Posted by: mel | July 5, 2009

Wallacea introduces Indonesian biodiversity to Beijing

Jakarta Post | Tifa Asrianti , Beijing  | Lifestyle |  Sun, 5 July 2009  

The booth of the Wallacea Foundation at Indonesia Week, held at Beijing’s Wangfujing Street from June 17-21, may have no ties to government or economic profit, but it was nonetheless the busiest booth of all 30 on show.

Visitors coming to the foundation’s booth got flying-frog-shaped fans for writing their names down in the guestbook. They also got a leaflet outlining the foundation’s main mission.

“If you hold another exhibition here and need my help, just contact me. I will bring along my parents, my brothers and my girlfriend,” Lie, one of the booth’s visitors, said excitedly.

He was not the only one leaving the booth in high spirits. According to Grace Anna Marie, the foundation’s executive director, the foundation had managed to collect around 2,000 names during the first two days of the exhibition.

“Had we not held the exhibition here in Wangfujing, we would get less people enlisted. We come to where the crowds are, which is a good strategy. Perhaps we can apply it at our next exhibition,” she said.

Wangfujing Street is an 810-meter-long car-free area located in the heart of Beijing.

The street has both traditional and modern stores, art galleries and hotels, as well as local cuisine food stalls.

It is estimated 600,000 people pass through this street on weekdays and 1.2 million on weekends or holidays. Its name is often touted alongside Paris’s Champs-Elys*es. Indonesia Week was the first such exhibition here.

Appearing at the exhibition was part of the foundation’s attempt to educate the wider world about the Wallacea region.

The Wallacea is an imaginary line that separates the Indonesian archipelago into two parts: one on the Asian shelf and one on the Australian continental shelf. The islands of Wallacea lie between Sundaland (the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo, Java and Bali) to the west, and near Oceania, including Australia and New Guinea, to the south and east.

The region got its name from British bio-geographer Alfred Russel Wallace, who conducted intensive field observations between 1854 and 1862. Wallace noted the differences in mammal and bird fauna between the islands on either side of the line. In 1858, Wallace inspired Charles Darwin’s natural selection theory, after he sent Darwin a letter detailing his findings in Ternate, in Maluku.

The letter, attached to his essay “On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type”, outlined the mechanics of the evolutionary divergence of certain species due to environmental factors. While Darwin achieved fame as “the father of evolution”, Wallace has remained largely unknown.

Grace said her foundation had sought to hold a similar event in the UK, Wallace’s home country. However, it was the Indonesian Embassy in China that was ready to hold the event, and therefore they decided to hold the maiden campaign in Beijing.

Besides the exhibition, the foundation also met with several stakeholders in Beijing, such as experts and practitioners at Beijing University for Chinese Medicine (BUCM), China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) and Chinese state-owned oil company, China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC).

Sangkot Marzuki, the foundation’s chairman, said that during the meeting with BUCM, BUCM professors explained the importance of Chinese medicine, while TWF told them about the possibility of new medical plants in the Wallacea region.

“Chinese medicine is very developed here. They have explored their natural resources to make medicine and now they want to search for other natural resources. They are very interested in Papua’s red fruit,” Sangkot said.

He said the meeting was a preliminary discussion prior to the research cooperation that might exist in the future. He said both BUCM and TWF had agreed to establish professor-to-professor cooperation.

The foundation’s meeting with CWCA resulted in an agreement on expert exchange.

Sangkot said TWF would hold a journey in October to retrace Wallace’s experiences in the Wallacea region.

“To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Wallace’s studies, we will hold journey to retrace his experiences. It will be attended by youths from across Southeast Asia. We will also invite CWCA,” he said.

Established in 1983, CWCA is a nonprofit national organization under the framework of China Science Association. To date, CWCA has 31 provincial and 622 regional branches throughout China, with more than 200,000 members.

Its main objective is to carry out educational and scientific activities, promote academic communication and cooperation nationally and globally, and conduct relevant international wildlife conservation projects.

Li Qingwen, deputy secretary-general of CWCA, said his institution had taken educational propaganda as its central work to build up the public’s concern about wildlife.

CWCA has held Bird-Loving Week and Wildlife Propaganda Month each year, to popularize wildlife conservation knowledge among millions of people through posters, video shows and brochures. The association also holds contests and organizes bird-watching activities.

To tackle the Chinese traditions of eating wild animals, CWCA launched a survey on the subject at the end of 1999. It later suggested the public not eat wild animals, and set a new dietary paradigm.

The attempts included a call on cooks. As a result, many cooks tried to be Green Cuisine Ambassadors, refusing to cook wild animals anymore. CWCA has successfully collected signatures from more than 300,000 cooks as of 2007.

Sangkot said TWF could learn many things from CWCA’s experiences.

“CWCA started their campaign by picking the endangered giant panda as their mascot. They held photo exhibitions about the life of the panda. Therefore people felt a bond with the endangered species. TWF can do the same with, for instance, the nocturnal dry-nosed tarsier,” he said.

“CWCA also always involves youths in their campaigns. They have two kinds of members – individuals and community groups. We also have such membership in TWF, and we will continue.”

The meeting with CNOOC discussed the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. Sangkot said the meeting was aimed at encouraging the company to include environmental conservation in its CSR programs, as it is one of the largest offshore oil companies operating in Indonesia.

CNOOC operates in the Java Sea, just 90 kilometers from Jakarta Bay. The company has so far held several CSR programs, such as giving scholarships to needy students and providing clean water wells.

Xiao Zongwei, CNOOC corporate secretary and investor relation general manager, said that before carrying out CSR programs, his company usually sought to find what local people wanted. He also assured TWF that health, safety and the environment were the company’s main objectives.

Sangkot said that while CNOOC had yet to operate in the Wallacea region, it was important to seek the company’s commitment on environmental conservation.

The exhibition in Beijing may be a baby step for the foundation, but it can be a giant step toward conserving the Wallacea biodiversity.

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