Orangutans at the 11th Hour: Ethnographic Observations from
Rehabilitation Centers in Borneo
Andrea Patricia Birkby
B. A., Fort Lewis College, 1989
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Andrea Patricia Birkby
has been approved
Birkby, Andrea Patricia (M.A., Applied Anthropology)
Orangutans at the 11th Hour: Ethnographic Observations from Rehabilitation
Centers in Borneo
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Kitty K. Corbett
This research demonstrates how processes of globalization are extinguishing
the orangutan. It uses the orangutan as an example to show how out of balance
biological life and the natural environment are. Currently orangutans are found in
Malaysia and Indonesia. Specifically, however, Indonesia is experiencing rapid
change. Global forces such as the demand for forest products (timber), conversion
of the natural landscape, the economic crisis, and decentralization are bringing
serious changes to both the human culture within Indonesia and also other kinds of
biological life, such as orangutans. These are the factors that will ultimately decide
the fate of the orangutan. As an example of a species which plays a significant role
within its environment, is dependent upon its environment, and is being negatively
affected by human-induced activities, the orangutan exemplifies globalization
within Indonesia, and some of the effects of this relatively new endeavor. The
orangutans situation epitomizes Indonesias enmeshed identity within the global
Participant observation in orangutan confiscation situations and open-ended
interviews with local people are the primary methods used in this field study.
Stories about the acquisition of orangutans by rehabilitation centers demonstrate the
orangutans link to and dependence on the natural environment, Indonesias role
within the global economy, and what the effects brought about by these rapid
changes will have on a species such as the orangutan.
By looking at what value orangutans hold within their environment, and to
human culture-how local people perceive the orangutan, and how global changes are
affecting the natural environment-this research is a plea against what many experts
are calling inevitable, the extinction of orangutans in the wild.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidatebUhesis^^
recommend its publication.
Kitty K Corbett
I wish to thank the Department of Anthropology at the University of
Colorado-Denver for their support in the making of this project. Also, my thanks go
to my committee members Dr. Kitty Corbett, Dr. Craig Janes and Dr. Duane Quiatt.
Thanks to Dr. Birute Galdikas for introducing me to orangutans in Indonesia and to
Dr. Willie Smits for personal conversations about relevant topics. I also wish to
acknowledge family and friends who were supportive in seeing this project through,
and of course, a special thanks to the orangutans.
Chapter 1 Orangutan Preservation: A Moral Obligation........................2
Chapter 2 Touching an Orangutan, Traveling in Indonesia and Talking to Locals7
1 A Day in the Life of the Orangutan Care Center....................8
2 Animal Trading in Manis Mata and Interview........................12
3 Lola and the Wild Thing...........................................20
Chapter 3 Orangutans: Who and What..........................................22
1 Orangutan Lifeways................................................24
2 Orangutan Status: Contradictions in the Indonesian Context........26
a. Interview with Assistants at the Orangutan Care Center........29
b. Paradox in Paradise: Davids Story............................31
3 Orangutans-Value for Whom and Why.................................33
a. Ingrid and the Interview: The Economic Value of an Orangutan ..35
4 Threats to Orangutans: More Regional Contradictions..............40
a. Globalizing the Orangutans Habitat............................41
5 Orangutan Rehabilitation: The Backdrop...........................43
a. Natal Knowledge Transfer-Mother Knows Best....................45
b. Current Orangutan Rehabilitation Centers......................48
Chapter 4 Oh Brother Where Art Thou? (Where are Orangutans?)....................54
1 Value of the Rain Forest.........................................54
2 Is it My Imagination or is it Getting Hotter (Scientific Projections).55
3 Threats to Indonesias Rain Forests-Consumer Choices and Global
a. Local perspectives: Interview with Members of the Air Force.......61
b. Wijaya-Stranger in a Strange land............................62
c. Small, Isolated Reserves.....................................65
4 Theoretical Perspectives on Species Endangerment.................66
a. Kampung Bangkal..............................................67
b. A Chimpanzee is a Bonobo is a Gibbon-Primate Vulnerability........72
Chapter 5 Orangutan Tragedies and Small Victories..........................77
1 More on Processes of Globalization................................78
a. What Happened to Ingrid, Karol and Ayu? (A Continuation of Their
Stories from page 35)...............................................81
b. Local Opinions About Land Conversion-Interview with a Sulawesian
c. April 14th, Camp Leakey......................................85
d. Didnt Leave Nobody but the Baby by Emmylou Harris..............88
2 The Interconnection Between Human Culture, Biological Life and the
a. Local opinions, Interview with a Javanese Veterinarian....90
3 Conclusion-Conservation Implications-Discussion..............91
a. Orangutan Conservation as a Community-Based Resource
b. Sacred Knowledge and the Role of the Anthropologist.......96
1.1 Map of Southeast Asia...........................................1
2.1 Map of Borneo with orangutan Centers Highlighted................5
2.2 Chart of Time Spent at Orangutan Sites..........................6
FIGURE 1.1: Map of Southeast Asia with Borneo highlighted
(from National Geographic Society, 1988).
ORANGUTAN PRESERVATION: A MORAL OBLIGATION
I have had an interest in orangutan conservation for over ten years. I have
pursued it through work and research on site in Borneo, with orangutans and people
who are dedicated to saving them. Over time, I have become increasingly interested
in the forces which shape and determine whether or not orangutans will become
extinct. My goal is to examine how processes of globalization affect species survival,
and to better understand the interconnection between human culture, other biological
species, and the environment, using the orangutan as an example. This is how
Orangutans at the 11th Hour: Ethnographic Observations from Rehabilitation
Centers in Borneo was bom.
The methods I used to study interconnections between orangutans and local
human lifeways included participant observation studies and open-ended
(conversational mode) interviews, as well as structured interviews. Simply having
conversations with local people often revealed more information than I could
anticipate, although most interviews were conducted on a one-to-one basis. Field
notes were the primary means I used for documenting information on site. These
notes were recorded in spiral notebooks, on small pads of paper (to remember key
words, places, people and events), and finally, in the year 2002, on a laptop computer.
I first went to Indonesia to work with orangutans in 1995 because I wanted to
get to know a non-human great ape, in its own territory. At that point, I had not
focused my energy or interest on saving the species from extinction. Over each of
seven subsequent visits, my commitment to their preservation has grown.
Making various overseas trips has broadened my perspective about life in
general. These experiences have also given me a basis from which to make
comparisons. For example, having been back and forth over the past eight years has
unquestionably demonstrated to me that the situation with the orangutans is not
getting better. It is not even staying the same. These consecutive experiences have
proven to me that the situation facing orangutans is getting worse each year, each
month, and each day. It has also led me to the recognition that the phenomena of
globalization is bringing hugely negative consequences to this species. Sadly,
extinction is the most likely scenario facing wild orangutans today.
There are many reasons to save orangutans. In regard to the environment,
orangutans hold a high value because of the role they play within the ecosystem. As
will be discussed in more detail, humans value orangutans for a variety of reasons as
well. These reasons include both value placed on what the species can teach humans
about evolution, and a value for them as endangered species, and as individuals.
The conservation of orangutans, however, is about much more than saving an
endangered species. It is even about more than saving one of humankinds closest
living relatives. The preservation of orangutans represents the preservation of
humanity and our relationship with the natural environment.
Orangutans (like all species) maintain a dynamic relationship with their
natural environment. Drastic change within this relationship results in drastic
alterations of the nature and culture of orangutans. With recognition of the
possibility of the extinction of one of humankinds closet living relatives must come a
willingness to recognize that it is not a nature-based event which will cause this, but
instead, human greed. If human actions have pushed one of our closest living
relatives to the brink of extinction, what does the future hold for Homo sapiens?
What are we doing to our own relationship with the natural environment?
Orangutans in the wild are not yet extinct. The key to protecting this wild
species lies in valuing and protecting their relationship with the natural environment.
As seen throughout this study, the preservation of orangutans cannot be accomplished
without preserving its habitat. Human culture is also dependent on the natural
environment. Preservation of the orangutan and its habitat must be recognized as a
This thesis is presented in a narrative form interposing interviews with local
people, stories about captive orangutans, personal observations, and anthropological
theory. In chapter 2,1 introduce these experiences to illustrate my use of methods.
For example, I interview a native rehabilitation center employee, about his
knowledge of animal trading in the region, and blend that with my own experiences
encountering locals smuggling orangutans in Kalimantan. Chapters 3 and 4 consist of
background and theory about orangutans and the rain forest. Here I combine
theoretical aspects of orangutans and rain forest with field situations. These include
local peoples understanding of orangutans and rain forest conservation, and stories
detailing what happens when people come across orangutans in the wild. Chapter 5
addresses how processes of globalization are affecting orangutans and human culture,
some conservation based solutions, more discussion and conclusion.
FIGURE 2.1: Map of locations used for research in this study
(from CV INDO PRIMA SARANA, 2000).
Weeks spent at orangutan sites,
years 1995 to 2002.
d Orangutan Care Center | | Sepilok
FI Semengok d Gunung Palung
d Nyaru Menting d Wanariset
TOUCHING AN ORANGUTAN, TRAVELING TO
INDONESIA, AND TALKING TO LOCALS
This study took place over a period of time from 1995-2002 in Indonesian and
Malaysian Borneo. Most of that time I spent at one orangutan rehabilitation center
called the Orangutan Care Center located in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia (see chart
on page 6).
I initially came to Indonesia as a volunteer in the field, to work with
Orangutan Foundation Internationals rehabilitation project. On my first visit in
1995,1 was fortunate to gain experience taking care of a young, sick, new arrival for
a couple of weeks. I learned many practical skills such as how to put a diaper on a
four-handed primate and how to give medicine to orangutans. I also went on
confiscations. The next year I had the rich experience of helping to manage a hut in
the forest used both for staff and orangutan living quarters. In subsequent years, as
my experience (and the numbers of orangutans) grew, I came to take on more general
responsibilities such as conducting head counts and providing enrichment for
orangutans not able to go out to the forest each day.
By the time I entered graduate school in 1999,1 had become interested in how
to match theory with practice in on-site rehabilitation and confiscation, as well as
with larger issues, such as how rain forest destruction articulates with the practical,
field aspect of the conservation of orangutans and other forest residents. In 2002,1
aimed at doing that as methodically as I could. I began compiling previous orangutan
stories, with interviews from local people, as well as documenting related events as
they occurred. My new focus allowed me to blend theory with applied field
situations, and use stories like those that follow, in order to better illustrate what is
going on in rain forests in Borneo today. Later it would allow me to make predictions
as to what might arise from the current situation facing orangutans.
The practical side of this work involved forming a routine for each day in
which I could find time and space to write. The temptation to immerse myself in the
care of any of the orangutans (or other animal-related activities) required rigorous
submission to such a routine. As a rule, writing takes place in cooler places rather
than hotter ones, places with fewer bugs rather than more, and in which distractions
created by the arrival of an orangutan will not occur. Nonetheless, I was determined
to examine formally the work that I had been involved in for the past seven years and
begin writing up while in the field. As long as there was electricity at the clinic, I felt
confident that this could be accomplished. Most days, my confidence carried me
through the writing part. However, many of the days became bigger than the writing,
and these events found their way into this research and study.
A Day in the Life of the Orangutan Care Center
I have visited five different orangutan rehabilitation centers on the island of
Borneo between the years 1995 and 2002. However, all of the orangutan
confiscation stories, and all of the interviews, occurred at the Orangutan Care Center
located near Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.
The village of Pasir Panjang in which I have spent the majority of my time
with orangutans is small, with less than 1000 people. Although Indonesia is one of
the five most populated countries on earth (particularly noticed in Jakarta, the capital
city), conditions in Kalimantan are similar to those of uncrowded rural areas in any
country. There are not many roads in Kalimantan. Often to get from one major city
to another, there is only one road. Rivers have traditionally been the predominant
method of travel, although with increased logging, mining and plantation
development, this is quickly changing.
There are many small warungsplaces where people sell food and/or
convenience items like toothpaste and cigarettesthroughout the village. The local
people are generally warm and friendly towards westerners. Soccer, both live and on
television, seems to be the most predominant form of entertainment here as in most
other places within Indonesia. Most people in the village are native to the area, of
Dayak ethnicity, and practice a range of religions. Many western people come
through either to volunteer at the care center, or as tourists to visit orangutans at
Camp Leakey. A national park (Tanjung Puting) is four hours away by boat.
