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Ecotourism in the purest form
Manokwari (Indonesia), June 9th 2009

Indonesia has a big problem regarding the preservation of their flora and fauna. The Indonesian forests are still cut down in a high speed. We as westerners are often inclined to disapprove this behaviour and tell them that they should do everything to preserve the forests. We often forget that we did exactly the same last centuries when we were building up our countries. The development of a nation starts often with the development of its agricultural sector, and for agriculture you need land, land that was formerly covered by forest.

A solution is only possible if we are going to pay the local communities for preserving the forests. If we all think that it is better for the world to preserve the forests for our own and our children’s future, we simply have to pay for it. If we only use the argument that it is also better for them in the long term to preserve the forests, it does not lead to short term income to fill their stomachs, and is for that reason no solution. We witnessed on a very small scale a great example of ecotourism in the purest form. When we were looking for a place on Indonesian Papua to see some species of the birds of paradise, we ended up in a very small village in the Arfak Mountains, only a two hour drive by jeep from the town of Manokwari. One man, named Zeth, realised already years ago that it would be better for the village to preserve the surrounding forests and to start earning money by welcoming bird watchers who want to see the birds of paradise in their natural habitat. The village counts around three hundred people, and a significant part of their income comes from tourists. Zeth developed himself to an extreme good guide. Zeth was in former days a poacher and earned his money by hunting and selling birds of paradise. But that is history and nowadays he is fulltime occupied with preserving the forests and showing bird watchers the fantastic birds of paradise. Thanks to his work, seven different species survive in his little pocket of forest.

But as mentioned before, it must bring in money for Zeth and the other villagers, because nothing comes for free in this world. The village decided a couple of years ago to build a simple guesthouse in where they can host bird watchers. Besides that, the villagers are involved in offering services to the visiting tourists. You do not only pay for Zeth’s services as a guide, but you also pay for the cooks who prepare your food, the villager who gathers dead wood in the forest, the porters who carry your luggage to the camping place in the mountains, and for the basic room you occupy in the guesthouse. You also pay some mandatory donations, like a donation to the local village school, the church and the village community in general.

Of course, the prices are inflated if you compare them with the prices in other parts of Indonesia. But that is understandable. The services that are offered to the bird watchers are delivered by local villagers by turns. That means that everybody can work for example one day a month for them. That means that the money that they earn on this single day, must be high enough to discourage them to go hunting in the forests, or to cut the trees in favour of more agricultural land. Or in other words, the bird watchers have to compensate the local villagers for the loss in income as result of preserving the forests. But even then, the prices are reasonable in western standards. A cook for one day costs 100,000 Rupiahs (= € 7.-), a porter the same, and a bed in the guesthouse sets you back 70,000 Rupiahs (= € 5.-) per person. The price for Zeth’s services are 250,000 Rupiahs per day (= € 18.-) and if you want to use one of his self made camouflaged observation blinds, you pay 100,000 Rupiahs (=€ 7.-) extra. Again, these are huge amounts for Indonesian standards, but you must understand that there are not a lot of bird watchers yet coming to this village. So the limited numbers of visitors pay for the preservation of the whole forest. Maybe in the future when more people come, there will be more competition in the village, and prices will probably go down. But even when there are no bird watchers around, Zeth and the villagers are engaged with preservation. They patrol the forest, check where the different birds are, make blinds at display grounds and educate new guides. And if you realise that even National Geographic makes use of the services of this poor village when making one of their great documentaries about the birds of paradise, you know that the village in on the right track. Ecotourism in the purest form!

See also the short movie: The Arfakt Mountains - one of the last strongholds for the Birds of Paradise

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