Meet Kylie, our Conservation Project Manager

Kylie Bullo is one of the longest-serving women working with The Orangutan Project. We asked her about her role and the inspiring women’s projects she’s helped fund.

Providing funds for conservation projects and rescue programs

Kylie is the Conservation Project Manager for The Orangutan Project, a role she’s held for over 20 years. Kylie is the key person who liaises with the projects and organisations in Borneo and Sumatra to provide funding for their work. “I support conservation by assessing which projects we will fund for the best overall conservation outcomes such as securing vital habitat and running rehabilitation centres to return orangutans to the wild,” she says.

“A lot of our projects also include community engagement and the employment of local people to help with conservation projects and improve their own sustainability with agriculture, which is exciting,” she adds.

In an average week, Kylie’s tasks include developing funding agreements with our partners in the field, sending funds to the projects and partners, and assisting the projects with her own in-depth orangutan knowledge. She also receives update reports from the field and shares the information with donors, and she submits grant proposals on a regular basis.

What led Kylie to this role with The Orangutan Project?

Kylie’s love for and knowledge about orangutans began many years ago when she studied Environmental Biology at Curtin University and did her Honours thesis on primate behaviour. Next came a casual job in the primate section of Perth Zoo, where Leif Cocks (Founder of The Orangutan Project) worked at the time.

“When I became the Senior Keeper of the orangutans at the zoo, Leif saw I had an understanding, empathy and great love for the orangutans,” she says. “Ï took particular interest in improving their diet and behavioural enrichment.”

This is an area of orangutan care she’s still really passionate about as it makes a long-term difference to the mental wellbeing and survival skills of orangutans. Kylie adds, “My favourite orangutan was a female named Sekara and I saw her give birth to her first baby Semeru, which was an amazing experience.”

Releasing the first zoo-born orangutan into the wild

Kylie was also the keeper in charge of releasing the first ever zoo-born orangutan into the wild named Temara. Kylie spent three months in the jungle of Bukit Tigapuluh in Sumatra, along with monitoring staff to assist and observe Temara’s adaptation.

“Preparing and releasing Temara into the wild has been the highlight of my life with orangutans. Watching Temara thrive in her Sumatran jungle home, knowing that her grandmother was taken from here, gave me a feeling of peace and happiness.  There were also tough times including the 4.30am wake ups in the dark to trek to her sleeping nest before dawn- often in the rain. I had countless leech bites, soggy feet, skin rashes and endured over 20 bee stings on my face and head during a relentless attack from an angry swarm of bees that Temara had disturbed.” 

You can read all about this incredible journey in Kylie’s book, Reaching for the Canopy.

Supporting and caring for orphaned orangutans

One of the most satisfying parts of Kylie’s role over the years is providing the adoption updates and watching how far the young vulnerable orangutans have come, from when they are rescued to when they are released.

Kylie says, “I have been able to help with the rehabilitation and training of some of these orphaned orangutans in person during my time at the rehabilitation centres. I also liaise with the staff about behavioural enrichment and enclosure design to help improve the welfare of orangutans whilst they are at the care centres.”

Kylie is also especially pleased to have helped to secure funding for vital projects such as the leasing and purchasing of land, supporting Wildlife Protection Units, and helping to develop the orangutan release programs. These programs have grown so much compared to when they first began, thanks in large part to grants and generous donors.

Empowering women and girls through conservation funding

Some of the projects Kylie is most passionate about funding are the community development and education projects. She says, “These projects empower women and support them to use their various skills in areas such as seedling nurseries, education, reforestation and fire patrols. I hope these programs continue to grow as women play a key role in bringing people together and growing ideas into sustainable projects.”

Her final message of hope is that young girls are inspired by these women who are making a difference in their community in traditional male roles, and that through this inspiration, more women and girls will become involved in conservation. We couldn’t agree more, Kylie!

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