The orangutan care center and clinic are located near rain forest. This is
convenient because many of the resident orangutans (ex-captives) go out into that
forest each day. In 1995 there were only 14 orangutan residents there. By 1997 the
numbers had reached over 60. At the beginning of the year 2002, over 180
orangutans were in residence at the care center. They mostly range in age from
new-born to fifteen years, with a few even older residents. According to Dr. Galdikas
(lecture, March, 1995) the lifespan of orangutans can reach 50 years in the wild.
Other occasional residents of the center have included gibbons, macaques, a
proboscis monkey, slow lorises, and sun-bears. The human population consists of
80-100 staff members on site, as well as another 80-100 at Camp Leakey or
LeMandau (reintroduction areas within parks). Most people are Dayak, often friends
and/or family of other staff, and an occasional Javanese.
Because this area is just two degrees below the equator, the climate is hot and
humid. The first time I was here I was struck by what seemed to be an overwhelming
number of bugs. I religiously wore bug spray and took anti-malaria medicine. That
first year, I came down with a bad case of bed bug bites and remember getting a
mirror to look at my back and count how many welts I had. In spite of what I saw, I
stuck out my intended five weeks that time. I have come back every year since then,
usually to stay longer, and fortunately each time have experienced fewer bug bites.
While there, I wear clothes that cover most of my body, both for protection from bugs
and also out of respect for cultural conventions. Indonesia is a predominantly Islamic
country (approximately 90 percent of the population is Muslim). Shorts seem to be
tolerated in cities like Jakarta, but sleeveless shirts and short skirts are not considered
appropriate attire in Borneo.
Human duties related to the care of orangutans include full time,
around-the-clock care of infants, caring for juveniles on a 9 to 5 basis, and providing
supplemental emergency care for animals as needed. Part of the job at this
rehabilitation center is assisting Dr. Galdikas (or her staff) in orangutan confiscations.
Orangutan confiscations usually entail going with a crew of Indonesians to a given
town, area or specific location, in which it is known that people are keeping an
orangutan in captivity. From there, depending on each individual circumstance, the
orangutan owners are talked to for a few minutes or up to several hours. People are
often reminded that owning an orangutan in Indonesia is illegal, asked questions, and
when necessary, reminded that there is an orangutan rehabilitation center that
operates with government support nearby. The animal is given over to the
rehabilitation staff. Afterwards, the orangutan (and crew) go back to the orangutan
center and rehabilitation begins.
For the assistants, work normally begins between 6:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. and
usually ends between 3 and 5 p.m. Arriving at the clinic in the morning, the
assistants go through the Indonesian version of checking in. This is not so for the
females giving 24-hour care. There is a fair amount of socializing at this time of the
day, with people making coffee or tea and discussing who won the lottery the night
before, or perhaps which teams were playing soccer the next day. Members of the
cleaning crew show up before most of the rest of us. The feeding staff is usually not
involved in socializing at this point, as they are busy feeding and watering the
animals. At some point, it is decided that it is time to let the older orangutans out to
the forest for the day. One by one and in small groups they are let out. Visitors find
this great fun to watch. Although the process is managed with relative ease,
assistants must provide guidance for those orangutans, as some are inclined to go
wandering elsewhere (like the kitchen). Orangutans and assistants stay out in the
forest until an opportune time comes and the orangutans are encouraged to go back to
the clinic and their night cages.
For the veterinarians and their assistants, this morning time is used for
checking on all sick animals, giving medicine, and performing any necessary
operations. They also must find time to look at stool samples under the microscope
and facilitate getting Woodwork to the local hospital.
At any given time, a new arrival might show up and must be dealt with. This
entails collecting information from the person who brought them in about where the
animal came from, taking weight and measurements, performing any medical
procedures, and finding someone to care for the animal. Often, this is where a
volunteer can be most useful, in helping care for an orangutan until a more
permanent, local, staff member can be found.
At some point after the afternoon feeding, and after the orangutans come in,
the day winds down and people begin to go home. Often in the case of emergency
situations (with increasing rain forest exploitation and more orangutans coming into
captivity and rehabilitation centers) the most that one can hope for is stability. Good
days are those during which no animal has died. That is how success is measured.
Animal Trading in Manis Mata and Interview
In the summer of 1998,1 went to Indonesia again to volunteer for the
Orangutan Foundation Internationals orangutan project, but this time encountered far
more extreme circumstances than during my previous visits. To begin with, I passed
my days there as before, busying myself with the routine of helping out with infant
care at the rehabilitation site or going out to the forest to perform routine checks on
the orangutans, relying mostly on verbal information from the assistants. Sometimes
there was a need for me to take over the care of a particular orangutan or individuals
for a short while.
One such instance led to my working with two semi-wild female orangutans,
Karol and Ayu. They were approximately five and six years of age, and almost too
much for a care-taker such as myself to handle. I couldnt help but wonder if this was
the reason that they were given up to the rehabilitation center. Nevertheless, before
leaving my volunteering stint in 1997,1 had developed a bit of a rapport with these
Now my daily tasks included enriching the environment for Karol and Ayu. I
accomplished this in part by bringing fresh leaves and branches to their shared cage.
Although frugivores, orangutans also eat (and use) leaves. Different leaves serve
different purposes. One type of leaf found in the forest has proved very useful for
remedying upset stomachs and diarrhea, Big, broad leaves are used for nest-making.
As nest-building is a normal wild orangutan behavior, providing orangutans at the
center with big leaves allows them to practice an essential skill to survival in the
wild. In addition to supplying Karol and Ayu with leaves, I would often put a large
tub of water in with them to let them cool off and bathe. On occasion, I gave them
items such as beach balls and ropes, also for enrichment purposes.
At some point later, several of us decided to go to Camp Leakey in Tanjung
Puting National Park, to visit the ex-captive orangutans, and also in hopes of seeing
other wildlife, including wild orangutans, crocodiles, proboscis monkeys, macaques,
While within the national park and at a park-managed, ex-captive orangutan
feeding, we observed an ex-captive orangutan, Rosemary, with a new baby clinging
to her. In addition to carrying and nursing her new offspring, she had a companion,
an orangutan about four or five years of age. This young individual was believed to
be a self-appointed adoptee!
In the world of orangutan rehabilitation, such a situation is as close to ideal as
it gets. The transference of survival skills and knowledge is more certain and direct
when ex-captives can imitate other orangutansparticularly surrogate mothers-rather
than relying on humans to teach them. Although I was wondering about Rosemarys
ability to raise both of them, it was a fantastic moment!
Walking within the park, we came across a man from England named Liam
and his Australian wife, Kath. Since we were in a hurry to get to a regularly
scheduled feeding for the orangutans, we talked to them briefly and then continued
on our way.
Back in Pangkalan Bun later that week, we received a cryptic telephone call
from Liam, the English man we had met in the park. He explained that he and Kath
had traveled by boat to the remote town of Manis Mata, in West Kalimantan. While
there, they came across pet traders who offered to sell them three young orangutans
for $100 each. Desperate to keep the orangutans safe, and also to have the traders
apprehended, Liam and Kath stalled as best they could. Pretending interest, Liam
told them that he would have to go back up river to Pangkalan Bun to obtain funds.
They agreed, and Liam headed out leaving Kath behind in a hostel.
From one of the river towns Liam called us to see if we could elicit the help of
Dr. Galdikas. We told him that she was due back in a day or two, and that we would
speak to her as soon as she arrived. Upon Dr. Galdikas arrival, we informed her of
the news from Liam and asked her advice. After much discussion, she suggested that
several of us, including an Indonesian assistant, go to Manis Mata, and try to act as a
buffer in the process of negotiating for these orangutans. The hope was that Liam
and Kath could negotiate with the dealers while luring them to authorities in
Pangkalan Bun. They would then obtain the orangutans without the exchange of
money, and turn them over to the orangutan care center for rehabilitation. But first,
we would have to go to Manis Mata and act as casual as possible, while covertly
observing the situation.
Asians in general do not easily embrace western ideas of time. Those of us
who have spent any time in Indonesia in particular understand just how different
western and eastern perceptions of time are, and in turn, how this can affect tentative
plans. Nevertheless, after a long boat ride we somehow managed to arrive in Manis
Mata on schedule, according to the intricate plan already worked out.
The eerie town of Manis Mata was located on the banks of one of the rivers.
Though small and potentially charming, we could see that Manis Mata could be a
place of heavy illegal trading in animals from the nearby forest. Eager young
children led us around the village and showed us the homes of many locals who had
animals from the forest. They told us candidly that the man who lived in the house
behind the school had two gibbons. Also, they said that some people across from him
used to have an orangutan and the people in that house work at the wood factory. We
knew that all the animals mentioned, including the orangutans, had come from the
surrounding forest. What was not entirely clear was whether their owners had gone
to the forest specifically looking for animals to keep, sell or trade for profit, or
whether, in the insatiable quest for wood, captures had been simply opportunistic.
Either way, the end result was the same for orangutans and those other animals taken
from their natural habitat.
We checked into the same hostel (the only hostel) as Kath and Liam. With all
eyes on us, we introduced ourselves to Kath and Liam as tourists just passing
through. Except for Dr. Galdikas assistant, Mr. Zackie, who offered to serve as
interpreter, we feigned disinterest in Kath, Liam, and the orangutans (which by then
were inside their room).
After one day, Kath, Liam, the pet traders, and the orangutans left for
Pangkalan Bun. We stayed on in Manis Mata until late afternoon letting it be known
that our destination lay elsewhere, and then set off in the same direction. Kath and
Liam arrived with the others and notified the police. Regrettably they showed little
interest in prosecuting the men from Manis Mata (and more interest in harassing
Kath). Ultimately, the care of the three orangutans (since named Kath, Liam and
Siti) was turned over to the orangutan rehabilitation center. Thus in late June of
1998, protective care began for the orangutans, who just days before had been on
their way out of the area to be sold as part of the thriving endangered species pet
Sadly, one of the orangutans (Liam), desperately ill and emaciated when he
was confiscated, died shortly thereafter. The second, Siti, lived a little over a year at
the care center but eventually succumbed to a mysterious illness.
Often, orangutans who come into rehabilitation centers have immune systems
already severely compromised by the emotional and sometimes physical trauma of
falling out of trees when their mothers are killed. Some even less fortunate
orangutans are subjected to further trauma in watching their mothers be eaten by the
poachers. From there, depending on each individual circumstance, infants are kept,
sold, or given away. This in short is how the period of dependence on humans begins
for an individual orangutan.
For some orangutans this period is short lived because they cannot cope
physically and/or emotionally with their new circumstances and they die. For others
subjected to captivity, a period of dependence on humans begins, but without proper
nutrition, medical care, or behavioral training. For the slightly more fortunate
orangutans who do make it to rehabilitation centers, the odds of survival increase
greatly as medical, nutritional, and behavioral supervision is provided at each
rehabilitation site. As in the case of Liam (the orangutan), sometimes this occurs too
late. The individual circumstances which brought Liam out of the wild and into
captivity determined whether or not he would live. Some animals seem to continue
in an upward spiral of good health, but ultimately fall victim to these early insults at a
later point in time. For the majority of others, rehabilitation offers them a second
chance in life, in terms of learning the necessary skills for survival and eventual
return to the forest. This was the case for the third orangutan from Manis Mata. Kath
(as she was since named) was still too young to be released on her own, but while at
the rehabilitation center was hopefully gaining the skills needed for survival in the
forest later on.
That time spent in Manis Mata piqued my curiosity and provoked several
questions: How accessible is the forest to local people? How easy is it to take
animals from the forest? The following is an excerpt from an interview with a young,
male assistant at the orangutan care center. Educated through high school and with a
good command of English, Lei was a warm and compassionate person who worked
with a five year-old male orangutan. I wished to interview him because while visiting
his family, I noticed a family portrait in which there was pictured a family member
holding a gibbon. In fact, it seemed so much a part of the photo that I nearly missed
Andrea: I wanted to ask you about animals in the forest. How easy do you
think it is for someone to take an animal such as an orangutan or
gibbon from the forest?
Lei: Not too difficult I think.
Andrea: Can you explain to me a bit about the process?
Lei: I dont know much, but a long time ago, my family had a gibbon from
the forest. I was very young at the time. I think if someone were
interested in getting an animal from the forest it would be easy. They
would talk to others that had animals and discuss how they got them.
They could negotiate about how to take an animal from the forest.
Andrea: You and I know the difficulties of keeping gibbons and orangutans as
pets from our experiences here, and yet, its not difficult to understand
why someone would want one as a pet, but why do you think people
first take animals and then keep them as pets?
