Guest Blogger: Eloise Hedgecott
In July and August of 2019, we - a group of 17 and 18-year-olds from Prince Henry’s High School – headed out for a month long expedition to mainland Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo. On our feet were our Critically Endangered Socks – kindly gifted to us by Dom and his team. Over the next four weeks, the socks would have to endure a variety of challenging conditions – including minimal washing and being worn on sweaty jungle hikes for several days at a time (yuck!). Would the socks survive and more importantly, what would we learn about why the work of Critically Endangered Socks is so important in the first place?
Critically Endangered Socks began with the plight of the Bornean orangutan and we were determined to catch a glimpse of these charismatic apes. Seeing orangutans in the wild is a rare privilege so we elected instead to visit Semenggoh Nature Reserve, where rescued orangutans are rehabilitated into a semi-wild state. The forest at Semenggoh is home to a number of orangutans, who are able to live entirely independently (foraging and even breeding in the wild), but are also able to return to the centre for a free meal if they wish! We were lucky enough that a number of orangutans were indeed feeling peckish the day we visited and we managed to see four including the alpha male and a delightfully playful juvenile.
Photography was permitted, but we were told not to use camera flashes or tripods as this can scare the orangutans. Many have had traumatic pasts and were attacked and driven out of their homes by humans - the bright flashes on cameras and rod shapes of tripods can remind them of the guns that were used against them. This really drove home to us the horrors that these sensitive, intelligent creatures endure at the hands of humans and emphasised the need to protect their forest habitat from exploitation and deforestation.
Elsewhere in Borneo, the scale of rainforest deforestation truly became apparent. We saw many instances where huge swathes of forest had been cleared by loggers. Our trip also involved many long bus journeys and sometimes we would drive for hours through palm oil plantations that stretched horizon to horizon, mile after mile. Seeing patches of living rainforest became the exception, rather than the norm. These isolated pockets of forest habitat cannot support healthy orangutan populations, and so it is crucial that forest can be saved before it can be cut down. This is why the work of NGOs like Critically Endangered Socks is so vital. They support charities which protect rainforest from illegal logging and conversion into palm oil plantations – such as the Friends of the National Parks Foundation which carries this out in Borneo.
Later in our trip, we visited the beautiful Perhentian Islands off the east coast of mainland Malaysia, to volunteer for a turtle conservation project. The turtles we were working with were Green turtles, not the critically endangered Hawksbill turtle.
However, the threats to turtle survival that we learned about will affect all species and therefore the conservation project was still vitally important. One of the key threats to turtles is beach development, as turtles require dark, quiet and safe beaches on which to breed. If human development means that beaches are brightly lit and noisy, the mother turtles may be scared away.
Also, even if mothers still lay their eggs, when they hatch the baby turtles can become confused by the bright light and may not ever make it to the sea. Further threats to turtles include disturbance from irresponsible tourists and of course climate change and the multitude of effects that this will have on their marine environment. Finally, litter is a major threat– turtles can become entangled in it or mistake it for food – ingesting it can kill them. Even though the Perhentian Islands seemed pristine, a snorkelling trip revealed to us the large amount of litter (particularly plastic waste!) that was floating in the open ocean and getting caught on the reefs. We picked up as much as we could, but clearly further work must be done if turtle species like the Hawksbill are to be saved from the brink of extinction. Critically Endangered Socks supports charities like the Oceanic Society, which carry out crucial marine conservation work to make this happen.
Overall, we learned lot on our trip about the difficulties of ensuring that humans can co-exist with nature. We currently have a huge detrimental impact on wildlife and the environment and it’s the responsibility of all of us to reduce this as much as we can. One way to do this is by supporting ethical companies when you shop – like Critically Endangered Socks! I’m sure you’re wondering if our socks survived the trip. Well, after a proper wash (ie. using a washing machine as opposed to a jungle stream), I’m pleased to say they were all as good as new!