Indonesia's orangutans return to the wild

Central Sydney: Aimee Scott: 24 November 10

 

Gadu and her baby, Garu, will be released back into the wild by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. Photo: Karen Stenner Photography

Indonesia's former Minister for Agriculture and Forestry is now one of the world's leading orangutan conservationists, and he is coming to Sydney to reveal plans for the largest ever release of captive orangutans back into the wild.

Professor Dr Bungaran Saragih is the chairman of the board of trustees for the Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to saving the critically endangered species from extinction as a result of deforestation for palm oil plantations - an activity he was once responsible for.

"When I was minister, the BOS foundation came to me, asking for my protection, asking for my help, asking for my advice," Dr Saragih said.

Before that, Dr Saragih was unaware that palm oil farms were threatening the habitat of orangutans.

"But (BOS founder) Dr Willie Smit came to my office and said 'minister, look at this, you are responsible for the expansion of oil farms and the endangerment of orangutans', and I was awakened - he opened up my eyes," he said.

Dr Saragih, an expert in sustainability, began working to balance protecting the orangutans' habitat with the need for poor Indonesian farmers to earn an income. When he retired in 2004, the foundation asked him to join.

"I was so happy because I think this is very important and strategic, not just for the orangutans but for the tropical forests and for Indonesia as a whole," he said. Through the foundation, he was able to meet the primates he had only ever seen in photos.

"I realised it's just like seeing a human being - they're so intelligent and you can see their souls in their eyes," he said. "They hypnotise you. When you look into their eyes, you fall in love."

The foundation's Australian arm is aiming to raise $150,000 to buy 10 quarantine enclosures, which will enable the release of the first 24 rehabilitated orangutans into the wild, as part of a colony of 108. Eventually, BOS wants to release all of its 850 captive orangutans.

"I believe that if the world works together to do something, there is hope for the orangutan, but now is the time to act and we're asking Australia, our nearest neighbour, for help," Dr Saragih said.

He will be speaking at the University of Sydney on Monday, November 29.

For details phone 9011 5455 or go to www.orangutans.com.au.