Orangutans and gibbons are very interesting, very charming! Also
people do not understand how difficult it is to take care of them. They
look so cute, so human-like, but as they grow bigger, they become
strong, too strong for people. This leads to problems for people and
this is why gibbons and orangutans are often kept in cages and on
chains. Also, it becomes expensive to feed them.
Lets talk about the forest. What does the forest mean to you?
I like the forest very much! It is a place of peace for me. When I have
a problem, I often go to the forest to relax and have some quiet time to
myself. Nature makes me feel very calm, a feeling I can only get from
time in the forest. Also, when I was a child, on the way home from
school, I would often head for the forest before going home. The
forest was a great place for me, even as a child! I like the forest very
Many people agree with you about the forest. Currently Indonesia is
experiencing rapid change. The forest is disappearing quickly! What
do you think will happen to Indonesia, the people and the animals
here, if there is no forest?
I cannot imagine what it will be like without forest here. There will
certainly be lots of flooding, like in Pontianak. This will be very bad
for the animals of the forest. I dont see how they can live, find food,
What do you think the future for orangutans is?
I think in the future there will only be a small amount of orangutans.
Except for places like this. Rehabilitation centers and protected park
areas will be the only places you can still find orangutans. They need
the forest to live, to find food and if there is no forest, the future does
not look good for them.
How about for people?
The same goes for people. It will be difficult. Maybe life will end.
No, I dont really think so, but it will be hard. The forest offers
protection from the sun and from the environment. It will be too hot,
shade will be hard to find. It may be like a burned island.
If this is true, how can people continue to log and take wood from the
forest every day, destroying the natural environment?
People dont care about tomorrow. They are earning their living for
today. They are not thinking about their children and their
grandchildrens future. They are looking for money now.
Andrea: What needs to happen to slow this process of deforestation? Is it too
late to save the forest?
Lei: People need to work together. We all must make compromises or
negotiations and work together towards planning a stable future for
Lola and the Wild Thing
It was high noon at the orangutan care center, hot and humid, and as I was
working on the theoretical aspects of this paper, I overheard that there was an
orangutan being kept in Pangkalan Bun. The day before had brought the arrival of a
small, young female from an area called Beruta, still located within Central
Kalimantan. Based on the four teeth she had, this orangutan was estimated to be well
under a year old. She was given the name Lola. The reason she was handed over was
unclear. In the instance of the orangutan from Pangkalan Bun (described below)
however, the reason was more transparent.
Before we left for the confiscation, we were told that this orangutan was
wilder than any of the more recent arrivals to the center, hence the reason the people
did not wish to keep her and had contacted the orangutan care center to conduct a
confiscation. We were also told that she was small. Both of these statements were
Accompanying a crew of five assistants (including the driver), we took off. I
was surprised, yet not, when we pulled up in front of a house which I had passed by
dozens of times. Inside a small cage that one would have assumed held chickens, we
heard the kiss squeaks of a highly agitated orangutan.
Her vocalizations communicated the extreme agitation she felt, likely due to
having humans near her. Based on her body size, she looked to be around four years
old. This orangutan was most certainly with her mother in the not-so-distant past.
Possibly they were flushed out of some remaining rain forested area and into the
small village. But it was more likely that people took them directly from the forest.
What is certain is that this orangutans mother (as all orangutans of this age who end
up in captivity) was killed, and her offspring then pulled from her body.
A small crowd gathered around and the process of getting her out of the
chicken cage and into transport cage began. I was impressed at the skill the assistants
showed while getting a biting, scratching, kiss-squeaking, wild,
unaccustomed-to-people, orangutan, out of one cage and into another. It was not an
easy task and it took a bit of help from each of the people there.
I asked the people in town how long they had had her. They said not long.
One week? I asked. They implied less. They had gotten her from a village called
Sulung, also in Central Kalimantan. From the map, it appeared that Sulung had been,
or possibly still was, in an area of rain forest. In this part of the world, there are few
paved roads leading from one town to another. If she was taken from Sulung, she had
likely endured quite a journey.
As more orangutans enter captivity, it becomes painfully obvious that the
natural world around us is drastically changing. The orangutans highways through
the forest (for millennia a habitat remote from humans) are being replaced with a
global connection to the outside world, roads used for transporting wood. Indeed,
todays scenery consists primarily of scorched bits of land, plantations and timber
factories, rather than the once natural rain forest environment previously found
throughout Kalimantan (and much of Southeast Asia).
ORANGUTANS: WHO AND WHAT
Within the order of primates, orangutans are considered great apes. They
share this status with the African apes (gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos), as well
as with humans. Sharing Asian ape status only with gibbons (lesser apes), orangutans
are now only found in a very small area of Asia. Orangutans are also one of the most
closely related species to Homo sapiens, sharing some 97 percent of their DNA with
humans. Evolutionarily speaking, they are believed to have split off from humans
approximately 12 million years ago (Fleagle 1995: 390).
They once roamed throughout Southeast Asia, including China. During the
last few thousand years, the wild orangutan population has been greatly reduced, and
they are now found only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Ninety percent of the
worlds remaining orangutan population resides in Indonesia (W.O.R.P. 2001: 3). A
small percentage of orangutans also live in the Malaysian part of Borneo, both in
sanctuaries and in the wild (Rijksen and Meijaard 1999: 234,238). The two islands
of Borneo and Sumatra host two subspecies of orangutans. Differences (genetic and
other) between the subspecies are currently a point of debate among biological
anthropologists. Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus resides in Borneo and Pongo pygmaeus
abelli resides in Sumatra.
Accurate estimates of the numbers of wild orangutans are hard to find,
primarily because orangutans are difficult to count in the wild. Estimates are made
through nest counts because no other animal in Southeast Asia is known to make
such characteristic arboreal platforms (Rijksen and Meijaard 1999: 184). They
construct large, arboreal nests for sleeping. Each evening orangutans break tree
branches and leaves, and intertwine them into nests (Yeager 1999: 5). Although a
nest signifies that an orangutan is living in the area, there are other factors to
consider, such as location of the nest in terms of climate, movements of orangutans,
and how old the nest is. The average densities of orangutans living in different types
of habitat, including those at different altitudes, varies. One-time only nest counts are
misleading and are likely to incur the problem of overestimation (Rijksen and
Meijaard 1999: 186). A census cannot take into account seasonal movements of
orangutans based on fluctuations of available fruit. Hence, many feel it is important
to re-census along the same trails within a period of a few months when using nests
as trace indicators of orangutan density (Yeager 1999: 5).
It is believed that prior to the fires and resulting extensive ecological damage
throughout Kalimantan in 1997 and 1998, orangutans numbered about 23,000 in
Borneo and 13,000 in Sumatra, the two remaining wild populations (Yeager 1999:
4). Since then, their numbers have been reduced, with current estimates of around
16,000 animals in Borneo and 12,500 in Sumatra (Rijksen and Meijaard 1999:
284-285). The assertion that Borneo has lost approximately 7,000 orangutans since
the fires was supported by findings publicized at the orangutan rehabilitation
conferences in 2001 and 2002 (an increase in numbers of orangutans at rehabilitation
centers each year, peaking in 1997 and 1998), a sharp increase in the numbers of
orangutans coming into orangutan rehabilitation centers, and population counts.
Orangutans are sexually dimorphic. Similar to gibbons, though unlike the
other great apes, orangutans are arboreal. Although they are notoriously
heavy-bodied, orangutans are excellent brachiators. Many believe that it is the search
for food brings which brings our primate relatives to the tops of trees (Fleagle 1988:
A frugiverous speciesmore than 50 percent of their diet is made up of
fruitthey also eat leaves, insects, flowers, bark, sap, the pith of a wide-range of plant
species (palm, rattan, etc..), honey, mushrooms, and occasionally, other animals
(Yeager 1999: 4). Notably, in Sumatra since 1989, there have been recorded seven
incidents of adult female orangutans eating slow lorises, another primate found only
in Southeast Asia (Utami and Van Hooff 1997: 159). Also in Sumatra, consumption
of an infant gibbon by a female orangutan occurred in 1981 (Sugardjito and Nurhuda
1981: 415). Since there have only been these few documented cases of meat-eating
among orangutans, this behavior is considered rare even aberrant.
Many believe that due to a lack of abundant food resources, orangutans are
compelled to spread out, thereby socializing less frequently than most other primates.
However in Sumatra, where one of the orangutans key foods (figs) are found in
abundance, orangutans tend to be more social (Rijksen 1978: 35). This is likely due
to differences in food resources relative to the number of foraging animals. In
captivity, especially among juveniles and with an abundance of food, they exhibit
extremely social behavior.
Some experts are convinced that the orangutan is semi-solitary and cryptic in
nature (Russon 2001: 5). Orangutan social structure consists of solitary adult males,
adult females either with or without one offspring, and immature individuals. The
most common group is an adult female with one or occasionally two offspring
(Napier and Napier 1985: 166). Female orangutans are deemed more social,
occasionally associating with other females (Galdikas 1984: 234). Studies on wild
orangutans are few as research requires continuity over long periods of time and over
great amounts of geographic areas. Accordingly, the orangutans status as solitary
may be over-emphasized (Galdikas 1995: 164).
Orangutans are very intelligent animals. One of their many talents is tool use.
Both in the wild and in captivity, orangutans are capable of making and using tools
(Sitompul, Fox, and Van Schaik 1998: 202-203). In the wild, it has been found that
orangutans use tools for extraction of food, and it is believed that this knowledge is
culturally transmitted. This belief stems from evidence that certain populations of
orangutans in the wild have been found to use tools for a specific purpose, while
others, given the same conditions, do not (Van Schaik and Knott 1998: 223). In
captivity, they make and employ tools for seemingly endless tasks. In constructing
nests, orangutans seem to prefer natural material; however, if it is not available, they
will use cloth material for the same purpose. Orangutans also use leaves for
protection from rain, and ex-captives have been seen using sticks for such purposes as
picking locks and extracting insects from the ground. They have been known to
make workseats in order to better extract prized parts of certain plants (Russon 1998:
Observations of orangutan intelligence suggest that they have good long-term
memory. Because their survival is dependent on knowing exactly where and when
certain trees are fruiting, orangutans (as indeed most primates) must carry a mental
map of their home range at all times, and they must remember patterns of fruiting
over time. Orangutans are also great imitators. They have been successfully taught
sign-language. As documented by Lyn Miles work with Chantek, the hand-signing
orangutan at Zoo Atlanta in Georgia, orangutans are capable of self-recognition
(Cohen 2001: 74).
Though orangutans have long lifespans, their rate of reproduction is low.
Consistent with knowledge that high intelligence in animals requires a long period of
dependency, they do not reproduce quickly. This relative rarity of birth contributes to
their vulnerability as a species. Orangutans are one of the slowest breeding mammals
known. With average birth intervals of approximately eight years in the wildthe
longest of any primate-(and in the presence of environmental destruction) the
orangutan is running out of time (Galdikas and Wood 1990: 185).
Orangutan Status: Contradictions in the Indonesian Context
In theory, within Indonesia the orangutan has been protected since the early
1900s. A framework for legal protection of orangutans was begun in 1926, and was
enhanced by the Animal Protection Ordinance. In practice though, the Indonesian
government has taken a lackadaisical attitude toward orangutan preservation (Rijksen
and Meijaard 1999: 129). Given the current situation of the decreasing number of
orangutans remaining in the wild, coupled with the laissez faire attitude of the
the government to enforce conservation laws, some are very skeptical of the
governments role in the preservation of the species.
It is no secret that the government bureaucracy, for which the chief mandate is
natural resource exploitation, is also in charge of the enforcement of conservation
laws (Rijksen and Meijaard 1999: 129). According to discussions at the Asian ape
conferences in Kuching, Malaysia and Balikpapan, Indonesia (July, 1998 and June,
2001), many people including locals, believe the government of Indonesia to be a
strong proponent of using the last remaining land for cash-crop production. Whatever
were the initial reasons for the government to give the orangutan protected status, the
reality facing orangutans today is a nearly certain and imminent extinction, if action
is not taken immediately.
