My forest, my future: A journey into rainforest conservation with Indah Sartika Sari
Growing up in a rural part of Indonesia, rainforest conservationist Indah Sartika Sari knew very little about what conservation was or how to embark on a career in the sector. But she didn’t let this stop her, and her passion for protecting the nearby forests she knew and loved fuelled her towards the managerial position she has now at the Borneo Nature Foundation.
In this Conservation Careers interview, we learn how Indah used her love for the forest and turned it into a career in conservation, helping to protect Critically Endangered Orangutans, Gibbons, Hornbills and a vast array of biodiversity.
“I got into conservation because of my passion, my love of the forest and that I saw something was wrong with it.”
“Growing up, I loved the forest. I was born and raised in Borneo so I used to see a lot of forest when I was a kid.” Indah explains how she spent as much time as possible in nature as a child. “Even my parents asked, ‘what are you doing in the forest?’ and I would say ‘I love the forest, it’s like my second home’. But then I saw rainforest loss, with people cutting down trees during illegal logging. So that was the trigger for me to think ‘what can I do?’”
In her current role as Manager of Research and Development, Indah manages wildlife monitoring activities at the Borneo Nature Foundation. These activities involve biodiversity surveys to monitor the population of many species of primates, big cats, insects and fish, as well as assessing the health of the forest itself. Indah’s work also involves coordinating research teams and logistics, communicating with local stakeholders and seeking opportunities for new projects.
What’s the best part of the job?
“The first is wildlife. There’s always a new thing every day. You learn new things and see new, cool things every day. It’s just wonderful and I love it.”
“The second is meeting awesome people, like my co-workers, villagers and communities. Seeing people smiling and happy whilst at the same time seeing wildlife happy in their habitat.”
“During my career, I’ve seen people switch from hunters to protectors of the forest, from partaking in illegal wildlife trade to protecting that species. They showed more love and care for their forest, which was beautiful and very touching to see.”
What is most challenging about your job?
Indah explains that her role involves lots of coordination with many local stakeholders, which, although important for the success of conservation, can be tricky to navigate. Working with multiple stakeholders means “there are different local cultures, ways of thinking and perspectives” which need to be fully understood. “That’s one of the challenges, to understand everyone’s needs and expectations”.
Another challenge for Indah can be the physical demand of wading, sometimes waist-deep, in the peat forest. “I had one day recently surveying with the water level incredibly high. It was tiring but I would say that was fun as well…I love adventure!”
What are your career highlights?
“There are a lot! I’ve been working with the Critically Endangered hornbills for about two years. Every day we kept an eye on a mother that picked her nest until her chick fledged. This was wonderful; I was so happy when the chick fledged successfully.”
“Another highlight has been seeing how happy people are for us to work with them and saying their lives have changed.”
What key steps in your conservation career have you taken?
“The work of conservation in Indonesia was rarely spoken about when I was a teenager, so I didn’t really know what it was, but I knew for sure I wanted to protect the forest. I did my Undergraduate degree in Forestry at Universitas Tanjungpura because that was the closest major that I could pursue to work in conservation.”
Indah then spent some time volunteering for Planet Indonesia and was offered a job from there. “I kept networking and met lots of people with opportunities. It’s good to keep your network close”.
After finding out about the Borneo Nature Foundation when meeting someone who worked there, she joined in 2020 and supported the running of international university field courses. From there, she discovered the University of Exeter and qualified with a Master’s in Conservation and Biodiversity. Once she completed her Master’s in the UK, Indah returned to Indonesia to begin her role as Research and Development Manager with the Borneo Nature Foundation.
“When I started on this journey, I thought I would never find what I wanted because conservation was an unspoken word, but you’ll find your people if you’re looking for them, or people will find you.”
What advice would you give someone wishing to follow in your footsteps?
“You have to be passionate and consistent. In order to get to where you want, you have to jump into it wholeheartedly. I knew I wasn’t going to be super rich working in conservation, but I love it, that’s where my passion is. That’s what keeps me going, to make the world a little better.”
“Don’t be afraid to fail. Try things and see what you like. Conservation is a broad term, so try to figure out where you want to go specifically. Fieldwork? Social science? Communication? Once you know that, start focussing more on it.”
“Always think about your network; you may be working with them in the future!”
Author Profile | Samantha Salt
Samantha is qualified with a Bachelors in Conservation Biology and Ecology as well as a Master’s in Conservation Science and Policy from the University of Exeter, United Kingdom. She is driven to raise awareness of conservation issues and promote community engagement with conservation action.
Featured image credit: Joan Prahara.