In the Australia Day Honours list local environmentalist Claire (Catherine Marie-Claire) Oelrichs received the Order of Australia Medal for her contributions to conservation.
Claire and her late husband Ian, who had a long term relationship with Indonesia to help protect National Parks and wildlife at risk of extinction.
Claire’s conservation work began when she travelled to see the orangutans in Indonesian Borneo in 2002. ‘Survival of the Tanjung Putting National Park seemed to depend on the Rimba Lodge, which was then failing,’ she said.
Claire and Ian identified a team of investors to grow ecotourism. Ecolodges Indonesia was established with its network of ecolodges, including Rimba Lodge, providing wildlife experiences and promoting conservation. The organisation has grown to become the primary base for wildlife tourism in Indonesia.
It rapidly became apparent that people wanted to join me to visit wild places in Indonesia’ said Claire. ‘I became a tour guide by default
‘It rapidly became apparent that people wanted to join me to visit wild places in Indonesia’ said Claire. ‘I became a tour guide by default!’
In 2006 while guiding a tour group in Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra Claire spent time with a baby elephant just rescued after two weeks in a well. ‘Sakura was very ill and unable to stand,’ said Claire. ‘She would take off my shoes with her trunk so that I would sit and play with her’.
The local people asked Claire to help them close the remaining wells in the Park, a dangerous legacy from human habitation which ended in the eighties. ‘I said sure, then I wondered how on earth I would achieve it’ said Claire. In her indomitable fashion, however, Claire enlisted support from generous individuals and donor organisations. Over the following three years more than 4,000 wells within the Park were filled in using hand shovels.
‘After this the locals asked me what I would do next to save the Park,’ said Claire. ‘And I answered, what do you suggest?’ This conversation was the conception of the Save Indonesian Endangered Species Fund. Established in 2009, the grounding principle of SIES is that it is irrelevant to tell people of other countries what to do. SIES listens to local people, supporting their ideas and turning concepts into outcomes embedded in local communities.
The Fund has focused on habitat regeneration and fire prevention while also assisting with through International Park Tours and Southern Cross University where she completed her Bachelor of Environmental Science in 2014.
Claire and Ian’s sons have carved their own paths in conservation. Cooper, a senior data scientist based in Berlin, works pro bono for SIES while Dexter works full time in rhinoceros conservation from his base in Nuremberg.
Those wishing to know more about Claire’s work can visit www.siesfund.org.