In Malaysia, orangutans are also considered an endangered species, and are
even said to be a totally protected species in Sabah. This information comes from
Malaysias Wildlife Conservation Enactment of 1997, which specifically lists
orangutans as a protected species in Part 1, of Schedule 1, Section 25 (1). Traveling
farther north, up the island past Manis Mata, past Pontianak and crossing over into
the border of Malaysia, Semengok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center is located just on
the outskirts of Kuching (capital city of Sarawak). I wanted to go there once again, to
assess the circumstances which brought many of its residents (orangutans and others)
In talking to a park ranger at Semengok, I learned that most of the centers
current residents had come there due to circumstances similar to those that victimize
orangutans in Kalimantan. Many had been kept illegally as pets in private residents,
coming from places such as Sri Aman and Lubok Antu (the western area near the
international border between Indonesia and Malaysia), and so had been confiscated
by authorities. Still other orangutans, like some of those seen in Central Kalimantan,
were brought to the center voluntarily by their captors. From my discussion with the
ranger at Semengok, it became obvious that Malaysian Borneo had the same problem
as Indonesia, namely the economic incentive to convert forest land to crop land.
Thus, increasing numbers of orangutans and other forest creatures are left to live the
remainder of their lives (or a significant part) in captivity, dependent on humans.
The most crucial and obvious step toward the preservation of the orangutan is
the protection of its habitat. Within Indonesia, there are several wildlife
reserves/national parks already established which purportedly serve this purpose.
These include Central Kalimantans Tanjung Puting National Park, West
Kalimantans Gunung Palung National Park, Kutai National Park in East Kalimantan,
and Sumatras Gunung Leuser. One criticism of these reserves is that, until recently,
conservation has not been effectively integrated into the framework of regional
land-allocation planning (Rijksen and Meijaard 1999: 134). Conservation areas
operate in isolation from local government affairs. The primary reason for this is that
local governments (as well as those higher up) are often involved in consumer-related
development, which more often than not is a direct result of the exploitation of
natural resources (Rijksen and Meijaard 1999: 134). Another criticism of the park
system is that some of the above mentioned reserves do not warrant inclusion in the
list of protected areas, because there is an absence of any protective enforcement.
Indeed, in the field such areas are in no way distinguishable from regular Production
Forests, and commonly suffer the impact of scheduled timber exploitation,
encroachment, timber theft and poaching (Rijksen and Meijaard 1999: 135). It
seems then working towards changing and enforcing laws in regard to the protection
of the species would thus be a more effective way to ensure true protection of the
On the upside, Orangutan Foundation International (OFI), based out of
Tanjung Puting National Park, has employed a new strategy to combat some of this
exploitation, within the recent past. As part of its conservation aim, OFI now
employs police patrols to guard certain peripheral riverways in Tanjung Puting. This
discourages land exploitation, theft of timber, and gold-mining, and thereby
effectively helps maintain the protection of prime orangutan habitat. Further studies
are needed to evaluate the effectiveness of this technique.
Interview with Assistants at the Orangutan Care Center
The following excerpt was taken from a group interview conducted at one of
the small huts used for caring for orangutans at the orangutan center in Pangkalan
Bun. It is a good illustration of local opinions and perceptions on the value of the
forest and certain conservation tactics.
Have any of you had experiences with orangutans before you came to
Yes, I used to see them often in the forest and sometimes in the rice
I also have seen them wild in the forest.
I have seen them in cages, in town, with people.
What is the value of the forest?
Without the forest, there will be a lot of flooding, like in Jakarta.
For all people and animals to live, the forest must exist. We cannot
exist without the forest. It equals stability.
Thats correct. The forest is important for all people and animals.
Having said that, why do so many people continue to log?
Good question. It is hard work and the person logging certainly does
not get rich.
How do you know?
I know this because before working here, I worked wood. It was very
hard work and the money was not so good.
The boss gets rich.
But people are not thinking of the future. They are thinking about how
to earn money for today.
This project has employed a new strategy in using police patrols to
guard the national park. How effective do you think this is?
I think it is very effective. Logging still continues on the other side of
the park (unprotected) but has stopped on the right side.
I dont really know because I rarely go to camp.
Last question. What value does an orangutan care center have for
people and orangutans?
Yes, we can use this center as an example.
I think it is valuable because perhaps the orangutans would be extinct
in this area if it were not for this project. It provides many jobs to
people in this area. Also, the government is supportive of this center
or it would not exist.
Police patrols on a border of the national park are, in theory, a commendable
conservation tactic. Even though on some level the local government seems to
support rehabilitation work, orangutans are still coming into rehabilitation centers.
For example, the following incident occurred after these patrols had been in place, in
this particular area in Kalimantan, for several years.
Paradox in Paradise: Davids Story
In spring of 2002, while I was working on the theoretical aspects of this
research project, at the orangutan care center, three more orangutans arrived at the
center. Maya was an orangutan confiscated from a local army commanders wife. At
the time of her arrival to the care center, the assistants estimated her age at four or
five years. She had supposedly been in captivity for six months. Her behavior
towards humans (vocalizations and moving to the other side of the cage) indicated
she had not been tamed. Apparently, she was only taken out of her cage for baths. It
was not entirely clear why she had been given up.
Dewa, younger and more tame than Maya, was brought to the center two days
later. He was confiscated from a village less than three hours away by an assistant
who worked for the rehabilitation project. The assistant was traveling with friends
and happened upon the orangutan in captivity. He was given up under the
assumption that he would be turned over to the care of the orangutan center. This
example demonstrates an awareness in local populations created by the presence of
orangutan care centers, thereby benefiting orangutans.
The third orangutan, David, came in that same day. He was probably five or
six years of age. He came to the center after someone alerted the vet that there was a
young, wild orangutan (suffering from serious wounds) living in the national park.
David turned out to be the offspring of an ex-captive, Davida, who had been released
into the park eight years ago. Davida had been reported missing by those within the
park. Because of his mothers circumstance as a released, ex-captive, David was one
of those bi-cultural orangutans, exposed to humans much more than his wild
contemporaries. Therefore, Davids status could not be considered either entirely
wild, nor captive.
David was suffering from two very serious wounds inflicted by humans
wielding machetes. The first wound was on his forearm, cutting deeply into his
muscles. The second wound was located on the upper part of the back of his thigh,
also gravely deep. The vets at hand performed surgery. Although they felt confident
that he had not suffered permanent physical damage, the emotional damage was
It was more probable that Davida was not missing but dead, as David was too
young to be on his own in the wild. Also, it is likely that he witnessed his mothers
death and perhaps his close proximity to his mother is what brought the machete his
Looking especially sad, David whimpered in his cage when anyone came near
him. After the passage of a couple of weeks, he was somewhat habituated to the
routine at the care center. He was encouraged out of his cage each day by a caring
assistant and taken to a small forest to test his skills in the wild. He built excellent
nests in the small, forested area. Eventually, David was put in a cage with another
orangutan in hopes the two would form a bond.
These stories illustrate the fact that the current conservation program tactics
are not enough. Human caused circumstances brought this wild-bom orangutan into
captivity, forcing him to be dependent on humans, just as his mother once was. The
future does not look especially hopeful. Cases such as these can serve to deepen an
understanding of the urgency of the problems facing orangutans, including the loss of
their habitat, as well as strengthen a commitment to their protection.
Orangutans-Value for Whom and Why
Saving orangutans requires action and human intervention. In order for
people to protect them, there must be a universal understanding of their value. For
whom are they valuable and in what ways?
In terms of conservation, the orangutan has been called a most attractive
umbrella species, representing a large number of wild organisms in Sumatra and
Borneo (Rijksen and Meijaard 1999: 391). They are considered a flagship species
in that they are a dynamic animal, both literally and symbolically representing many
other forest species imminently in danger of extinction.
Also, regarding the preservation of rain forest plants, orangutans have
significant value. As mentioned, they are considered frugivores, in that the majority
of their diet is made up of fruit (Fleagle 1988: 213). By consuming fruit and then
dispersing the seeds, orangutans help to propagate different species of trees; and
therefore play an important role in rain forest conservation and the maintenance of
ecological diversity. The importance of orangutans role in the ecosystem is further
illustrated by the following example. According to Dr. Smits (lecture, September,
2002) orangutans digestive systems are specially designed to enhance the
germination of particular seeds such as certain types of durian. Smits also found that
tested in labs, orangutans digestive systems (as opposed to a human control groups
digestive system) produced a special coat which allowed proper germination of the
given seeds. If large mammals such as orangutans cannot survive in their natural
habitat, the ecosystem has been disturbed, perhaps irreparably.
Another value of orangutans to humans is that they share approximately 96
percent of DNA with humans. With regard to genetic similarity, it has been found
that, compared with the other great apes, orangutans share the greatest number of
identical DNA bonding patterns with human chromosomes (Schwartz 1987: 35).
Not only physiologically, but also anatomically and behaviorally, orangutans are very
similar to humans. Indeed, it has been found that certain early scientists once
classified the orangutan in the exotic races and mythical creatures category
(Rijksen and Meijaard 1999: 30). The similarity between the two species has since
elevated the status of the orangutan in the eyes of humans.
From an evolutionary perspective, perpetuation of the species is the goal of
any biological species. This is one of the more obvious evolutionary values
orangutans hold. There are likely other, less well-known values as well.
For local some people living near already established rehabilitation centers,
(in Indonesia and Malaysia) orangutans care can provide employment. However,
certain people still hunt and eat orangutans. Therefore, for a small fraction of
Indonesias human population living near the forest, orangutans represent food. Also
because orangutans are sometimes perceived as nuisance crop raiders, there is an
economic incentive for people living in or nearby converted plantations to kill
orangutans. This is illustrated by the following story of an orangutan living in
Ingrid and the Interview: The Economic Value of an Orangutan
I had returned in 1997 to volunteer for the orangutan rehabilitation center run
by Dr. Galdikas. I hoped, through this field experience, that I would be able to take a
more in-depth and hard look at why orangutans were becoming so endangered. What
factors cause the endangerment and eventual extinction of a species like the
The fires that occurred throughout Kalimantan in late 1997 and early 1998
had horrific impacts on biological life in the surrounding areas. It was noted in
Western news reports that local slash-and-bum agriculture was primarily responsible
for the destruction of much rain forest area. The smoke was so thick in places as far
away as Java (six weeks prior to my arrival that year) that planes stopped running to
nearly all destinations in Kalimantan. Smoke was reported as far away as Singapore.
When the fires ended, the Indonesian government was encouraged to issue a formal
apology to the neighboring countries of Singapore and Malaysia. However, as later
became apparent, the news reports in the United States regarding fires in Central
Kalimantan were misleading.
Slash-and-bum agriculture had been somewhat responsible for much of the
ecological devastation and problems associated with pollution from the smoke.
When I arrived in September of 1997,1 learned that there was more to the story than
was reported in the Western media.
Due to poor visibility from smoke, it was reported that at least one plane had
crashed, and also that boats had crashed in the Java Sea. I also learned that there
were no planes flying to Pangkalan Bun. I waited 5 days to board the bi-monthly ship
from Semarang, Java, to Kumai, Central Kalimantan. The journey was slow and
visibility was terrible. Because of poor visibility, arrival at the dock in Kumai proved
to be a harrowing experience.
After my arrival at the care center in September, I heard that Dr. Galdikas had
received a phone call about an orangutan, from a far off village called Penbuang Ulu.
In a nearby plantation people had come across a seemingly pregnant female, and did
not know her age. The word was that if someone did not come and get the captive
orangutan, she would be killed.
The next day a group of a dozen or so of us set off for Penbuang Ulu. Upon
our arrival at this smoke-filled village, we found a group of local people gathered
around what we took to be the orangutan in question. Ingrid, as we later named her,
was lying on the ground near a rubbish heap, secured to a wooden post, with many
people standing nearby. She was bound with wire around her waist, just above her
hips. The wire had cut deeply into her body. The villagers reported that she had been
captive for three days, and that she had been found in the nearby palm-oil plantation.
Dr. Galdikas explained to us that a worker had found her at a spot in the
middle of the plantation where there was no forest within a kilometer. Most likely
she had been driven out of her home range by the fires, and was living off palm
To avoid direct contact with the orangutan, the villagers opened a melted
popsicle, held it high above her open mouth, and fed it to her. Apparently, there had
been a bounty put on orangutans by the plantation manager or owner. Orangutans
were seen as nuisance crop raiders. He was offering 50,000 rupiah, the equivalent of
about US $20 to anyone who would bring him a dead orangutan. Fortunately, word
got out to the orangutan care center and this confiscation occurred.
After what seemed like a long time, Dr. Galdikas successfully negotiated for
the release of Ingrid. She was freed from the post with the help of several of the
centers assistants. When the wire holding her was removed, she was held down by
several men while her wounds were examined and cleaned.
Used as both a cross-reference and as a way to give a voice to another
perspective, the following was an interview with an assistant who was with us for
Ingrids confiscation. That day happened to mark the assistants first day of working
for the orangutan care center:
Andrea: Where are you from?
Narim: Cilacap, Java.
