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Friday October 4, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Friday October 4, 2013 MYT 10:10:02 AM
by allan koay
Call of the wild: Philippe Cousteau comes from a family that is no stranger to adventure and conservation.
A new series takes a look
at Sumatra’s depleting rainforest.
The rainforests of the world are being depleted, that’s a known fact. They are known as the lungs of the planet because of their important ability to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. The former is a greenhouse gas while the latter is needed by living creatures. Because they provide balance to the world’s climate and maintain the water cycle, their disappearance is all the more worrying because of climate change.
Philippe Cousteau, environmental adventurer and grandson of legendary explorer Jacques Cousteau, set out with a CNN team to explore the rainforest of Sumatra, Indonesia and gauge the magnitude of the damage done and what is at stake.
Expedition: Sumatra, an eight-part documentary series on CNN (which premiered on Sept 13) follows Cousteau on his journey of discovery and investigation.
In the last 20 years, Sumatra lost half of its rainforest due to deforestation. Indigenous people and endangered wildlife have inadvertently been affected by this. Cousteau and his team visited an orangutan sanctuary where orangutans are trained and released back into the wild. They also learned of how farmers now take the effort of repelling elephants instead of killing them outright.
They were also faced with a changing landscape where the rainforest was cleared for palm oil plantations and pulp processing plants.
“When viewers watch Expedition: Sumatra, I hope they are amazed by the beauty of this special place,” said Cousteau. “I hope they are outraged by its destruction, but most of all, I hope they understand the power each of us has to change its future.”
For Cousteau, one of the most memorable moments of the expedition was when he visited the Frankfurt Zoological Society and had to learn to teach a baby orangutan how to find food.
“They gave me a rotting piece of wood colonised by termites and told me I had to suck them out of the wood to demonstrate to the baby what to do,” he said. “This is an important source of protein for orangutans in the wild so I had to do it. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the intent look on that little face as I did my best to slurp down termite larva.”
Another hard-to-forget experience was when he visited the Talang Mamak school, where he got the chance to see first-hand eager young students learning about the importance of the environment and the planet.
It was part of the Frankfurt Zoological Society’s efforts to engage the local communities and create awareness among them about the importance of conservation.
“I got to test my creative skills with drawing and colouring pictures of local animals and participating in a puppet show,” said Cousteau.
But Cousteau and his team weren’t always welcomed everywhere they went. There were many challenges and dangers.
Apart from logistical difficulties such as having to bathe with a bucket and using a hole in the ground as a toilet, they also had to watch out for opposers to their work.
“There were definitely groups that did not want us to tell this story including illegal loggers, poachers and representatives from industries and companies engaging in the pillaging of the island’s critical natural resources,” said Cousteau.
Cousteau is no stranger to adventure and conservation, being a member of a family famed for seafaring and exploration. Cousteau’s father, also named Philippe, was also an explorer who made films and wrote books. He died in a plane crash six months before his son was born.
Cousteau said even though his grandfather was a great influence on him, it was his mother who inspired him the most.
“She always encouraged me to follow my dreams and never made me feel like I had to follow anyone’s particular path as long as I did my best to make the world a better place,” said Cousteau.
At 16, he went on expeditions with his father’s friends, getting his first exposure to adventure and exploration. He got to see such sights as the jungles of Papua New Guinea, the wrecks of Bermuda and the coral reefs of Bonaire.
“From then on I have always known I wanted to do something similar to my father but have always tried to pursue it in my own way,” he said. “I would say that the ocean and my family’s legacy inspire me but that my personal work is more about people and our connection to the world around us. My mission in life is to help people recognise the power they have to change the world.”
Expedition: Sumatra airs every Friday at 11.30pm on CNN (Astro Ch 511).
Tags / Keywords:
Entertainment, Environment, Philippe Cousteau, CNN, Sumatra, rainforest
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