Raising the bar for worthy causes
SPENDING A FEW HUNDRED drinking at the bar is pretty standard when you come to think about it, especially when you are out drinking with friends to celebrate or just to blow off some steam.
After that, you may come to regret spending that much money the next day, thinking that the money could have been used for a better purpose like paying the bills or getting that spare tyre for like you have been mulling about the last six months.
But, what if you were told that the money you spent at the bar would be used for a worthy cause?
“Many years ago, when I was fundraising for gorillas I did a speaking event in a bar. One of the ladies who worked in the bar made a life sized gorilla model and she hung a sign around its neck that said, ‘Buy the big man a drink’,” Leo Biddle said as we got perched ourselves on the barstools at the Monkee Bar.
“And at the end of the night, we realised that we made more money on tips from people buying the gorilla money from me speaking and that helped the conservation.”
Realising that it was a great opportunity, Leo promised himself that he would one day open up a bar that would be for charity. The project would give his work on great ape conservation the financial support it needed.
“I thought it would be much nicer if the money went to charity and I think the people drinking in the bar would be much happier if they know that some of the money goes to a good cause,” said Leo.
As of December last year, his collaboration with a local business partner would enable him to open up the Monkee Bar where half of the profit is channelled to the Orangutan Project.
Founded by Leo eight years ago, the Orangutan Project is a non-profit organisation conservation company for the endangered wildlife species based in Matang Wildlife Centre.
The Orangutan Project also runs a volunteering and tourism experience programme which enables participants to contribute by helping build and maintain the facility as well as helping grow organic food for the animals.
Before coming to Sarawak, Leo had been actively involved in the conservation for great apes such as gorillas, apes, chimpanzees as well as the orang-utans in Africa and Asia for more than 20 years.
“I have worked all over Africa and Asia and one thing all of us need is money. Without money, we could not fund the conservation work, feed the animals held in different centres, rescue sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres,” he added.
While Matang Wildlife Centre is managed by the (Sarawak Forest Cooperation, the staff of Orangutan Project are employed to help with the maintenance work, generate funds to buy food, medicine and expensive gadgets such as the tracking collars as well as working with the volunteers.
According to Leo, the centre now houses about 300 individual wildlife ranging from 30-35 different species that are either surrendered or unwanted animals by their owners and those that have been confiscated by the authorities from illegal captivity.
“We have about 15 staff at the Matang Wildlife Centre and they are all employed from the rural kampong next to the centre and it is very important if you’re asking people to work in conservation, you have to benefit the local communities first and foremost,” said Leo.
According to Leo, his staff has been specially trained by him on how to manage the animals as well as acting as buffers between the volunteers.
During the volunteering experiences, Leo emphasised that although the volunteers do get to participate in helping the wildlife centre, they do not however get to have direct contact with the animals as the task is specially handled by the staff.
“This is for the conservation of the animal and their welfare as it can be quite dangerous for them. Animals like orang-utan can catch human diseases,” he explained.
Aside from Matang Wildlife Centre where Leo and his team are working closely in partnership with Sarawak Forest Coperation, he also divides his time for the wildlife at the Ketapang Centre in Kalimantan, Indonesia collaborating closely with the International Animal Rescue.
Currently, Leo and his team are hoping to raise more funds to donate to more charities in Kuching, regardless of whether they are for animals or people. He is also hoping to build more rescue centres in Sumatra and Kalimantan for wildlife.
“In time, we hope that we would be able to donate money to children’s charity. The more we give around to good causes in Kuching, the more money we can get to financially help me in the work that I am interested in which is saving habitats and animals as well as helping people,” said Leo.
To raise awareness as well as funding for the Orangutan Project, three Kuching-based artists are holding a photography and art exhibition at the Monkee Bar for a month from November 22 onwards.
So, do your part to help the wildlife and come support the good cause of Orangutan Project.