Andrea: How long have you worked here at the orangutan care center and
Narim: More than four years.
Andrea: What is your job title or primary responsibility at the orangutan care
Narim: I am the manager at Tanjung Harapan.
Andrea: Where did you work before?
Narim: Before this, I worked as a fisherman at sea.
Andrea: And how was that?
Narim: If there were fish, the money was okay, if not, nothing.
Andrea: Is it difficult to find work in Kalimantan? Java?
Narim: Not really.
Andrea: Why did you decide to work with orangutans?
Narim: I have family here. Also, I have seen wild orangutans in Sumatra.
Andrea: What do you think about orangutans?
Narim: Orangutans are interesting. I like them very much.
Andrea: What did you know or think about orangutans prior to working with
I have always liked all animals. I am comfortable and happy with
Prior to working here, what was your experience with orangutans?
Only that in Sumatra.
Tell me about the forest. Is the forest important to you or your family?
I am very happy and comfortable in the forest. I enjoy the sounds in
the forest, animals, insects, the sounds of free animals. Its a pleasant
In what way is it important?
The forest protects us from flooding and other environmental
problems. When the trees are gone, it will be like the desert.
Can we talk about some of your first work experiences here?
When I first arrived in 1997,1 remember that the professor received a
telephone call from someone in some far off village, people who said
they had an orangutan and if she did not come, they would kill the
orangutan. We all went together, do you remember that?
What do you think those people knew about orangutans?
Perhaps it was their first experience with orangutans. They did not
seem to know anything about orangutans (based on what they were
feeding her, how they were keeping her, and reports that she was
For those people, do you think that experience was a good one with
the orangutan or not?
Maybe the situation was difficult for them. They did not know how to
care for the orangutan and perhaps would rather see orangutans in the
How long do you think we were there with the professor negotiating
for the release of Ingrid?
Maybe 2 hours.
What do you think those villagers think and know about the forest?
They know and understand some about the forest, but getting money
today is more important than worrying about the future of the rain
forest. For people that care about the forest, life is hard because we
can see and understand what Indonesia will be like in the future
without the forest.
Andrea: After we left, we went to another village and found two more
orangutans, Bini and Sawit. One of them came from a school teacher.
Do you remember that? Why would a school teacher have an
Narim: Yes, I remember. Perhaps before having the orangutan, he thought it
would be a good idea, but afterwards, he realized that it was difficult
and expensive to care for the orangutan.
Andrea: What do you think those villagers thought after we left?
Narim: I think it was good that we left t-shirts and pamphlets/information on
orangutans for them.
Andrea: How does the future look for orangutans?
Narim: I dont think it looks too good. Without taking care of the forest
(habitat) the orangutans future is bad. For example, Bangkal (an
orangutan) came in injured from the national park and if we had not
been there, he probably would have died.
Andrea: What was wrong with Bangkal?
Narim: He had bums from hot oil being thrown on him, probably from
loggers. His wounds were serious. They were infected, smelled, and
he had maggots.
Andrea: Currently the project is paying for police patrols to guard the park.
How effective do you think they are?
Narim: They were good in the beginning. But now it is as if the police are
suddenly lazy and do not really care about doing their jobs anymore.
Andrea: How can we change that situation?
Narim: Scare them, have a rotating schedule, make them compete over who is
going to get the good money. If not, it will lead to more apathy and
laziness. But it is important to keep the loggers out of the park.
Andrea: What is the best way for this to happen?
Narim: It is best if we all work together, the orangutan care takers, the
research assistants, the patrollers.
Andrea: So in conclusion, how shall we end this conversation?
Narim: The forest is the most important thing. Orangutans are great but
without the forest, they cannot live. We must protect the forest!
Ultimately, it was globalization that led to Ingrids capture by humans.
Thinking about the circumstances which led to her capture, I remembered that she
had been found scouting for food in the plantation. Underlying the particular chain of
events which led Ingrid into that situation is the demand for products and Indonesias
desire to develop its market into the cash economy. Additional specific factors
include conversion of forest into plantations, lack of suitable habitat for orangutans
(and others), scouting for food in the newly converted area, Ingrids capture, and her
confiscation. All of that had drastically altered the natural course of the orangutans
life. Though I carry with me today a strong sense of gratification for being part of
Ingrids release back to a larger forested area, it did not come without ambivalence
(see Chapter 5).
Threats to Orangutans: More Regional Contradictions
There has been a marked decline in the numbers of wild orangutans, due in
large part to the 1986 decision by the Indonesian government to open Kalimantan up
to economic development (Eudey 1995: 25). Many believe that Indonesias
increased role in the global economy has led to an increase in trade and
communication among the nearby countries in the region of Southeast Asia, thereby
creating an increase in opportunities for illegal trafficking (Eudey 1995: 23). There
is ample evidence supporting this belief.
An economic decision made by the government to open Kalimantan up to
timber concessions in the mid 1980s made orangutans and other wildlife much more
vulnerable to capture (Eudey 1995: 24). Not only does evidence suggest that the pet
trade is ongoing, but there is also ample evidence that economic opportunists (loggers
who happen to come across orangutans in the forest) are crowding species such as
orangutans and gibbons out of their natural habitat, in their quest for money. Timber
extraction threatens orangutans in at least two ways. First, it destroys their habitat.
Second, it provides an opportunity for loggers who come across wildlife to capture
these animals and keep them, sell them, or kill them. This particular aspect of
globalization (timber extraction), in combination with the economic crisis that
affected Indonesia starting in 1997, has propelled endangered species into an acutely
Globalizing Orangutan Habitat
Globalization in one sense of the word can be thought of as the efforts
involved in reaching other parts of the world, be it through communication,
technology, or simply expansion, which increasingly links states to a global system of
exchange. News of the attack on the World Trade System in September of 2001
spread quickly. I was in Pasir Panjang at this time and heard fleeting details before I
managed to watch a news report on CNN. Another personal example of globalization
is in being able to find a Coca-Cola almost anywhere in the interior of Borneo.
Globalization, which often entails pervasive western influence, may also be
defined as the phenomenon or attitude of placing the interests of the entire world
above those of individual nations, regions, or individuals. In the name of progress
and modernization, through colonization and global economic incorporation, the
spread of Western influence over the past five centuries has resulted in the
homogenization of global culture and the ethnocide of countless non-Westem tribal
peoples (Wilmer 1993: 1). This can also be said of ethnocide against one of
humans most closely related cousins, the orangutan.
Human culture, noted in particular by processes of globalization, has indeed
altered the course of normal, wild orangutan behavior. Wild orangutans respond to
pressures of increased crowding as their habitat shrinks and contact with humans
increase. This has consequences for their eating behavior (as tree fruiting patterns
change), reproductive rate, and territoriality. The culture of orangutans in the wild
(particularly their sociability) is changing, perhaps to the point of no return.
The hunting of orangutans is illegal, but the laws prohibiting it are rarely
enforced. In addition to the many anecdotal reports of poaching, there is concrete
evidence that it occurs throughout the countiy. The fact that there are many infant
orangutans kept as pets implies poaching. The live trade in primates seen throughout
Kalimantan and Jakarta implies this as well (Bodmer, Mathers, and Chivers 1991:
There is also documentation which describes safari type (western style)
hunting excursions sponsored by the army, in which the Indonesian and Malaysian
elite, equipped with modem vehicles and weapons, go out on weekends and holidays
in search of animals to shoot (Rijksen 1999: 312). Inevitably, orangutans fall victim
to this kind of hunting.
When females with offspring are shot or killed, their offspring (if they live)
end up as part of the pet trade, documented throughout Kalimantan, Sarawak, and in
places like Medan, Sumatra (Rijksen and Meijaard 1999: 313). Extensive illegal
trade has been documented at the international border crossing between West
Kalimantan, Indonesia and Sarawak, Malaysia, and from Kalimantan to Java.
Evidence suggests that outside of Indonesia, orangutans are still being shipped to
places throughout Asia such as Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
(Rijksen and Meijaard 1999: 313). Outside of Asia there is still an international
demand for orangutans in zoos, and in private collections.
It has been estimated that for every infant orangutan seen in captivity, at least
one dead mother and possibly two or more other orangutan casualties are likely
(Rijksen 1982: 317). Corroboration that so many female orangutans are killed is
found in seeing infants come into rehabilitation centers. The slaughtered males and
sub-adult orangutans go largely unaccounted for, except when one comes across body
parts, such as skulls, for sale in markets.
Until recently, intricately carved orangutan skulls were being sold openly in
places such as Bali and Jakarta, as well as over the internet. Now, in large part
because of special instructions issued by the Ministry of Forestry in Indonesia to the
police to put a stop on these activities, this kind of trade goes on under the counter,
rather than over the counter, and the prices have increased (Rijksen and Meijaard
1999: 314). The effect this has on the illegal trade is currently unknown. Orangutan
smuggling continues, despite efforts to keep the status of the orangutan protected. So
where are live, captive orangutans to go?
Orangutan Rehabilitation; The Backdrop
Rehabilitation implies a process in which animals in captivity are given
medical treatment, protective care, and experience or training necessary for
successful life in the wild (Yeager 1997: 10). It is a tool of wildlife management
used with orangutans as well as other animals in an effort to eventually enable a
captive animal to adapt to being able to live more or less independently under natural
conditions (Rijksen and Meijaard 1999: 151). This includes the ability to
successfully breed in the wild.
It is often a difficult and time-consuming process, further complicated by
financial challenges. Most agree that rehabilitation should be used only as a
temporary measure to remedy a weakness in the legal framework concerning the
conservation of protected species, as opposed to using it as an end all solution
towards combating global issues surrounding deforestation (Rijksen and Meijaard
The medical, protective, and general care of orangutans in rehabilitation
requires standard procedures. First, quarantine is an important aspect in the
rehabilitation of any animal. It is a step taken to ensure that proper medical screening
and care have been given to the animal before they mix with other animals. Many
feel that because Old World primates are especially susceptible to human diseases, a
strict quarantine and isolation from other animals, as well as minimal contact with
human beings, is critical during this period (Caldecott and Kavanagh 1983: 137).
Often included in quarantine are serological testing, fingerprinting, picture taking for
identification purposes, sampling of hairs, and a physical medical examination that
includes temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and breathing (Smits, Heriyanto,
Ramono 1994: 69).
Natal Knowledge Transfer-Mother Knows Best
As mentioned, orangutans are unique in being both blessed and burdened with
a particularly long period of dependence between offspring and its mother. As with
all Hominids, the mother orangutan plays a central role in shaping the behavior and
future survival skills of her offspring (Galdikas and Wood 1990: 185). The
new-born, wild orangutan is entirely dependent on its mother for this transfer of
knowledge. This includes knowledge and location of fruit, knowledge of other edible
food sources such as plants and termites, as well as avoidance of intrinsic dangers
such as snakes, poisonous plants, and harmful interactions with conspecifics (fighting
between most often male orangutans, over resources) within their given environment
(Rijksen and Meijaard 1999: 151). This has some obvious implications when
considering orangutan rehabilitation.
Mantra was the centers first successful reproducing female orangutan. Heni,
a thirteen year old, was actually the first, ex-captive orangutan at this center to give
birth in 2000. Sadly, her baby died only one day after being bom.
Mantra arrived at the center in July of 1996. It was reported that she had been
kept in a logging camp for several months before being relinquished. She had always
been reluctant to interact with people, though when she did interact with them, it was
with the utmost gentility. Mantra liked to spend long hours in the forest climbing,
searching for food, moving around, and making nests. Her favorite fruits included
mangosteen, rambutan, and lengkane. She was also a big fan of large red ants, which,
I was told, have a sour taste. I had spent many minutes watching orangutans go up
trees which were covered in red ants, only to come down at lighting speed, snacking
on them along the way. For a human, the ants bite is quite alarming, excruciating, if
even for just a brief moment. It feels like a hot needle prick. In this regard, the
orangutans solace is in its long, thick, red hair. Once the ants enter this vast red
jungle of orangutan hair, they seem to perish quickly, probably from suffocation.
Mantra was roughly eleven years old when she gave birth in February of 2001
to a healthy female, who was named Max. While very protected her first year of her
life, with a bit of new-found freedom, Maxs second year had begun to reveal her
natural curiosity. And as often the case with puppies and kitties, Maxs true
personality had just emerged.
