit Schubkarren voll mit tropischen Früchten. Sie konnte ihre Augen kaum von dem kleinen Malaienbären lösen, der mit seinem grösseren Kumpel einen Ringkampf im benachbarten Gehege ausfocht; und sie beobachtete wie mutige ältere Orang Utans die aus der Waldschule geschlichen waren Kokosnüsse und Bananen klauten und mit ihrer Beute hoch in die Bäume kletterten um dort mit Genuss zu speissen. Da kam wieder ein Windstoss und sie öffnete ihren Mund weit fuer einen tiefen Atemzug und ihre Haare flatterten im Wind.

Stundenlang untersuchte Nita die verschiedenen Ecken und Plattformen des Spielplatzes und erforschte die jeweiligen Aussichtspunkte. Die Babysitter versorgten uns mit frischen Früchten auf den Plattformen (alle für Nita) – sie bevorzugt süsse Orangen, die ein bisschen wie Satsumas schmecken – aber die Arme wusste nicht wie man sie öffnet. So begann unsere Lehrstunde im Apfelsinen schälen. Ich zeigte ihr wo man dem Daumen in die weiche Stelle drücken muss wo mal der Stiel war, wie man sie halten muss um sie in zwei Teile zu zerlegen und wie man mit Fingern und Mund Schitze für Schnitze von der Schale löst. Sobald das gelungen war verschwand die ganze Schitze im Mund und wurde heftig aber nicht sehr erfolgreich ausgenuckelt. Die nächste Lektion war nun die Schitze oben anzubeissen, um eine Öffnung zum Aussaugen zu erhalten. Endlich bekam sie all den schönen Saft aus der Orange und sie schien sehr stolz auf ihren Erfolg zu sein. Die Lehrstunde erstreckte sich über vier Apfelsinen – meine kleine Schülering durchweg sehr aufmerksam – und endlich die letzte schaffte sie ganz alleine, liess allerdings die letzten zwei Schnitzen übrig, offensichtlich war sie satt!
Am späten Nachmittag kam Ruby vorbei, die wegen einem klein bisschen Dehydrierung hier war. Sie ist zwar etwas groesser ist als Nita aber bemerkenswert sanft. Sie wollte sich so gerne mit Nita anfreunden und kam um ihre erstaunliche Haarpracht anzufassen. Da war Nita nicht sehr angetan und vergrub ihr Gesicht an meiner Brust. Also nahm Ruby Nitas Bein in ihre Füsse, aber Nita schälte eine Zehe nach der anderen ab und schob den Fuss weg. Das jedoch entmutigte Ruby die kleine Gesellschaftsdame nicht: Sie kam ganz dicht zu Nita, die wissen wollte wer dieses komische Ding ist und sich umgedreht hatte und gab Küsschen auf die Augen. Nita liess sie wiederum abblitzen und schob sie weg und so zockelte Ruby von dannen, jedoch auf eine Art und Weise, die zeigte dass sie verstand dass ein kleiner Neuling noch ein bisschen Angst vor anderen Orang Utans hat. Ich erinnerte mich dass einige Orang Utans die gleiche Reaktion zeigten, als sie versuchten sich mit dem gerade eingetroffenen, verschüchterten Lomon anzufreunden. Sie versuchten mehrfach mit ihm zu spielen, aber waren nie zu beharrend oder agressiv. Sie schienen zu fühlen, dass Lomon Angst vor ihnen hatte und liessen ihn gewähren. Irgendwann war er dann bereit und war derjenige der einen anderen Orang Utan zum Spielen aufforderte.
Es war nun schon später Nachmittag und ein grauer Himmel drohte die Schleussen zu öffnen. So brachte ich Nita nach drinnen, hielt ihre Flasche als die drank, wechselte ihre Windel und gab ihr ein frisches Handtuch zum Schlafen. Sie schlang das Handtuch um den Hals mit beiden Enden fest in den Händen und ging zu Bett ohne mosern. Ich schnappte schnell meine Sachen, rannte nach Hause und konnte den Regen doch nicht ganz vermeiden.
Der Strom ist ausgeschalted und ich schreibe dies bei Kerzenlicht. Nun da der Regen aufgehört hat ist alles still, abgesehen von dem Gesang der Frösche und Zikaden, und dem ein oder anderen Husten oder Fiepen eines Orang Utans in der Kinderstube nebenan.
Und in diesem Moment der Abgeschiedenheit, der Ruhe und des Nachdenkens bin ich plötzlich übervoll mit Liebe für die kleine Nita, dass ich tief durchatmen muss. Irgenwie haben diese goldenen Augen zu mir gesprochen, mir ihre Geschichte erzählt. Ich KENNE sie nun, und das alles ohne Worte. Ich verstehe es selbst kaum und so ist dieses Gefühl schwer zu erklären, warum aus den hunderten von Orang Utans mich einige so betroffen machen. Das sind die Momente die mich daran erinnern warum ich tue was ich tue, und wie gluecklich ich sein kann diese Orang Utans zu kennen.
Michelle Desilets
Gründerin von BOS UK und Orangutan Land Trust

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Saturday 9 October 2010

Towering Tall

It is common knowledge, I guess, but occasionally it just hits me how much of our lives are influenced by perception. Meaning the way we see ourselves and others, and how we are seen by others. Humans are visual animals; even how we choose our words is confirming this: We build us a picture of someone or something, or we take a point of view.

