In a big city like Hong Kong, it seems as if we’re always busy. We have so many human problems that caring for other species becomes a distant priority. We forget that our actions have an impact on the natural world around us.
Two students from Island School want to change that. Last November, during their school’s enrichment week, 15-year-olds Katya Foong and Grace Zheng took a trip to Yogyakarta in Indonesia, where they spent a week volunteering at Wildlife Rescue Centre Jogja.
The centre’s best-known residents are its six orangutans. They have been in captivity too long to be released back into the wild, but with the help of Volunteers like Katya and Grace, the shelter is able to provide tools and play areas for the animals to keep them entertained.
The students’ work didn’t stop once they returned to Hong Kong. Inspired by their week at the centre, they decided to make a pair of educational videos explaining why orangutans are endangered, and telling viewers how they can help.
Today, the videos will be uploaded onto Wildstars.tv, a newly-launched website specifically created for students from all over the globe to shared content related to wildlife and the environment.
In the lead-up to the videos going live, Young Post spoke to the students about their project.
“Orangutans are my favourite species,” Katya says. “They’re not only cute, but very human-like as well.”
In fact, orangutans share 97 per cent of their DNA with humans. It’s no wonder their name, “orangutan”, literally means “people of the forest” in Malay and Indonesian.
Grace adds that orangutans play a unique role in Indonesia’s ecosystem.
“They help spread seeds, which makes them an important part of the food chain. Without them, a lot of other species would become endangered, or even extinct,” she tells Young Post.
Sadly, the orangutan’s habitat is being destroyed thanks to logging, forest fires and palm oil plantations. The species’ numbers are dwindling.
“When you start looking at issues like shark finning and deforestation, you realise that human beings have been wrong for so long,” says Grace, “We’re endangering other species who have lived on the planet as long as we have.”
The students admit that initially weren’t sure what they could do to make a difference – but they used their skills and the resources available to them to get their message across.
Meanwhile, Wildstars.tv was only too happy to give the girls some tips on making a great video.
“We suggested that the students encouraged viewers to take action … to reflect on or change their behaviour,” says that Oliver Cartwright, founder of the non-profit conservation initiative. “The most successful films are usually the ones which have simple calls to action.”
Grace and Katya interviewed as many people as possible during their trip, from the managers to the keepers to the vets. The teacher who accompanied them on the trip, Ross Burrough, took most of the footage.
Back in Hong Kong, the girls put their video together using Apple’s iMovie. They wanted to make two version: a long one and a short one. The editing process was long and painstaking, but now, the videos are finally finished.
The students hope their efforts will encourage other young people
“We could connect students who want to volunteer with the centre at Yogyakarta,” said Grace. “Physically contributing to conservation work is even more important than raising awareness.”
Crucially, the girls end the video by urging viewers to avoid brands that use palm oil in their products. Palm oil can be found in everything from pizza dough to shampoo, and its production is one of the biggest causes of orangutan habitat loss.
“It might be a small amount of palm oil but ultimately we might be saving acres of forests,” says Grace. “You can’t directly see the impact of not buying palm oil. But if you have this awareness and knowledge, you know that you’re doing something good for the planet.”
Follow the Wildstars.tv team on Twitter @wildstartv.