At that point in time, she was just over a year old. During my observations,
and true to the stereotypic traits orangutans are perhaps best known for, she was
usually very curious and active. Her actions and behaviors showed a self-confidence,
certainly due in large part to Mantras competent mothering skills. Their time in the
forest was spent climbing trees, searching for fruit, and engaging in other forest
behaviors such as peeling the skin off of certain trees and eating ants. Mantra also
taught Max how to build a nest. She guided her actions with the steady patience
characteristic of orangutans. When Max did something displeasing to her (and after
trying to distract her), Mantra would place Maxs hand in her mouth and give a firm
bite. Though this bite was never hard enough to break the skin, it served as a friendly
reminder that mom had had enough.
Another crucial lesson Mantra taught Max was her distrust of humans.
Mantra would only come out of the trees for one of two or three people who worked
at the center. She was reluctant to come down out of the trees if there were too many
people around, or if her immediate caretaker was unavailable. Sometimes she would
come in on her own, late in the afternoon after most people had gone home. Slowly
making her way out of the forest, Mantra could be seen around dusk,
knuckle-walking (into the care center) with the clinging, red, hairy spider (Max) at
her side. It was my hope and belief that Mantras fear of and reluctance to interact
with humans would safeguard her and her baby when their time came for release, into
a larger, forested area. Her instinctual mistrust of humans is appropriate considering
that most orangutans at the rehabilitation center had seen their own mothers killed.
Mantras story illustrates how knowledge transfer between mother and offspring
In comparison to other orangutans in captivity, Max and Mantra were
fortunate. For a significant percentage of captive orangutans, producing healthy
offspring, including the ability to properly care for the offspring, is difficult. In
captivity (both in zoos and in rehabilitation centers), orangutans have been known to
neglect their offspring, requiring that a human take over care. Most experts agree
that learning what to eat (and what not to eat), how and where to climb, how to make
a nest, etc. from its own species, is preferable to an orangutans learning from a
human care taker. Orangutans (as tutors) are observably more adept at teaching these
important survival skills to other orangutans than humans; however, their ability to do
this is contingent upon their relationships with each other.
Finally, the length and quality of rehabilitation is crucial for the surv ival of
the animals (Bennett 1992: 160). The period of time in rehabilitation can range from
several weeks to several years as orangutans learn the survival skills necessary to
return to the wild. The success of rehabilitated orangutans requires that the captive
animal be raised in a way that most closely mimics a normal situation (Rijksen and
Meijaard 1999: 151-153). Clearly, an important part of rehabilitation for orangutans
must include proper socialization: giving each individual a chance to learn important
survival skills from his or her peers (if not their own mother).
Invariably, it is humans who have either directly or indirectly forced them to
live in captivity and be dependent on people. The survival of a species such as the
orangutan is thus contingent on Homo sapiens ability to remain open and flexible
when considering solutions to problems resulting from globalization, such as
rehabilitation of animals forced out of their natural habitat.
Current Orangutan Rehabilitation Centers
Orangutans and orangutan rehabilitation centers, are now found only in
Indonesia and Malaysia, on the islands of Sumatra (Indonesia) and Borneo
(Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei). With shrinking habitat, in addition to other threats,
rehabilitation offers a partial, temporary solution to combating the situation many
orangutans today are facing. To date, there are just a handful of orangutan
rehabilitation centers found on these two islands.
Bohorok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center-On the island of Sumatra is Bohorok
Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, originally established by two Swiss biologists in the
early 1970s. This center was located on the eastern side of Gunung Leuser Wildlife
Reserve. The original aim of this center was education of the local population, and
rehabilitation and release of ex-captive orangutans. Tourism was also initiated.
However, in the process of drawing in both local groups of people and foreigners to
observe rehabilitation, Bohorok has been criticized as an eco-tourist nightmare
(Warren and Hicks 1998: 160). The tourist industry that rapidly developed around
the park drew large numbers of visitors, many of whom disregarded park regulations
and taxed the inadequate waste disposal system Bohorok became the example of
how rehabilitation, coupled with a poorly planned tourist program, could degrade a
natural resource. Noted is the inherent danger of relying on tourism as a major means
of support, when at the same time it is destroying the resource. However, another
orangutan research and rehabilitation station is being developed in Gunung Leuser
reserve, by the Sumatran Orangutan Society. It is currently in its preliminary stages,
with hopes of opening shortly.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center-One of the oldest orangutan
rehabilitation sites is Sepilok, developed in 1964 in Sabah, Malaysia. This station is
noted for its excellent adherence to quarantine procedures (Rijksen and Meijaard
1999: 155). Additionally, Sepilok boasts a noteworthy education center. Set up like
a museum, this education center is both dynamic and accessible. It blends interactive
exhibits with important conservation information. There are populations of both wild
orangutans and ex-captives there. One of the challenges for this particular station is
the need to control public access. Although rules and regulations are posted
throughout the park, and viewing orangutans is limited to certain hours of each day,
the number of people and the seemingly little attention they give to the stated rules,
are compromising the welfare of the orangutans. Over 200 people showed up for an
orangutan viewing one afternoon in June of 2001. According to the education
director at Sepilok, Dr. Sylvia Alsisto, the local segment of the public has proved to
be the most challenging. Unfortunately, it seemed that little attention has been paid
to solving that problem.
Semengok-Also located within Malaysian Borneo, Sarawak hosts an orangutan
station as well. Semengok (30 minutes outside of Kuching) was originally designated
as a botanical research facility, tree nursery, and gibbon rehabilitation center (Bennett
1992: 157). Set up in 1977, Semengok is still open, though its future, according to a
park warden (March, 2002) appears uncertain, due to financial instability. This
nature reserve is home to many animals including gibbons, orangutans, sun bears, and
a variety of exotic birds. After discussion with local employees, and based on
repeated personal observations of many animals in cages (rather than free-ranging),
Semengok appears to be a sanctuary rather than rehabilitation station. Notably, a rich
and healthy diet is offered to its residents, including a colorful variety of beans,
potatoes, eggs, and seasonal fruit.
Orangutan Foundation Internationals Care Center and Quarantine-Within
Indonesian Borneo, there are three orangutan rehabilitation centers. Originally
setting out to conduct research on wild orangutans in Tanjung Puting National Park,
Central Kalimantan, Dr. Birute Galdikas currently heads one of the longest standing
orangutan rehabilitation centers (currently named the Orangutan Care Center and
Quarantine), first established shortly after 1971. Galdikas philosophy towards
rehabilitation is based on the recognition that infant orangutans have and need strong
bonds with their mothers in order to survive (lecture, March, 1995). In the context of
rehabilitation, surrogate orangutan mothers are few and far between. This shortage of
surrogate mothers can be offset by employing the use of humans as substitute
care-takers. Other rehabilitation stations are coming to accept and employ this
particular method of maintaining close contact between infant orangutan and human
Wanarisets Orangutan Reintroduction Program-Wanariset, established in 1991
in East Kalimantan, is run by Dr. Willie Smits. Originally, this center was set up with
the intention to strengthen law enforcement against illegally keeping orangutans in
captivity, and to rehabilitate these ex-captives for eventual reintroduction into a
protected park reserve (Conference 2001: Balikpapan). The rehabilitation program
at Wanariset includes adherence to strict quarantine procedures and policies
regarding the release of ex-captive orangutans into wild populations. Proponents of
this method of rehabilitation are opposed to releasing orangutans into existing
populations of wild orangutans. The transfer of disease to wild populations and
competition for food resources between released ex-captives and wild orangutans are
the two commonly mentioned reasons for adhering to this particular philosophy
(Rijksen and Meijaard 1999: 173 and W.O.R.P. 2001: 6). In regard to the care of
orangutan babies, it appears that there is a new-found acceptance of the argument that
relying on humans as direct care-takers is an acceptable way to combat the problem
of babies without mothers, although strict controls are used when employing this
Nyaru Menting-Also located in Central Kalimantan is another center established to
rehabilitate orangutans with the goal of returning healthy populations back to the
wild. Nyaru Menting, located in Palangka Raya, works in conjunction with
Wanarisets program. The newest of all of the rehabilitation centers, established in
1999, Nyaru Menting boasts a mix of the different styles of rehabilitating orangutans.
At this center there is strict adherence to quarantine procedures similar to those found
at Wanariset. These include the screening and vaccinating of all staff and all
orangutans, as well as strict, separate quarters for those in quarantine. Reliance on
human caretakers as surrogate mothers for the infant orangutans promotes the
development of a strong bond between infant and surrogate mother. It blends both
styles of rehabilitation, ultimately and optimally benefiting the orangutans. Nyaru
Menting also closely adheres to the philosophy of re-creating the orangutans natural
habitat. Food is given to them through the tops of cages, as well as placed in trees for
those orangutans in the forest, and feeding is done throughout the day, as in the wild.
Sleeping/nesting baskets and enrichment are included in each individuals enclosure.
Besides addressing the problem of orangutans being taken from the wild and
kept in captivity, rehabilitation also has other benefits. As stated, the government has
deemed the orangutan as worthy of protection; rehabilitation projects serve as a
public reminder of this. To this end, effective media campaigns can help (Rijksen and
Meijaard 1999: 176). Rehabilitation instills a respect for the government, based on
what some believe is a universal human desire for consistent law enforcement or at
least a kind of structure upholding societal rules (Rijksen and Meijaard 1999: 176).
Another benefit in rehabilitation is that in promoting the orangutan, one is also
promoting the protection of Indonesias greatest natural resource, the forest. A
further important function of rehabilitation is that it boosts the level of education
among the human population, local as well as international. Individual orangutans
are saved, again exemplifying the governments appreciation for these apes.
Rehabilitation done well can serve as a model for other species in other parts of the
world facing similar challenges. In sum, through the education around conservation
issues and properly managed tourism-since tourism has been acknowledged as
inevitable by many people~(as claimed at Orangutan Rehabilitation Workshop,
Balikpapan 2002) rehabilitation can promote the protection of the forest and the ape,
and in the meantime provide these animals with semi-natural to natural living
conditions (Rijksen and Meijaard 1999: 176).
OH BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? WHERE ARE
I like the forest very much! It is a place of peace for me. When I have a
problem, I often go to the forest to relax and have some quiet time to myself.
Nature makes me feel very calm, a feeling I can only get from time in the
forest. Also, when I was a child, on the way home from school, I would often
head for the forest before going home. The forest was a great place for me,
even as a child! I like the forest very much! -Lei
Value of the Rain Forest
Historically speaking, we are only recently beginning to understand the
general value rain forests provide for life on earth. Besides influencing the chemical
makeup of the earth, including carbon, nitrogen and sulfur, forests act as pump and
sink for carbon dioxide and pollutants (Woodwell 2001: 1). They affect the climate
in other ways as well. Water supply, temperature and general reflectivity (that is the
influence they have on the color and richness of the earth) are all affected by these
wooded groves. They are also a controlling agent for both erosion and flash floods.
Changes in composition of the atmosphere are linked to changes within the forest, be
that a disturbance of plant, animal, or soil (Woodwell 2001: 1).
Rain forests are not only home to millions of species, but constitute the largest
reservoir of species diversity known. Historically, many medicines-westem and
indigenous-originated from extracts found in the rain forest. Despite this, the western
world quickly turned to synthetic substitutes in hopes of economic opportunity to be
gained by further exploitation and mass production. However, while this resource is
now being devastated world-wide, people are finally beginning to recognize some of
the value that rain forest plant and tree extracts hold.
Perhaps one of the most poignant examples of a specific medicinal value of a
rain forest product comes from a particular ethnobotanists search for potential
remedies and cures for humankinds physical ailments.
Dr. Doel Soejarto of the University of Illinois, who was collecting specimens for
NCI, gathered a promising sample from a tree in Sarawak, in northern Borneo: it
produced a nonalkaloid chemical compound effective in the laboratory against
HIV-1. Scientists were unable to find more of the substance in other trees of the
same species, so Soejarto went back to collect more specimens from the original site.
Unfortunately, he found that the area-including the tree-had been cleared by local
peasants to make a garden (Plotkin 1993: 9).
The landscape had been transformed and the ecosystem (including potential cures for
emerging diseases) permanently changed. These examples (general and specific)
illustrate the great value and importance the rain forest provides for all biological life,
Is it My Imagination or is it Getting Hotter? (Scientific Projections)
Rain forests are shrinking-some experts believe at a rate of one hundred
acres per minute-and it is estimated that 10 percent of the worlds plant species will
be extinct by the year 2000 (Plotkin 1993: 13). That chilling prediction, made just
nine years ago, highlights what many experts on globalization believe to be a
consequence of the current trend toward deforestation.
