Saving the jungle giant

Tempo Magazine: Outreach Team: Indonesia: No. 15/XI :December 08-14, 2010

Close to 90 percent of the world’s orangutans are found in Indonesia. And Kalimantan is their home. Which is why the orangutan is widely known as the island’s flagship species.

Under the Conservation Law, these beautiful and noble creatures should be protected their living environs safe from harm. Yet, they are now increasingly threatened by encroaching farmers, planters and worst of all, hunters who seek them out to kill or to be traded. A few caring groups are trying hard to protect the orangutans, symbol of our environment’s sustainability. These people work with local forest communities to live in harmony with the orangutans. A special report for Tempo English Edition from Central Kalimantan.

The female orangutan lies injured, her baby hugging her. Another orangutan is hurt in the arm and head. It was seriously beaten. The next image shows a badly injured orangutan with blood dripping from its temple right next to the eye. Such dramatic scenes are shown in the video presenting the rescue of orangutans by the Ministry of Forestry and the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF). During 2006-2007, the BOSF and the Forestry Ministry managed to save 350 orangutans.

Hunting, atrocity and killing of orangutans are not new issues. The population of these big apes keeps declining. A study by the Forestry Ministry in 2007 recorded a total of 61,234 of these protected animals in Indonesia, of which 54,567 were in Kalimantan. The number is now estimated at less than 14 percent of the population in the past (from 10,000 years ago to the mid-20th century) and 90 percent of the total live in Indonesia, in Sumatra and Kalimantan to be exact.

Orangutans are one of the most protected species in Indonesia. The form of protection is contained in Law No. 5/1990. It is stipulated that whoever captures orangutans dead or alive shall be liable to imprisonment. “The fact is that they are not protected at all,” said Hardi Baktiantoro, head of the Center for Orangutan Protection (COP). According to him, orangutans are frequently hunted, even regarded as a pest because they often eat oil palm shoots. “The most prominent threat comes from deforestation. As far as I know, forest trees are removed for palm oil plantations in Kalimantan,” Hardi added.

Sipet Hermanto, head of the Central Kalimantan Provincial Forestry Office, admitted to Tempo the opening of palm oil plantations had considerably affected the habitat of orangutans.

“Palm oil estates are then obliged to prepare corridors, which are forest zones intended for orangutans that are caught for entering the estates,” he said. According to him, through the corridors the animals’ protection can be realized. For instance, captured orangutans must not be beaten or tortured but have to be released into their forest through cooperation with the Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA).

Besides orangutans, local people are greatly interested in forest conservation. While orangutans see forests as their habitat, villagers consider forests their sources of food. “Tura and other villages along the Katingan River are heaven for us. We’ve been pampered by nature from the past to the present. Earth has provided whatever we need to enable us to live in sufficient conditions,” said Daryatmo, head of Tura village, Central Kalimantan, home to orangutans. “So, human and orangutans share the same interests,” Hardi affirmed. With these common interests in mind, Hardi and peers have communicated the message of conservation to local communities since 2007. “And it’s been effective,” he added.

Still, Hardi admitted, it was not easy to make villagers aware of environment conservation amid the storming interests of palm oil plantations. “Local communities’ awareness remains low.

Whatever the government decides, though to their disadvantage, they just accepted it,” noted Hardi. Their awareness of the importance of orangutan preservation is even lower. It is because traditionally, some local residents in Kalimantan hunt and eat the flesh of orangutans. The other barrier to people’s involvement is the “lure” from palm oil firms: plantation owners hire locals for the capture of orangutans, and they get compensation for every ape caught. “Now we try to raise the awareness that it’s difficult to help the people [to protect the forest] if they don’t contribute in conserving the orangutans. The issue of orangutans is more effective in drawing international attention,” said Hardi.

One way of promoting collective awareness and bringing up the orangutan issue to broader global circles is through films. Five village residents around the Katingan River were gathered and trained in filmmaking. “We taught them how to hold cameras, adjust volumes and so forth,” said Hardi. The idea of the story, initiated by Daryatmo, is around daily village life and activities. The film also presents the difficulty faced by the people when they handle land documents in the region already controlled by palm oil companies.

