It was the day that many conservationists and environmentalists in Bali had been awaiting for quite some time, the inaugural “Sustainability and Conservation Conference,” set in Bali’s famous Green School, amid the lush forests of Banjar Saren near Ubud.
The conference was special in many ways, yet the most intriguing aspect for many was that it featured Dr. Jane Goodall, the world-renowned ethologist, environmental leader and UN messenger of peace.
The one-day conference aimed to ignite discussions and initiatives to ensure the sustainability of Bali’s nature and culture. The conference was packed with talks and discussion panels featuring some of the key players in Indonesia’s conservation efforts.
In attendance from early morning to late afternoon, the conference attendees were happily roaming around, moving between the distinct traditional bamboo architecture at the Green School, attending the various talks, panel discussions and activities that appealed most to their interests.
The event was divided into three venues: the main field, the Mepantigan building, and the Turtle room.
Among the speakers in the main field were Steve Lansing, a specialist on subak, the Balinese traditional irrigation system, who presented a talk on the topic “Survival of Subak”; Ian Singleton from the Sumatra Orangutan Conservation Program; as well as David Metcalf, who shed some light on the Dayak tribes of Kalimantan and the challenges they face from the loss of their forests to mining and plantation concessions.
There were also presentations and discussions from nongovernmental organizations and conservation groups, including the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Coral Triangle Center, Conservation International, Eco Bali, Kopernik, Threads of Life and more, each sharing their expertise and concerns on conservation issues and challenges.
The Turtle room was reserved for “lighter” presentations in the form of movie screenings. Inside the eye-catching bamboo structure, characteristic of the Green School, and amid a cool breeze flowing in beneath the thatched roof, dozens of conservation enthusiasts crowded around to watch movies including “Let Elephants be Elephants” and “Rise of the Eco-Warriors.”
Following the latter, there was a panel discussion featuring two of the “eco-warriors” from the movie, Kodi Twiner and Paul Daley. The talked about their experiences, concerns and insights from filming the movie.
But the highlight of the day was without a doubt the talk by Goodall. A world-leading primatologist, Goodall — who has been passionate about animals since her childhood — began her extensive research on the behavior of chimpanzees in the 1960s in Tanzania. Her unorthodox research methods were initially controversial; for instance, the mere fact that she gave the chimpanzees names instead of numbers, as was common practice among researchers to avoid emotional attachment, raised many eyebrows.
However, Goodall’s research eventually became the foundation for future primate research in the world, and thanks to her findings the scientific community at the time was challenged in some their long-standing beliefs where the animals were concerned, especially with regard to their social behavior and diet.
Goodall has received numerous awards and honors throughout her career and has been twice appointed a UN messenger of peace, in 2002 and 2007. Her Jane Goodall Institute currently operates 19 offices around the world.
Rights of animals
As the sun slowly set over Bali, dozens of attendees sat cross-legged in the main tent, listening attentively to Goodall’s soft voice, enchanted by her heartfelt talk “Where the Hope Lies.”
Here, Goodall shared her personal stories of how she became a world-renowned primatologist, on the tremendous supports from her mother — who accompanied her daughter to Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park in 1960 out of concern for her safety — and on her belief and conviction on non-human rights. She stands firm that animals possess emotions and personalities just like humans do, and that they therefore deserve ethical treatment as well.
“In what terms should we think of these beings, non-human yet possessing so very many human-like characteristics, how should we treat them?” she asked. “Surely we should treat them with the same consideration and kindness as we show to other humans; and as we recognize human rights, so too should we recognize the rights of the great apes and other animals.”
Goodall also emphasized the importance of planting environmental awareness in young minds through specific programs such as Roots & Shoots, which she first founded back in Tanzania.
Roots & Shoots aims to bring together youths of all ages, from preschool to university, to work on environmental, conservation and humanitarian issues. The program now has chapters in more than 132 countries, involving 100,000 youth.
A day prior to the conference, the first Plastik Tidak Fantastik Festival (Plastic Isn’t Fantastic Festival) was held by the student-led initiative Bye Bye Plastic Bag.
Hosting Goodall herself during the festival were Isabel and Melati Wijsen, the founders of the BBPB campaign. The sisters, aged just 11 and 12, who are also students at the Green School, accompanied Goodall throughout the day that was filled with various entertaining and socially responsible workshops; a fund-raising fun-run; a trash fashion show; and live musical performances, all prepared and presented by the students.
“Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don’t believe is right,” Goodall told the attentive Bali kids from BBPB.
She appealed for the students to be the messengers for a brighter and more environmentally conscious future by being aware and taking the initiative to create more harmonious relationships between the environment and mankind.
The event was closed with a book signing by Goodall.
“Each one of us matters, has a role to play, and makes a difference. Each one of us must take responsibility for our own lives, and above all, show respect and love for the living things around us, especially each other,” she said.
Such inspiring words echoed in the tranquil grounds of the Green School as the sun slowly cast its last shadow.
As they found a way into the hearts of the audience, many participants, both young and adult, seemed to feel motivated to create a greener and more sustainable future for Bali and beyond.