The areas that are most imminently endangered are African forests, South
American forests and the remaining South East Asian tracts of rain forest (including
those of Indonesia). Commercial industry (wood and fiber), agricultural projects
(land converted for cattle grazing and palm oil plantations), and transmigration
programmes (such as those instituted by the Indonesian government in the 1970s) are
all responsible for the large scale changes inflicted upon the rain forest.
Based on current happenings, there are many scientific projections on the
future of the rain forest. For example, one of the long-term effects of deforestation is
a trend towards atmospheric warming. It has been calculated that if warming
proceeds, as rapidly as 0.1 to 0.2 or more degree per decade for the earth as a whole,
as occurred during the 1980s and the 1990s and as is projected for the next years,
the warming will constitute an extreme chronic disturbance and the dominant cause
among several progressive biotic impoverishments (Woodwell 2001: 3). For
tropical countries like Indonesia, this kind of biotic disruption will make an already
hot climate perhaps unbearable.
Other disruptions include increased vulnerability to fire and an increase in
diversity of disease for trees and other biological life within the forest. Biotic
impoverishment (felling of trees and damming of rivers) will assuredly lead to
transformation of the current forest into a potential breeding ground for new diseases,
transmitted by emerging populations of mosquitoes. In short, climate change will
have many severe results.
Not surprisingly, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organization, the rate of deforestation in tropical countries has increased as the
demand for wood and other forest products increases along with an ever-increasing
surge in human population. In Indonesia between 1971 and 1980, the population of
Indonesia increased from 119 million to 147 million, with a rate of growth estimated
at 2.3 percent per year.
Threats to Indonesias Rain Forests-Consumer Choices and Global
The specific focus in this study is on Indonesian Borneo, as Borneo and Irian
Jaya contain the greatest remaining area of uninterrupted rain forest in the world
(Whitmore 1985). The following section examines forest decimation and
conservation in that region, with specific examples of challenges (both theoretical
and practical) in the preservation of remaining tracts of rain forest.
Land conversion is known to have the greatest impact on biological diversity.
There are many examples worldwide of this; however, within Indonesia, land
conversion results mainly from transmigration programmes, agriculture (especially
cash-crop plantation development), gold mining and timber extraction..
Transmigration programs such as the one developed in the 1950s and
instituted by the Indonesian government in the 1970s have wreaked havoc on the
natural environment in Kalimantan (Bodmer, Mathers, and Chivers 1991: 26).
Initially, this program was designed to help alleviate the problems associated with
severe overpopulation on the islands of Bali and Java. The governments main goal
was to relocate 140 million people over a 35-year period, but by the late 1980s only
3.6 million had moved (Park 1992: 52). The government gave economic incentives
to people from Java to convert pristine land in Kalimantan for agricultural use.
Because Kalimantan is one of the two areas which contains the largest remaining
tracts of undisturbed rain forest in the world, transmigration of this scale has caused
many environmental problems.
Transmigration funded by the World Bank, was poorly organized and
consequently, widely criticized (Bodmer, Mather, and Chivers 1991: 26). Some felt
that this plan, designed to alleviate poverty for the transmigrated people, failed to
give adequate consideration to the competing interests of species such as the
orangutan, not to mention local people (Rijksen and Meijaard 1999: 134-135). In
other words, the habitat of the orangutan has been sacrificed to the need to convert
land for human habitation. Transmigration projects, while accomplishing little, have
resulted in biological impoverishment, the displacement of native people and species,
emerging disease, food shortages, and overexploitation of existing resources. This is
despite technical assistance from international organizations, which themselves have
been deemed unaware, ignorant, or disinterested in the conservation needs of the
orangutan (Rijksen and Meijaard 1999: 134). The consequences of this scheme are
still affecting both people and animals native to these areas. However, the needs of
orangutans do coincide with wider ecological needs. Developing sustainable systems
or better yet, protecting those which remain, must be recognized as valuable and
necessary, if we are to prevent the orangutans (and others) extinction.
As mentioned, large-scale agricultural practices often have severe negative
effects on mature forest areas. These schemes usually originate in development
programmes that place demands on local people because of, heavy financial
investment, which pressure them to clear virgin forest rather than wait the full length
of time necessary for the recovery of previously cleared areas (Bodmer, Mathers,
and Chivers 1991: 24). Perhaps one of the most striking examples of this occurred in
Kalimantan, in 1997. Large-scale agricultural programmes, in combination with the
influence of El Nino weather/phenomena, resulted in an ecological disaster, the
results of which are still seen today. For example, 78 percent of all trees died in
burned swamp areas examined in 1997 and 1998. Over 70 percent of the tree species
were lost as well. In lowland forest, approximately 55 percent of trees were lost, with
a loss of 39 percent of the tree species (Yeager 1999: 8). Within burned swamp
areas, there was a tremendous destruction of tree species.
Cash-crop plantations are another reason for deforestation. While there are
many kinds of plantations including those which produce palm oil, coconut oil,
rubber, sugar cane, and gembor (used to make anti-mosquito coils), perhaps the
biggest threat to Indonesias rain forest is palm oil. Palm oil is used in virtually every
household throughout Indonesia and perhaps throughout Asiawith Indonesia being
its largest producer (Rijksen and Meijaard 1999: 316). These cash-crop plantations
provide an economic incentive to transform forest to agricultural land, with
predictably dire consequences for biological diversity.
Small scale gold mining, including panning for gold and mining gold dust
from large sand bars, causes only minimal environmental damage (Bodmer, Mathers,
and Chivers 1991: 25). However, more recently, gold mining in Borneo, which may
have begun on a small scale, is now being used on a larger scale and thus wreaking
havoc on the environment. The change from individual people panning in rivers for
gold, to a larger, highly technological scale, means that more area and more
biological life are affected by the consequences of such practices. With advances in
mining technology (including surface mining) and the current use of metals such as
mercury, gold mining results in great harm to both the environment (including land
areas void of life and bare as a moonscape) and the people performing the labor.
In a region in Central Kalimantan, up the Sekonyer river across from Tanjung
Puting National Park, is a locally-known gold mining operation called Aspai. Here
laborers (many from Java) are reported to earn upwards of $70 U.S. per day for
mining, compared with an average daily wage of approximately $4 per day in
Indonesia. The mercury used in mining has since poisoned the river, and aquatic life
has suffered. One of the consequences is that wildlife is being forced to move into
other areas to find food and escape the disruption, including pollution, to the habitat
(see Chapter 5).
Timber extraction is a highly exploitive process which frequently devastates
the surrounding natural areas. The Western hemispheres desire for wood appears to
be insatiable, for uses including furniture, hard wood floors, household items, and
even toothpicks. In fact, The international demand for hardwoods between 1950
and 1985 increased from four to seventy million cubic meters. Japan and the United
States are the primary consumers. The Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia are the
primary suppliers (Wilmer 1993: 17). In Indonesia, (not surprisingly) logging
destroys more than four times as much rain forest as transmigration schemes and
traditional styles of agriculture (Park 1992: 60-62). As noted at a conference on
orangutan reintroduction (Balikpapan, Indonesia, 2002), the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species (C.I.T.E.S.) has now listed the highly
desired ramin wood (used for furniture) as endangered; therefore, those countries
which cooperate with this international agreement will no longer be allowed to
legally export, import or use ramin. While many people seem to have some idea
about the negative effects of converting rain forest (including desertification) in
absence of planning, others believe that the forest will simply regenerate itself.
However, planting one species of tree, which is the focus of some reforestation
projects, does not make a forest able to sustain the wide variety of species which once
inhabited the land.
Local Perspectives: Interview with Members of the Air Force
Another opportunity to gather peoples attitudes and perceptions about
orangutans and forest conservation occurred at the local air force base in Pangkalan
Bun. These men were from different geographic areas throughout Indonesia. The
following was an excerpt taken from talking to six of the men. It illustrates the
different attitudes local people have toward the forest, the future of the forest, and its
Where are you from?
Celebes (same as Sulawesi)
What do you think about orangutans?
I like orangutans very much. I am impressed that orangutans are so
much like humans. They have five fingers and have hand lines, just
like we do.
They understand emotions like anger and happiness.
How about the forest, what do you think?
It is a sad situation. The people here are just looking for money, trying
to earn a living, but destroying the forest.
I think its okay. The forest will grow again.
Yes, I agree. This is a normal part of the life cycle.
I think that the government needs to regulate activities in the forest.
For example with wood, if a certain kind and amount is taken out, it
needs to be replaced.
What do you think about Indonesias future?
Desertification. Do you know about the Saudi desert? I think it will
be similar to that.
Indonesias future is good!
But if the forest is destroyed and the ecosystem broken, that will be
I think that the forest will continue to grow and Indonesias future will
Wijaya-A Stranger in a Strange Land
Deforestation and the loss of traditional lifeways affect not only the human
population, but also orangutans. In December of 1999 at the orangutan care center a
phone call came in regarding a wild male orangutan seen wandering the streets of
nearby Pangkalan Bun. People reported that an orangutan had been seen near town
with cuts on his hands. The people who called requested that someone from the
orangutan center come and get him, or else he would be killed. The vet was
summoned, and with assistants in hand, went to find the reported orangutan.
The orangutan was found, anesthetized, put into a cage, and brought to the
center. The cuts on his hands were most likely from knuckle-walkingsomething
which arboreal orangutans do little of in natural forest habitat. He was thin, even for
a wild orangutan.
Despite what was reported, I was a bit skeptical of the initial story about him.
I could not imagine a wild adult orangutan wandering about so closely to the heavily
populated town of Pangkalan Bun. It seemed far from orangutan habitat. I thought it
more likely that someone had kept him as a pet until he became too big to care for.
Perhaps he was let go because he was no longer controllable. However, after
observing him closely at the orangutan care center and clinic, another more probable
Wijaya, as he came to be known, exhibited wild orangutan behaviors rather
than those of an ex-captive. He kiss-squeaked (a vocalization of agitation) each time
someone came near his cage to offer him food. A tire was put into his cage for
enrichment purposes. Nearly all captive orangutans enjoy tires, which can be used as
seats, something to hang from, to play with, to climb around in and on, etc.. He
showed absolutely no interest in the tire. It became clear that Wijaya was, in fact, a
completely wild orangutan.
His care (treating his wounds which healed quickly) continued at the center
with hopes that he would regain enough strength to return to the wild. After a few
months he was released in an area of forest far from town. So what are the factors
which brought Wijaya in such close proximity to humans? Had he been flushed out
of his natural habitat by loggers or palm-plantation workers?
In this particular case we will never know. What we do know is that the
sighting, capturing and selling of orangutans is indeed occurring, and with the current
demands on the forest, it is occurring with more frequency than ever before.
Causes of species endangerment are often highly complex and include habitat
destruction and fragmentation, overkill, introduction of invasive species, and
secondary effects deluging the given ecosystem from other extinctions. These causes
are not always exclusive of each other (Quammen 1998: 60-61). For instance,
fragmentation of the habitat dooms species by confining them to smaller bits of
habitat in closer proximity to human activity and impact. This may have been the
type of predicament which led to Wijayas captivity. Ecological isolation correlates
strongly with extinction. When fragmented, species are subjected to the same
dangers that make island species particularly vulnerable. Small population size,
influenced by fluctuations in the environment, and inbreeding, all make species
vulnerable to endangerment and/or extinction (Quammen 1998: 61).
The vanishing of species in turn affects other species. For example, the
absence of big predators may liberate previous restrictions on medium size predators
(Quammen 1998: 62). The overabundance of the latter can then cause other species
to become extinct. Some experts expect only to be able to examine facts and patterns
of species distribution consigned to islands (Island Biogeography), as the current
trend of deforestation and mass globalization continues. The consequences for the
orangutan will be nothing short of catastrophic.
As noted, it is largely human activity which disrupts the orangutans natural
environment. This is what limits the species to small pockets of disrupted land. This,
in combination with the long interbirth interval, gives the remaining isolated groups
of orangutans poor odds for survival. Homo sapiens as the invasive species is solely
responsible for the land conversion which is destroying the natural habitat of the
vulnerable and slow-reproducing endangered ape and confining orangutans to small,
Small. Isolated Reserves
In 1992, W.R. Reid from the World Resources Institute collected figures on
the average deforestation occurring annually in 63 tropical countries during the
1980s. From this, Reid was able to diagram different scenarios of forest loss by 2040.
He examined the relationship between declining habitat and a decrease in species
diversity. His calculations imply that by the year 2040, between 17 and 35 percent of
tropical forest species will either be extinct or doomed to be extinct (Quammen 1998:
60). What will remain, he claims, will be only those living in isolated national parks
and other wildlife reserves.
