28 February, 2020

Exactly a month before leaving on a 14-day cruise along a new route, I was communicating with the people from Tasikoki Wildlife Rescue Centre, which is located in North Sulawesi (just a ninety-minute drive outside of Manado city centre). We were planning to visit Tasikoki as a part of our new route, called From The Spice Islands to Sulawesi – Sailing the Undiscovered Frontier from Ternate to Bitung.

None of us had been to Tasikoki before. None of the crew nor the guests. One of SeaTrek’s owners have been there before and just fell in love with the cause straight away, hence him wanting us to visit with guests and support Tasikoki. If you’ve ventured with SeaTrek on board one of our vessels, you would be familiar with how we love to explore unchartered territory, looking for new exciting place to visit and things to do  – it’s all part of the adventure that we offer and we do love being pioneers.

The last day of our cruise was the day to visit Tasikoki. The night before, we watched three TED Talks by Dr. Willie Smits (the founder of Tasikoki Wildlife Rescue Centre and the Masarang Foundation) about How to Restore a Rainforest, Conservation, and Sustainability Starts at the Village Level. Everyone was so inspired and could not wait to meet the man himself. At about 8am, having arrived on the beach with both of our tenders, we were greeted by Dr. Smits himself, Simon Purser (wildlife conservation expert), one of the two in-house vets, and a team of no less than 10 people who were very helpful and informative about the centre.

After a brief introduction by Dr. Smits, accompanied by delicious tropical fruits and local snacks, we were led for a tour. We walked along under the thick trees which created natural shade, even though it was scorching hot that morning. We first visited the Cockatoo rescue area – there were four species here, two of which we frequently see during our cruises: the Sulphur-crested and the Yellow-crested, the latter being critically endangered due to illegal trapping for the cage-bird trade.

The second place that we visited was the sun bear area. Sun bears live in tropical forest and are commonly found in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, over the past decades, deforestation has reduced a suitable habitat for the sun bears. There are three bears living in the centre and they’ve been waiting for a few years to be released back to the wild. Tasikoki Wildlife Rescue Centre is still looking for a possible area where they can be released and not captured by poachers – another factor why sun bears are yet to be released in the wild.

We then walked to an area where the centre staff prepare food for the animals. The food is prepared in a unique way so that they would still be able to use their senses (smell, hearing, sights, etc) when hunting for food in the wild. Guests were invited to prepare food, and all were excited to lend a hand. For sun bears, for example, which eat mainly nuts and sweet berries, we would drill many holes into a chopped bamboo and put the berries and nuts inside. When done, we will then place the bamboo all over the place like a scavenger hunt – staff encouraged us to hide the bamboo in hard to find places so that the bears would really have to use their senses to look for food.

At the end of the visit, we walked back to the lodge, where they serve us with some more delicious local delicacies and tropical fruits. Guests had even more questions after the visit towards Willie and Simon. After saying goodbye to everyone at the centre, we made our way back to the Ombak Putih. During lunch that day on the boat, nobody could stop talking about how wonderful the centre was and the hard work that everybody put into running such a big facility like that. On top of the donations that SeaTrek has put into Tasikoki for our visit, some of our guests also gave extra donations as well which was really nice.

I hope people can care about the wildlife as much as Dr. Smits and his team do, and by bringing our guests here, we also hope that they can have an eye-opening experience about what is going on out there with the deforestation and wildlife trade, as well as meeting the kind-hearted people who are trying to protect and fight for the life of the animals.