President Obama’s visits to Indonesia were not only personal, but political: Part 2

Before delving into the future of America and Indonesia’s relationship we should take a very quick look at the history of Indonesia.

Indonesia is the world’s largest island country, with more than thirteen thousand islands. It is home to over 258 million people. With a historical connection to the Islamic world starting in 13th century, today the country is over 87% Islamic making it the most populous Muslim majority country in the world. The first regular contact between Europeans and the peoples of Indonesia began in 1512 leading to being colonized by the Dutch by the 19th century. Indonesia was occupied by Japan during WWII and an estimated 4 million people died due to famine and forced labor. Following the war, between 1945-1949, the Dutch tried to gain control of the country again.

Indonesia lived through an armed and diplomatic struggle that united Indonesians on the whole to fight for independence. During this time Sukarno, an influential nationalist leader, came into power. Democracy slowly led into authoritarianism, which led to huge loss of life under his rule. The head of the military, General Suharto, outmaneuvered the politically weakened Sukarno and was formally appointed president in 1968. Suharto himself was also an authoritarian leader who lead a corrupt government and supported the suppression of political opposition.

However, eleven years ago, Indonesia began an impressive transition from 30 years of authoritarian rule by former President Soeharto to become arguably the most democratic country in all of East and Southeast Asia. What makes the transition all the more remarkable is that the majority of Indonesia’s citizens are Muslim, showing how democratic values and Islamic beliefs can combine to build a “just and prosperous society,” the main societal goal specified in the Indonesian constitution.

A set of four amendments to the constitution since Soeharto was forced to step down in 1998 has produced a solid political framework, notably including the direct election of the president. Free and fair nationwide elections have been conducted three times and are now routine at the provincial and district/city level. A sweeping decentralization law was passed in 2001, vesting more power in its 440 districts and cities than in its 33 provinces. Civil society has flourished, reinforced by a remarkably free press.

Currently Indonesia is a multiparty democracy, led by President Joko Widodo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle.

President Obama’s visits to Indonesia were not only personal, but political: Part 1

As the President of the United States, Barack Obama has visited Indonesia twice so far while in office. In 2010 he headed to Jakarta. There he had the opportunity to visit the home where he lived as a young boy for two years, and see the primary school he attended where he learned the local language. A year later President Obama returned to Indonesia, this time staying in Bali. Both visits included meeting with President Yudhoyono among other leader from eastern countries. None of the other 43 American presidents have had this kind of exposure to a non-Western country.

One of the President’s political objectives for these trips was to raise Indonesia’s global profile. Many Americans underestimate the significance of Indonesia—often described as – the most important country in the world that people know the least about. With 230 million inhabitants, it is the fourth most populous nation after China, India, and the United States.

Indonesia is also important because of its strategic location astride the sea-lanes between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East to the west and the Japan, China, and Korea to the north. In addition, it is richly endowed with natural resources: oil and gas, coal, copper, nickel, fish, timber, and many more. It is key for America to have a continued positive relationship with this industrious country.

Indonesia is a country we must look to, as our President has, in the coming generations. So how will this upcoming election affect this forwards momentum? With Clinton and Trump vying for the most important job in the country, we have to wonder what each candidate would do to continue this working relationship with Indonesia.

An Orangutan Baby Boom!

I was so excited to hear about the birth of two baby orangutans in two months at the Lowry Zoo in Florida, bringing the total number of endangered orangutans at the zoo to seven. These arrivals remind me of the excitement around the orangutan births at our very own Como Zoo in Minnesota and all the hard work the zoo has put into keeping them safe and healthy. Any increase in the number of orangutans is something to be celebrated, whether it is a new birth, an orangutan saved from starvation or poachers or returned home after being smuggled out of its native habitat. Unfortunately these are all very real dangers facing the orangutan on a daily basis.

In order to make as much headway in the protection and expansion of the species as possible, the Tampa Patch reports that the Lowry Zoo is also active in the Bornean Orangutan Species Survival Plan, working to support the conservation of certain endangered animals that are at risk for extinction. The survival plan for the species includes treating the “entire population of animals as a single unit in order to maximize retention of genetic diversity and to promote cooperation among holding institutions to ensure long term survival of the species in supervised care.” It is amazing to see such a long term, cohesive plan in place to help protect and propagate the species.

