Prescillia Putri is a recent WEC MS graduate. We spoke with her about her life, research, and plans for her future in Indonesian conservation.
What did you study for your MS?
I studied mammalian occurrence in High Conservation Value and High Carbon Stock forest patches among palm oil plantations in Kalimantan (the Indonesian portion of Borneo). I am very lucky to be able to work with Lyn Branch and John Blake, who have both been incredibly supportive throughout my master’s program. It has been such a wonderful experience to be advised directly by researchers in conservation who understand the struggle and fun of doing fieldwork (they still do fieldwork too!) and who have prioritized training students.
Right now, I am back in Indonesia working in Sulawesi!
What are you doing there?
I’m working as the Education Coordinator for a small local NGO called Selamatkan Yaki. The program is focused on the conservation of Celebes crested macaques (Macaca nigra). This species is endemic to North Sulawesi and threatened by both habitat loss and bushmeat hunting. Specifically, I oversee the planning, implementation, and evaluation of their outreach programs.
How did you become interested in conservation? Do you have an origin story?
Believe it or not, I learned the word ‘conservation’ in my last year of undergrad.
Before that, I knew nothing about it. I grew up in suburban Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, and sadly, despite growing up in one of the most biodiversity rich countries, in my family, we didn’t have the privilege of learning about and enjoying nature. The only exposure to wildlife during my childhood that I can remember is a cartoon called “The Wild Thornberrys”. The cartoon focuses on Eliza Thornberry (the daughter of nature filmmakers, traveling in the wilderness all over the world) and her adventures and secret ability to speak with animals. I always wanted to be like Eliza Thornberry!
My entire family is very typically Indonesian. Men are encouraged to pursue higher education so they can provide for the families. In contrast, there’s the expectation for women to focus primarily on staying home and raising kids. My mom was the exception in that she worked extremely hard to make sure that all of her children could pursue higher education and reach beyond what was possible for her.
So not many women in my family have had the chance to go to college, let alone majoring in biology and roaming the Bornean peatland forest with a bag full of camera traps. By chance I was given the opportunity to work on Javan slow lorises (Nycticebus javanicus) and that was a life-changing experience for me. In the middle of the data collection, I had a momentary experience that led me to make a decision about my life and career that was very different from what I learned from my family and what was expected of me. A quote by Jane Goodall captures it well:
“A sense of calm came over me. More and more often I found myself thinking, “This is where I belong. This is what I came into this world to do.” – Jane Goodall
After that moment there was no changing my decision to pursue a career in conservation. For me, this work brings a sense of satisfaction that is so far beyond other jobs I can imagine. Moreover, through fieldwork I get to know the local people and better understand the issues surrounding the interactions between people and nature. I realized that people are the foundation of all effective conservation. This realization made me appreciate the immense value of conservation awareness and my role in communicating about my research to people in Indonesia. Also, considering my own experience of learning about conservation later in life, I feel very driven to educate and inspire the younger generation of Indonesians, so they will know the wonders of our country’s rich biodiversity early on.
This interview by Rhett Barker, and has been lightly edited by Claire Williams and Rhett Barker for clarity.
Thanks to Prescillia Putri for speaking with us!