So looking from where I was standing, at a height of 5.38 with a fat bum and beige hair it was quite natural for me to think that my back then teenage goddaughter was one of the most gorgeous human beings on the world. This girl features a height of a about 6 feet, has the curves in all the right places, and soft brown curls with a golden glow. How could I think differently? And thus I tried to push her towards my image of her when we went out shopping for clothes.

When she then told me that she was far from happy about those features I was rather shocked and asked her to write her story.

PS: Ulli that is me - My birth name is Ulrike which during my school days always got abbreviated to Ulli. As this is the short form for the male Ulrich as well I never realy like it. Moving into a new life at university I became Rika, however stayed Ulli for my friends from the olden days.

By Jorina Schlanke (2007)

Last spring I visited my godmother Ulli in England.
When we were on the way to the supermarket we came across a problem about which she hadn’t thought yet, and we thought that this was something for her website 'Incredible Ladies'.
The time went on and we forgot about this chat. But today when I called her we descended to this topic again and she suggested that I should write about me and my little problem (which is in fact almost solved by now).
So, here I am: Jori, 17 years old, from a small town in southern Germany. I am 180 cm tall which has been my problem for a very long time.
Nobody in my class is as tall as I am. My best friends are all very short and even most of the boys don’t reach my height.
At the beginning it were my friends who made the issue worse than it really is. They complained about having to look up when they wanted to look into my eyes. I can and always could understand them, but I couldn’t help them, because I had the converse problem: I had to look down and I felt as strange as they did.
If we wanted to hug each other it sometimes just looked ridiculous. But of course I wanted to hug them for they are my best friends and needless to say everyone does it.
The reason Ulli never realised that this really can be a problem is that she never was in my situation and therefore thought like everyone else – so many people want to be tall and thin, like a model. And that is really strange: So many women would give up everything to have my body, and I have it and don’t want it! It would be smarter to accept what you are. The best example for that is my friend Judith.
I came to know Judith this summer holidays. She is a really funny girl, is very self confident – and 150 cm short. When I told her that I hate being so tall she said: “Yeah, you’re right. Being small is great, I love it.”
From that I learned - Everybody should have this attitude. Everybody should love ones body as it is, because there is no reason why we shouldn’t.
Who defines which size is the best? We can’t change what we are, so we have to accept what we are, there is no other way. Moaning doesn’t help, and the earlier we are starting to accept our body, the earlier we are starting not only to feel good with it, but also to be really happy with it.
These days I just don’t take these things personal anymore. If somebody has a problem with my height it’s theirs not mine.
Eventually I’m feeling good about myself.

Tuesday 5 October 2010


The Anaconda is one of the largest snakes in the world. Native to the tropical South America its habitat is the water; however, it also has the quite unappreciated habit of preying on land animals visiting the shore line for a drink. It kills by wrapping around the poor sod choking it to death before swallowing it in one piece...

I met the Anaconda in April 2010 via email and it turned out that she is quite a specimen of her kind. Her name is Rachel, which is a rather sweet name for somebody who likes to choke other people in combat. She surely likes the water, although this is more the sight of her bike racing passion rather then her hunting ground, and she doesn’t live in South America but North of Britain.

So now that it is established that she is female, I should mention that she seems to be a very rooted person. Having lived in other parts of the country enjoying the years of education and first workplace, she is now back in her homeland in the North East to settle with husband and offspring, a little boy. This however is as far as it goes with the image of a calm and settled family woman. Never underestimate the Anaconda!

Whatever she does, she does it full power, whether it is the job or her hobbies – which mainly consist of sport. And see, that is where I came into the game. This woman has always been active, but now that she had quit the job to enjoy the family life for a while, sport has become a little bit of an obsession... well, some might even go as far to call her a bit of a nutcase. Due to aforementioned activities this lady always featured a quite substantial rear and the matching thighs, which showed a tendency to growth as soon as she increased her sportive endeavours, and when she stumbled across my website the thought of getting in touch for a bit of compassion and reassurance cropped into her mind.

For me those email exchanges were a fascinating reassurance of my own. This strong and powerful woman had so similar doubts to mine, for no good reason. How often did I fret about my shape, not believing my dear and supporting husband that he loved me for exactly this big rear? Oh well, my website was not just about bottoms, but looking back there is no doubt: The bottom started it. Sometimes I just wasn’t sure if I might be a bit bonkers to wrap a whole website around my insecurities, which on the other hand I had overcome as a consequence. And now this woman dropped into my life telling me that apparently I did not go entirely wrong in my points of view, and that what had worked for me was working for her as well. How wonderful! Oh we were sisters in spirit quite instantly.

Once it was settled that the fretting was not worth the effort, she really kicked off. The woman embraced what genes and hard work had given her and submerged in charity bike rides, training camps of all sorts, the gym and most of all: Jiu Jitsu!

Being a brown belt she already knew her ways, and with her newly found confidence she grappled her way through a series of tournaments, won her team the favourite training slot in a fierce battle against a strong male, and secured the Redcar Summer Cup for herself. Nobody escapes the Anaconda’s grip, once those legs take hold.

The Anaconda found her home, and the circle is closing! All this energy and passion, all this joy for life and the appreciation of freedom that a strong and healthy body can give are now channelled into encouraging others.

This July Facebook saw a new group called "I've got big strong legs and I'm proud" which as of today (4th October 2010) has accumulated 75 members. Reading through the comments it becomes clear: For those women the age of ‘Does my bum look fat in this?’ is over. These women embrace their stature as a signal of strength and confidence, and the Anaconda is showing the way!