Fighting for Survival

It’s been great over the past few weeks to see so many reports of increases in the numbers of multiple endangered species around the world.

With less than 150 birds left, and only 26 pairs of the animals of breeding age, the Taiko bird, one of New Zealand’s most endangered animals, hatched 26 eggs this season, almost double the number of chicks that hatched last season. While these numbers may not seem huge, every little bit counts, especially with animals that have so few numbers to begin with.

It looks like things are also on the uptick for the Hawaiian Monk seal, whose numbers have been declining since the 1950’s. Reports state that the survival rates for new pups are among the highest they have been in decades, and organizations are working hard to spotlight the preservation of the Monk seal and take action to protect them from contact with humans, which can result in everything from disease to entanglements with fishing nets and hooks.

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 11.41.12 AMPhoto Via vivtony00

The Edinburgh Zoo has announced that it is building a new enclosure for their Sumatran tigers. The hope is that one of the results of this new enclosure will be the entry of a new generation of this endangered animal into the world.

While there is a lot of good news coming from organizations working to protect endangered species, there is still a lot to be done. So many animals are battling extinction and they need all the support we can give!

Saving the world, one app at a time

With the continual evolution of technology, we as individuals are becoming more and more empowered to make an impact on the world on a daily basis. From the protection of endangered species to weather prediction, citizen scientists are now able to apply their photo abilities and use their personal drones and smart phones to effect the world around them.

In California, citizens have been documenting changes in the California coastline due to El Nino, adding to the data available to researchers and helping them to better and more rapidly understand the environment and perhaps predict future change.

Across the ocean, the non-profit “Planet Indonesia” are working on two apps that would allow anyone with a cell phone to help track the illegal animal trade. One app would allow individuals to “collect data in Indonesian bird markets” and a second lets them identify confiscated Slow Lorises  using genetic data. The Slow Loris is a popular animal to be kept as a pet, and with this type of data, hot spots for trade and poaching can be identified, investigated, and hopefully stopped.

The use of technology to help protect our world may just save the things we love the most, if we are willing to do our part.

Happy New Year!

It’s a new year, a new resolution! This year I’m resolved to keep up with the blog! Sorry for the hiatus over the last few months. The daily grind of life combined with the holidays and a very exciting New Years Eve in Times Square has led me to take a bit of a digital hiatus. But now I’m back and ready to write about the things I love. If you’ve been here before you know I am passionate about food, photography and endangered animals, specifically the red haired orangutan. There are so many great organizations and individuals throughout the world, working hard to ensure that these magnificent animals are cared for and protected. I’ll do my best to keep you updated on all of their great work as well as a potpourri of other topics that interest me. Happy 2016!

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Largest Rhino Airlift Planned

Trapping, blindfolding, and airlifting a Rhino may sound ridiculous–but what Rhinos Without Borders aims to do is anything but. The two-and-a-half ton animal’s plight has become desperate. Their numbers are dropping daily due to poachers and encroaching land development, among other pressures. Currently, there are 4,000 to 5,000 Black Rhinos and 20,000 White Rhinos left in Africa. Their beautiful horns have proved to be their downfall in recent years; they’re prized on the black market and are sold as cure-alls in China and Vietnam. On the street, a rhino horn can sell for $65,000 per kilogram.

The plan is to move a hundred of these animals over the next two years from their current location in the high risk poaching area of South Africa, to a low risk area; a protected park in Botswana. The operation will cost $45,000 per animal, but the payoff of a rise in these endangered animals numbers would be worth it.


Image via Londolozi

This is not the first desperate measure conservationists have taken to try and help the rhinos. Other methods that have been tested to slow down the effects of poaching include cutting off the horns of rhinos, flooding the black market with fake rhino horns, dying their horns pink, injecting rhino horns with toxins that–though safe for the animal–would cause illness in humans who consume any bit of the horn, and 24 hour a day observation of wild rhinos by guards. So far none of these methods have halted the killings, so that begs the question of how this new idea will pan out. Hopefully it will, but only studies long after these rhino’s move will tell. Wishing the team and this project all the best!

