The Documentary - The Silent Forest


01The Silent Forest - Part One20170927The local people of rainforests of Southe-ast Asia resisting destruction of their forests

It is Saturday morning in Pontianak in West Kalimantan in Indonesia, at a songbird competition. In every district across Indonesia you'll find these, large and small. Here there are 60 cages hung up above head height under the corrugated metal ceiling of an open sided building. It is hot here, right on the equator, and over 100 young men are cheering and shouting, focussed, on their birds, and on winning. It sounds like a boxing match with added birds singing at the tops of their voices.

This passion for birdsong has swept the country since it was encouraged in the 1970s, by a government keen to build a new leisure activity for Indonesians. No one could have predicted how out of hand it could get. What was once a solitary and poetic pastime, having a songbird in your house or garden, has become an industry in which real money can be made by training a winning bird. It is known here as chirping mania and is one of the biggest threats to Indonesia's forests which have gradually fallen silent as millions of birds every year are trapped and sold illegally. Can the forest survive without birds?

And we take a look at the Pangolin - a weird small solitary nocturnal armour-plated ant eating mammal. It is the most trafficked animal on earth.
It is highly prized for it's poor quality meat, which will cost you $350 a kilo in a Hanoi restaurant, and the powdered residue of it's roasted scales, (that armour plating.) Why?

Pangolin are sold (always illegally) by weight. Their perfect protection against all predators except man is to curl up in a tight impenetrable ball. Lions and tigers simply cannot prise them open. A man just picks them up and carries them off in a plastic bag. Then water is injected beneath the scales, and a mixture of water and cornstarch is forcefed into their stomachs followed by stones. Having increased their value by as much as a third, bloated and dying, they are transported by the ton and sold alive both locally and to the huge market in China.

Gretchen Miller and Neil Trevithick talk to the people rescuing and trying to heal injured pangolin before releasing them (secretly) back into the wild, to traditional medical practitioners, vets and villagers. And we ask why does it matter if the pangolin becomes extinct, as it surely will, in Asia.

(Photo: Javan Green Magpie. Credit: Jonathan Beilby)

02The Silent Forest - Part Two20171004How the locals of Thailand and Myanmar are resisting the destruction of their forests

The Siamese Rosewood tree is now so valuable that two small pieces carried in a rucksack are worth $500. This kind of money means that armed criminal gangs up to a hundred strong have stripped the forests of Thailand bare of the Rosewood. It has been dug out of the central reservations of roads, from temple courtyards and school playgrounds. Nearly all of it is destined for the Chinese rosewood ‘hongmu’ furniture market. There has been a middle class craze for this traditional furniture since 2008 when centuries old temples were restored in Beijing, using rosewood, for the Olympic games.

This then is the story of what happens when the market concentrates on a single species and wipes it out in nine years; and of what happens to the local people who simply happen to live in the places that this tree used to grow,

At the other end of Thailand in the north-west, is the long border with Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. And here thousands of square miles of teak and bamboo forest have been largely preserved by seven decades of civil conflict. The local Karen people live in refugee camps just inside Thailand, but also remain in their thousands in the Myanmar forest living as they have always done, while fighting for an independent homeland. A recent peace deal means that for the first time it may be possible for logging to begin, dams to be built, open cast gold mining to expand, roads and a deep water port to be built. The Karen are trying to create a vast ‘peace park’ to preserve their astonishing natural habitat from these same forces that have destroyed so much forest in the previous countries we have visited.

Gretchen Miller and Neil Trevithick go into the Myanmar forest to a training camp for Karen forest rangers who will police the forest if such a park can be created. This is a place alive with all of the flora and fauna that have usually disappeared. It is so noisy and vibrant with life that a Silent Forest is only a bad dream. Is this the final moment before a storm of exploitation and destruction makes that bad dream a reality? Or can something different and new be created by the Karen? After 68 years of civil war everything hangs in the balance. We talk to Karen villagers, forest rangers, to the people helping the Karen create their policy for managing the forest, and most important of all we walk beneath the canopy and hear the sounds of life.