Getting Up-Close-and-Personal with Orangutans Inspires an Industry to Change its Deadly Practices
"No Hunt - No Kill - No Torture - No Catch"
On an ordinary workday, a hike into the rainforest for the supervisors and managers of Asia Pulp and Paper Company (APP)--one of Southeast Asia's largest industrial plantation companies--is an opportunity to survey the forest's dense mass of sturdy trees and to calculate the millions of cubic meters of potential economic prosperity they will provide. For these professionals, cutting down trees, selling logs, and clearing land to plant industrial timber plantations is a way of life. For orangutans, it is life-threatening. According to Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas, "Orangutan killing is the dirty big secret of the palm oil and pulp and paper concession world."
In early July, 21 APP employees ventured into the forest and to OFI's Orangutan Care Center with Dr. Galdikas on a unique four-day journey that was anything but ordinary. On this day, OFI officially launched its new, innovative Zero Tolerance/ No-Kill Training Program, designed to train 1,000 palm oil and paper and pulp workers over the next two years in the humane and respectful treatment of orangutans and other wildlife. In so doing. OFI aspires to fundamentally change the culture of an industry that has historically treated orangutans as 'agricultural pests' with deadly consequences to both orangutan individuals and to the orangutan species, Pongo pygmaeus.
Last month's Zero Tolerance/No-Kill Program training session, the first of many, was led by Dr. Galdikas and four professional trainers. The four-day workshop opened in Pangkalan Bun with a speech given by Regent Pak Ujang of Kotawaringin Barat, who personally welcomed the 21 participating APP supervisors and managers, and emphasized the importance of this new collaborative conservation program.
The first two days of training included a series of immersive workshops with talks and activities followed by Q&A and group discussions. Sessions included a presentation about local rainforest ecology and biodiversity by Ms. Renie Djojosmaro (a former biology student of Dr. Galdikas and current OFI employee), as well as a personal and in-depth talk by Dr. Galdikas about orangutans as a species and as individuals.
Mr. Edy (former Galdikas student and active conservationist in Indonesia) and Dr. Galdikas provided advice and recommendations on what to do and how to act when workers encounter wild orangutans on their plantations, providing insight into ways to avert violent human-orangutan conflicts.
Mr. Robert Yappi, OFI's geographic systems expert, talked about participatory mapping as an effective means for collaborative conservation, and facilitated an activity whereby APP's managers used Google Earth to identify the locations and layouts of their industrial timber concessions relative to known locations of wild orangutan populations. Later, APP's managers shared their concessions' respective conservation plans, and sought suggestions from Dr. Galdikas on effective strategies to help strengthen them.
A visit to Camp Leakey in Tanjung Puting National Park on day three offered workshop trainees a glimpse into the world of wild orangutans. They visited the site where Dr. Galdikas began her pioneering research and rehabilitation work in 1971, and heard
Twenty-one workshop trainees visit
an OFI former release camp in Tanjung Puting National Park
stories and reflections from the 41 years she spent living alongside these gentle red apes. In camp, throughout the forest, and at the feeding platform, workshop participants witnessed orangutans unafraid and confident, calmly accepting people into their territory, and affording them a peek into their secretive lives. For many participants, it was the beginning of seeing orangutans from a different perspective.
Day four of OFI's Zero Tolerance/No Kill Training Program offered participants a unique, up-close-and-personal experience through a visit to OFI's Care Center in Pasir Panjang. Juxtaposed to the previous day's heart-warming experience at Camp Leakey where orangutans are safely wild and free, workshop participants came face to face on day four with the reality of 340 orangutans, orphaned or displaced in part by their industry's destructive practices.
The day's event began with a tour of OFI's enrichment forest that surrounds the Care Center where juvenile orangutans, ages five to eight, played in the forest canopy. Workshop participants also visited "The Playpen," a large jungle gym where three to five year-old orangutan toddlers worked off their energy, swinging, climbing, and jumping to the visitors' delight. Here, the trainees experienced the playful and mischievous side of orangutan nature: Hats were plucked from heads and cameras became the target of unrestrained curiosity.
The visit to the nursery was perhaps the most powerful moment for many workshop participants. The infants' endearing antics and profound innocence, coupled with the Indonesians' deep cultural love of children, brought the issue of orangutan orphans (which result from the killing of mothers by industry workers) front and center. It was an emotional and moving experience for the 21 workshop participants. As Dr. Galdikas Tweeted, "This is one of the reasons that it is important that people have opportunities to directly observe and be close to endangered wildlife. It engenders feelings and emotions. One can learn facts from a book, but nothing engages people like a close encounter with the animal itself."
For most of the managers who took part in OFI's four-day training, this session was their closest and most positive encounter with orangutans. It served to dispel the long-held stereotype of orangutans as malevolent pests, and educated them about the importance of orangutan conservation. For the next nine sessions, the managers of APP (aided by our trainers) will go back to their workplaces in East Borneo to deliver OFI's 'do no harm' message and techniques to their employees, spreading the word and helping to transform an industry. We will keep you posted on this inspiring and hopeful development.
Janie Dubman, Editor