Will Self-Driving Vehicles Makes us want Fewer Cars?

The idea of self-driving cars might conjure up an image akin to The Jetsons or one of the many other variations of retro pop culture and futurism that’s lodged in our collective imagination. If you woke up in some such world, would you call it a dream? —A nightmare? This question sprouts a tree of others when we think about the cars of the future.

Let’s look at the positives. Self-driving cars would instantly free up time. You could be more productive on your way to your job, take a nap, or entertain yourself with the latest gadget. It could potentially eliminate the problem of drunk driving; it could reduce car crashes, and it could (if these cars were fueled by electricity or other alternative resources) reduce our carbon footprint and clean up our air. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? But a little reflection may reveal some potential problems brewing under the surface.

One of the potential issues is the industry itself. Self-driving cars could take down the near century-long love affair with driving motor vehicles. With companies like Uber already chomping at the bit to bring in on demand self-driving cars, there may be a time where many car companies that currently exist just get phased out. In theory you could just call up, or locate a car (similar to the various Car-To-Go services that already exist) and pay to be on your way. Why have your own car if you could just pay a bit here and there when you need to be driven somewhere? The appeal seems widespread. A study by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that the average number of vehicles per American household is 2.1–and according to the study, that could dip as low as 1.2, a reduction of 43% if self-driving cars came into the market. We simply wouldn’t need as many cars. This is sure to ripple through related economies.

So what does the future have in store for us? It might be too soon to say, but the momentum toward developing these technologies makes it seem like an inevitable reality.

James Askew Listens for the Call of the Orangutan

A quick scroll through my blog makes it apparent that I care deeply about protecting orangutans. I recently shared a blog by James Askew about the struggles of an orangutan mother in Northern Sumatra. After a little more reading, I learned immediately that Askew and I are (somewhat) alike in our fascination with these remarkable animals.

Askew is so fascinated, in fact, that he’s spent the last year in South East Asia studying the primates in their natural habitats. He’s a PhD candidate in Integrative and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Southern California Jane Goodall Research Center. At the moment, he’s running field experiments in the jungles of Sumatra. Askew’s overarching goal is to further our understanding of the orangutan’s long call and how it plays a role in intersexual relationships. Put differently, he’s researching how a specific kind of communication influences the social and reproductive relationships between males and females. What’s more, he’s been using some cool technology, like drones, to track the animals and has been charitable enough to share his experiences in a series of blogs.

Askew planned his expedition to span eighteen months and he left sunny Southern California in March last year. That means about six more months of fieldwork remain. His last post introduced some of his speculations about the importance of play for young orangutans. It’s a great read! You can find the complete list of his blogs here. I’m certainly curious to hear how the jungle will treat him over the course of the last leg of his research and I wish him the best of luck!

Getting around with Eater Minneapolis

Minneapolis is a food city. If you didn’t know, you do now. While the “Juicy Lucy” has a special place in everybody’s heart, there’s so, so much more. Where to begin? How about Eater MinneapolisEater 38”? Contested or not, I think the magazine has done a fine job of highlighting some of the best eats in the Twin Cities. Even better, this list is made up of restaurants suggested by the readers and then narrowed down by the editors. –It’s an interesting way to have glimpse through a local’s eyes. You’ll find obvious choices like Chef Gavin Kaysen’s Spoon and Stable, which became a hit the moment Kaysen announced he’d be heading home from NYC. However, the editors at Eater made sure gems like Al’s Breakfast make an appearance, too. Al’s is a tiny place sandwiched between two buildings in Dinkytown. It’s modest, simple, and delicious.



 The folks at Eater have synched up with the seasons, as well. Click over to their Heat Map for a curated list of restaurants that are warming up the local food scene. You may not find the classics here, but you’ll be sure to learn about up and coming operations like Betty Danger’s Country Club (which will defy expectations), Surly Brewing Company’s new location, or the eclectic Pilgrimage Café. And if you still haven’t found the perfect springtime fit, the magazine has been so kind as to create a list of restaurants ready to bloom any day now.

There’s clearly no shortage of choice here in Minneapolis, and never before has making a decision been so delicious. Bon Appetite!