The result is a 16 minute docudrama entitled Petak Danum Itah (Our Motherland). Daryatmo is the central figure in the film. In the beginning of the movie, he gathers around 30 residents of Tura, Tumbang Tanjung, and Tumbang Lahang villages to grow rubber and jelutung (Dyera costulata) trees on their open land.

“This is our motherland, we should be growing plants here for our future and the coming generations. Our ancestors have warned us against being sidelined as land owners,” he points out enthusiastically. Daryatmo then invites them to plant rubber together as proof of their disagreement with palm oil plantations.

Asked why he persistently struggles for the conservation of his forest, Daryatmo says he listens to the complaints of his peers from other villages about most of their people being no longer able to gather rattan or tap rubber trees. Large numbers of company workers also come from other regions so that local people are deprived of adequate income. Daryatmo also shows no more fish can be found due to contaminated river water.

The other approach to change people’s viewpoint on the importance of rescuing the environment and what it contains including orangutans is through the entertainment media, such as outdoor movie shows, and also education. “One of our strategies to win the hearts of people is the opening of English-language classes. We believe if children like the lessons, so do their parents,” said Hardi.

Not far different from other children in Indonesia’s remote areas, Tura village youngsters almost have no access to good quality and affordable modern education. In order to make English lessons more easily understood, the COP has modified Dayak (traditional Kalimantan tribe) traditional games so that they can be utilized for English learning.

Mohammad Ali Daut, one of the English teachers in Tura, said the children had very high enthusiasm. “When I announce the program one day in advance, children from the neighboring villages will come to Tura to follow the class,” he said. A class is attended by 30-50 students. “My target is at least they can introduce themselves and describe other people in simple English,” added the former teacher in Medan.

In addition to English, children also get singing and sport lessons. “Primary schools there only have one teacher. So we help them with teaching,” revealed Hardi. He admitted such methods had been applied to win the “fight” with palm oil companies. “While the companies are attempting to prevail by distributing daily necessities, we’re trying to win the communities’ heart by these means (education and entertainment—Ed.),” he indicated.

But the outcome takes time. He gave an example of a positive effect of their effort: when companies and government agencies asked for local people’s signatures to give up a forest zone, none of them were willing to sign. “Up to the present, their heavy-duty equipment has failed to enter those areas,” he said. He expressed his gratefulness that so far he had saved about 2,000 orangutans in an area of 44,000 hectares.

But the struggle to rescue orangutans and their habitat in Kalimantan and Sumatra indeed still has a long way to go. One of the investigation results of Hardi and colleagues is that some forest zones do exist physically, but their presence is not recognized on the government’s official maps.

What is the response of Sipet Harmanto on this matter? In his view, what happens is the difference in reference sources. The central government so far refers to the Consensus Forest Land Use System (TGHK) of 1982, while Central Kalimantan province uses Regional Regulation No. 8/2003 on the Central Kalimantan Regional Spatial Layout. “If we use the TGHK, then the entire provincial territory is a forest region including the governor’s office,” he said. He hoped the draft on the Central Kalimantan Regional Spatial Layout could soon be approved by the central government. In this way, the difference in reference maps can be promptly resolved.

The struggle to save orangutans and their habitat in Kalimantan and other regions in Indonesia—is facing various constraints. We’ve often heard the sarcastic remark: “Why all the fuss about rescuing animals, while the larger part of Indonesia’s population still badly need aid?” Hardi acknowledged the many difficulties but he refused to call a halt. According to him, somebody must offer protection to orangutans, “Though this endeavor means a long and exhausting journey.”

Living on the Edge

AROUND 61,234 orangutans live in the wild in forests and national parks of Indonesia. It is estimated that 1,200 Kalimantan orangutans and 16 Sumatran orangutans still depend for their lives on rehabilitation centers. Deforestation, illegal logging, and hunting by palm oil plantation workers that consider them as pests have rapidly reduced the number of these protected animals.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List (IUCN, 2007) put Sumatran orangutans into the category of critically endangered and Kalimantan orangutans into the category of endangered. The Center for Orangutan Protection (COP) recorded that as many as 2,400 of 12,000 orangutans are killed each year.


