“I want sustainability,” he told ANTARA at the customary forest that he manages, “Isyo Hills Bird Watching” in Rhepang Muaid, Nimbokrang, Jayapura district.
Waisimon asserted that he expects those who come to Isyo Hills Bird Watching to truly love nature and care about the forest, especially the cenderawasih (the birds-of-paradise).
Through the birdwatching area, he said he wants to show people that if they genuinely love birds, they should only see them in their habitat and not lock them up in cages.
Moreover, he said he wants to save animals in the forest from capture and from habitat destruction, caused by practices such as illegal logging, which is still rampant despite the enforcement of several laws and regulations.
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Born on September 19, 1968 in Nimbokrang (3 hours from Jayapura city), Waisimon is a true adventurer. After graduating from high school, he moved to Java and enrolled at the Satwacana University, Semarang.
“I studied there only for two years. Around the 1980s,” he recalled as he guided the ANTARA team to see birds-of-paradise on October 7, 2021.
He did not stop in Semarang long and ended up shifting base to Jakarta, Surabaya, and finally Bali, where he met the love of his life and with whom he has raised four children.
From 2009 to 2014, Waisimon worked for ILO (International Labour Organization). He said his work took him abroad and that gave him more opportunities to gain knowledge, which eventually led to his becoming the person he is today.
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A rough start
In 2014, Waisimon came back to Papua. He said his heart was shattered to see the condition of his land that had been ruined by illegal logging.
After some introspection, he said he decided to move to Papua. He was determined to defend the forest because he felt that was real treasure and wealth.
He then set about transforming the customary forest in Rhepang Muaif into an ecotourism area, with the aim of preserving the original habitat of the fauna, especially the iconic Cenderawasih.
He encouraged his friends, the community and even involved many tribes for protecting the forest.
He said he tried to raise public awareness on how destroying forests and killing or catching animals for sale is a big mistake that has actually ruined Papuan identity.
In the 200-hectare forest in Rhepang Muaif, he set up spots for those who are interested in observing the cenderawasih in their natural habitat.
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At first, his idea was not accepted by his friends. Even Sandra, his second daughter, who was born and raised in Bali, at first could not imagine living her life in Papua. Sandra said that she did not have a very appealing image of Papua.
"Then I saw papa (father) on television," she said proudly, reminiscing the first time she saw her father appear on TV to receive an environmental award.
"After that, I really wanted to go to Papua immediately," she said.
Sandra, who is currently pursuing a biology degree at Cenderawasih University, affirmed that she is no stranger to the idea of conservation and concern for nature due to her father.
"Before Waisimon came, people just shot (cenderawasih), and they got Rp250 to 350 thousand. But after Mr. Waisimon came, we found out that the price was actually higher," a Rhepang Muaif community leader, Paul Wouw (60), recalled.
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Wouw affirmed that he no longer sees people in his area hunting cenderawasih now.
“Mr. Waisimon has taught young people to love and take care of nature and protect all the lives that live in there,” he said.
One of the young people who turned to love nature because of Waisimon’s idea of nature conservation is Daud Wouw.
The 20-year-old is one of the six volunteers who accompany Waisimon as he guides visitors around Isyo Hills.
Daud Wouw said he left illegal logging to join Waisimon in 2019 after falling out with his employer over payment of dues.
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Brought great changes
Waisimon has brought significant changes to Daud Wouw, including in the way the young man now treats nature.
"It's a pleasure to work with Mr.Waisimon. I can gain new knowledge, I can learn English, learn about birds," he told the ANTARA team.
The young man affirmed that he has also been trying to pass on his knowledge on conservation to his fellow villagers.
"I invited my peers to go to the hill, to clean up trash, to sweep, and so on," he said.
Waisimon’s teachings on conservation have slowly found takers, including young people.
Those who come to Iyo Hills are mainly people who care about the preservation of birds, animals, and flora, Waisimon said. The visitors too are charmed by the ecotourism area.
Waisimon’s Iyo Hills has also earned him praise from international tourists.
"Another nice experiment in our life, so many noises from birds and insects. Thanx Alex and family for the good food, stay, and birdwatch," Rudi and Martina, two visitors from Germany, wrote in the Isyo Hills guestbook.
"Lovely birdwatching, adventure trail, and lots to see. We love this initiative and support it. Keep up the good work," Oppy Magigie from the Netherlands wrote.
Past visitors seem to have been impressed by what they saw, especially being able to see one of the most difficult-to-find bird species directly. They are also impressed by Waisimon’s commitment to the environment and his idea of protecting Papua's forests from exploitation.
Their endorsements are proof all his the awards and accolades are well-deserved.
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