Editor: Yuli Ismartono Deputy Editor: Hermien Y. Kleden Project
Officer: Sadika Hamid Writers: Sadika Hamid Reporting Team:
Sadika Hamid, Syari Fani, Karana WW (Palangkaraya) Graphic
Design: Eko Punto Pambudi Layout: Agus Darmawan Setiadi Photo
Research: Donang Wahyu


Tempo Magazine
No. 15/XI
December 08-14, 2010


Center for Orangutan Protection (COP) Director, Hardi Baktiantoro: The orangutan problem is like mopping a continuously wet floor

FOR the past three years, Hardi Baktiantoro, 37, has devoted his time and much of his life to saving orangutans. In an interview with Tempo two weeks ago, he described the problem with orangutans in Indonesia as metaphorically mopping a floor that is always wet from a leaking faucet. Hardi’s point is that all efforts to save the orangutan is unlikely to mean much unless the government stops deforestation.

As director of the Center for Orangutan Protection (COP), Hardi claims he will go on doing his job despite the huge challenges. He writes, takes pictures, makes videos in documenting the grim fate that befalls many of these great apes, often by plantation owners or hunters.

One advantage Hardi is proud of is that he understands the language of the orangutans. He shares with Tempo his experience in saving orangutans in Kalimantan. Excerpts:

What is the biggest threat to the orangutans today?

I have to say forest clearing to make way for palm oil plantations. We have rescued 360 orangutans since 2006. A cleared forest automatically causes orangutans to lose their
habitats and their sources of food and water. They are hunted down because they scare the workers (on the palm oil plantations—Ed.) so they are regarded as pests.

What do you do to raise awareness about the need to protect these creatures?

We focus our efforts at palm oil plantations, where many of the orangutans are seriously threatened. We distribute posters explaining how orangutans need to be protected. It says, among things, “You are the key to the orangutan’s survival. Contact us immediately or they will perish.” This method is apparently succeeding among the workers.

What about orangutan trafficking?

About 50 orangutans were found in Thailand’s casinos. Indonesia and Thailand held talks but we insisted that they be returned to us otherwise they would suffer badly. Some local people even sell the orangutans illegally, but only a few.

How many orangutans have entered the rehabilitation center?

About 1,200 orangutans now live in those centers. Most of the ones we take in are still infants.

If palm oil plantations are seen as the main threats to orangutans, what would be the solution that would benefit both sides?

We are not anti palm oil or anti-development, or anti-foreign interest. The problem emerges when an area that looks like a forest is not really designated a forest in the maps of the
Forestry Ministry. This always creates a conflict between the government and the communities.

What evidence do you have that certain parties are eliminating orangutans?

We use the NIXON camera with GP1 GPS as our standard research. We have coordinate points, forest locations, satellite photos and findings that indicate the orangutans are threatened. The law is only a piece of paper. It is never enforced by the

Why do you say palm oil plantations are not environment-friendly?

The Roundtable Forum on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is tasked with certifying palm oil companies that are eco-friendly. Since November 5, 2005 clearing forests which have one or more biodiversity plants is forbidden. Yet the forests are cut down anyway. So we see the RSPO as a ‘green shield’ against destroyers of the environment.

Can ecotourism be a solution?

I am pessimistic about that. Forget ecotourism, regular tourism here is chaotic and cannot be treated as a middle way.

How many orangutans have been saved?

The area along the Katingan River is habitat to about 2,000 orangutans. Thankfully, about 1,500 orangutans living there have been saved.

Where does COP get support to fund its activities?

In one year, we get about Rp2.5 billion, 90 percent of which comes from overseas. But we refuse donations which could cause conflict of interest. We try to raise funds from individuals who demand nothing.

We heard orangutans often attack when they come across people in plantations.

Orangutans are afraid of humans. There is a way of shooing them away, and that is by ringing a bell or just shouting out loud. Unfortunately, some companies have a policy that anyone who can catch an orangutan will be rewarded. But they insist on a finger as proof before they get the money.


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