It has been estimated that these small, isolated, national parks and other
wildlife reserves will be inadequate for maintaining genetic diversity (Quammen
1998: 62). This is based on a computer modeling which considers factors such as
current number of the given species, birth intervals, average lifespan, amount of
habitat necessary for survival of species, et cetera. Specifically, those species with
big territorial needs will be unable to maintain viable population levels within smaller
reserves (Quammen 1998: 62). Simply put, protected park lands will not be
anywhere near big enough in size and quantity to maintain biological diversity.
Theoretical Perspectives on Species Endapgerment
In the past, there have been five known large-scale extinctions, punctuated by
smaller ones in between (Quammen 1998: 59). Smaller extinctions, noted by a much
slower rate (known as the background rate) were thought to only take one species per
major group, per million years (Quammen 1998: 58). It is believed that this
background rate was counterbalanced by the evolution of new species. Some would
argue that extinctions of species are a natural occurrence in the context of evolution
as a whole; however, what is most alarming about the current situation is the rapid
rate of mass extinction in combination with human activity as the catalyst.
According to David Quammen, The concept of mass extinction implies a
biological crisis that spanned large parts of the planet and, in a relatively short time,
eradicated a sizable number of species from a variety of groups (Quammen 1998:
58). Once this point is reached, viable populations no longer exist. Along with that
vanishes the goal of each biological species pushing its genes into future generations.
The crux of the matter of extinction ...is not who or what kills the last individual.
The final death reflects only a proximate cause. The ultimate cause or causes, may
be quite different. By the time the death of its last individual becomes imminent, a
species has already lost too many battles in the war for survival... Its evolutionary
adaptability is largely gone. Ecologically, it has become moribund (Quammen
1996: 274). By many accounts, this sort of biological crisis appears to be happening
Between 1600 and 1900, it is thought that humans caused the extinction of 75
known species, mainly birds and mammals. Between 1900 and 1979, another 75
species were added to the total (Quammen 1998: 59). Note the drastic increase in
rate of extinction within the latter time frame. This of course does not account for
unrecorded or unknown extinctions. Certainly human induced activity, resulting in
the disruption of habitat, is a key factor which significantly contributes to species
endangerment and extinction.
The concept of endangered species is culturally constructed in that the reasons
we value different species varies from culture to culture. While perhaps universally
people may be aware of different species (particularly endemic to their regions)
abundance or lack thereof, the idea of valuing a species simply because it is rare, is
unique to the western world.
The first time I came to Indonesia in 1995 I met up with a group of people in
Jakarta who were going to see Dr. Galdikas orangutan project in Kalimantan. Once
we arrived on the island of Borneo and the town of Pangkalan Bun, Dr. Galdikas said
she wanted to show us an authentic Dayak village and a palm-oil plantation. While
we were all anxious to see orangutans, we were happy also to see some of the land, as
well as visit some of the local people.
We set off on the only road between Pangkalan Bun and Sampit, a town six
hours away. Rainy season was just beginning and it had rained the night before. The
road was atrocious! There were whole sections of road washed out. At one point, I
remember all of us getting out of the two cars (except the drivers) while the cars were
encouraged through the mess of the remaining road. There was nothing to do but
Shortly after we began driving again and someone immediately spotted an
orangutan being kept on a chain in front of a house. We stopped, got out, and
followed Dr. Galdikas inside. We were invited to sit down and Dr. Galdikas began
talking pleasantly to the man who lived there, who seemed to be the orangutans
owner. She talked and talked, often translating what it was they were discussing.
We quickly realized that she was negotiating for the release of the orangutan. We
soon found out for ourselves why people keep orangutans. Arlo, as the orangutan was
called, was very charming. His mannerisms reminded each of us of how closely
related humans are to the other great apes. He was perhaps four or five years old and
was fat enough to convince us that this man cared for him a great deal. Arlo
welcomed the chance to hold on to a warm body, but was also interested in venturing
off on his own, though he couldnt go far, still being kept by a chain. His zestful
curiosity was what likely initiated the use of the chain. There simply is no way to
constrain an orangutan without a cage, chain, or undue force. Finally after two or
three hours, the man reluctantly relinquished the orangutan. This had been a lengthy
process of persuasive negotiation involving three steps.
First, the man was politely reminded that in Indonesia it is against the law to
keep orangutans (and that we had not only already witnessed this, but also filmed it).
Secondly, because this man obviously did care for the orangutan, Dr. Galdikas
offered him a job, as he was overtly reluctant to sever his tie with the orangutan.
Finally, she noticed that he was in some sort of physical discomfort. He had an
abscessed tooth which needed medical attention. This required two things-transport
to the town of Sampit to get a dentist to look at the tooth (still a couple of hours
away) and buying and administering medicine. Dr. Galdikas suggested he come with
us to Sampit and would pay for his medical expenses. Perhaps it was the
combination of all three factors in this negotiation which resulted in a successful
confiscation. Regardless, both the orangutan and the owner joined us for the
duration of the journey.
Near dusk, we entered the small Dayak village of Bangkal. It looked as
though we were going to have to stay the night. The road was unpredictable and no
one seemed keen on attempting it in the dark.
The next morning, we woke up and took a stroll through the village with the
local village chief. After a short time we stopped at someones house who had a
small orangutan in a cage. The person who was keeping her implied that her mother
had been taken from the forest, killed and eaten. They were fattening up this baby in
order to do the same. According to Galdikas (lecture, September, 1997), Dayaks,
who used to take human heads in times of war, replaced that practice with taking
orangutans out of the forest and have since found a more practical benefit in this.
At this point I had a mental shift. Suddenly it became clear that the Western,
scientific definition ofendangered species did not have any meaning in this context.
Here was an example of people still living off the land and it really made me
question, in terms of food resources, whether there was to the Dayaks, any
meaningful difference between deer and orangutan. I was also struck by the manifold
forces that determine why orangutans (and other forest animals) are being held in
captivity. I was reminded of what a privilege it was to be able to think in terms of
viewing a species as endangered.
From a theoretical perspective, I had to ask how the individual orangutan fits
into a global situation. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the responsibility for
the endangerment of the orangutan lies in the hands of those who constitute the
demand for forest products, particularly timber and plantations. Some experts
believe the grand international market is directed by a powerful meta-population of
technically advanced and over-populated nations, namely Japan, Taiwan, North
America, China and Europe, as well as other Southeast Asian countries (Rijksen and
Meijard 1999: 320). Without this, the average Indonesian logger would have no
economic incentive to extract products from the forest.
Most people agree that individuals within human culture anywhere, in at least
the short term, make individually-based economic decisions regarding resources,
including land use. The individual as agent is acting in his or her own best interest, in
a legitimate pursuit of financial security. Many believe that conditions which are
presumably determined by national authority and power structures, and are ultimately
dictated by an interconnected and voracious market system, are what in the end
determine how land will be used; and therefore, hold the ultimate fate of the
orangutan (Rijksen and Meijaard 1999: 320). The political implications of this go
well beyond the scope of an individual seeking legitimate pursuit and protection of
his/her financial future. The orangutan then both illustrates and characterizes
globalization within Indonesia, and some of the influences and consequences of this
relatively new emerging enterprise. The orangutan epitomizes Indonesias identity as
enmeshed within the global market.
Regardless of this more academic analysis of the situation, I could not forget
the purpose of our visit. Thinking about what the causes are to species
endangerment in a theoretical manner intensified my initial desire to volunteer with
the orangutan project.
The orangutan in this case was turned over to us. We were now bringing two
orangutans, one being carried by Dr. Galdikas and one carried by one of the western
women within our group. Though understandably stressed, and screaming on her way
out of the cage, Slinky, as she came to be known, quickly adapted to having a warm
body to hang on to, and we continued walking.
A bit later we arrived at another home rumored to house an orangutan. That
the rumor was true, we learned from the neighbor who had given up the first
orangutan. However, this situation was slightly different.
This orangutan was being kept as a human baby would have been. She had
her own cradle-type of bed. Not surprisingly, her owner was a school teacher who
had no children of her own. The process of negotiation on this occasion involved
more than the last and less than the first. After a half hour or so, a pair of Hopi
earrings belonging to one of the dedicated westerners with us was exchanged for the
orangutan. She was named Nopi. So the next dramatic phase in the life of these
While each of these orangutans received medical, nutritional and behavioral
care upon entering the center, each had a very different fate ultimately awaiting it.
Arlo, the first orangutan, was released almost immediately to the national park.
Slinky lived at the care center for four years until late 1999 when she succumbed to
some illness, possibly exacerbated by a compromised immune system. Nopi
remained at the care center, and recently gave birth. Not surprisingly, she showed
poor instincts for mothering. Within the first couple of weeks of her giving birth, her
baby (Napoleon) was pulled from her, as she was treating him with inappropriate
force. It was recognized by the staff at the care center that Napoleons only chance
for survival would be in the care of a human.
In part, the orangutans slow breeding status condemns the species to its
current status of endangerment. What are the factors which make other primates
vulnerable to extinction?
A Chimpanzee is a Bonobo is a Gibbon... Primate Vulnerability
Most primates are considered endangered. However, the differences in degree
and specific circumstances for each species varies. Many primates are being
negatively affected by habitat loss. Slow breeding capacity and sensitive
temperaments also hinder a species ability to recover from such disruption.
Bonobos were only relatively recently recognized to be a separate species
from the common chimpanzee. They reside in one of the most politically unstable
countries on earth, now known as The Peoples Republic of Congo (formerly known
as Zaire). Scientists know relatively little about these not-so-distant cousins of ours.
While physiologically comparable (having split only 2 million years ago) in many
ways, bonobos and chimpanzees are quite different from one another (Small 1992:
Experts estimate numbers of bonobos at perhaps less than 10,000 (de Waal
1995: 82). Chimpanzees on the other hand, reside in both western and eastern
countries throughout Africa and are currently estimated at around 200,000, though
many of these populations are geographically isolated from one another; and are
therefore genetically vulnerable.
Psychologically, bonobos are considered by some to have more sensitive
temperaments than their chimpanzee cousins (de Waal 1995: 83). Just as in human
cultures, there are certain foods which are considered appropriate to eat, while others
are considered taboo. Some believe that bonobos possess something called a prey
image. For example, both chimpanzees and bonobos have been observed to hunt for
meat, but unlike chimpanzees, bonobos have not been observed hunting monkeys or
other primates (de Waal 1995: 83). In fact, young bonobos will engage in play with
Another example of the bonobos sensitive temperament was noted within a
zoo population in Germany. During World War U, terrible bombing nearby caused
all of the bonobos at that location to die of fright, while the chimpanzees were
seemingly unaffected (de Waal 1995: 83). Chimpanzees certainly possess different
temperaments than bonobos, and they also inhabit different ecological niches.
Apparently, within their given environment, bonobos have a more abundant
and rich food supply than chimpanzees do. An abundance of resources may explain
the less aggressive temperament of the bonobo, as compared to the chimpanzees
short fuse (Wrangham and Petersen 1996: 208). This abundance in food resources
supports a significantly smaller number of apes. Is it this difference in ecology that
results in a marked difference in sociability between bonobos and chimpanzees?
Perhaps chimpanzee aggression has evolved out of a need to compete for resources
such as food. A sensitive temperament surely does not help a species to recover from
endangerment. Whether this rarity in bonobos is a recent phenomena or whether
bonobos have always been rare (and more vulnerable to extinction) may never be
known. But their vulnerability to extinction cannot be ignored.
Gibbons and orangutans (both part of the ape family) are two other primates
vulnerable to extinction. Both are considered endangered. However, these two
primates have distinct reproductive habits. Gibbons are relatively quick breeders.
Since this Southeast Asian primate is capable of reproducing offspring every two
years, there is a more optimistic outlook to its future in terms of both captive and
wild breeding opportunities.
At the other end of the breeding spectrum in Southeast Asia is the orangutan.
With average birth intervals of eight years in the wild, orangutans are particularly
vulnerable to extinction. There is no doubt that this difference in reproductive habit
makes one more vulnerable to extinction than the other. Nonetheless, this particular
factor has serious conservation implications in regard to the species endangerment.
In addition to reproductive differences, gibbons as an example highlight a
different kind of vulnerability. They are confined to Southeast Asia, Northwest India,
and Bangladesh. In spite of being allegedly protected by law in places such as
Sarawak, Malaysia, they are still hunted in many areas. Like many other primates,
gibbons are vulnerable to threats such as poaching, as well as habitat loss and
They are one of the least studied apes, mainly because they are extremely hard
to follow. Because of the special design of the gibbons body (including long arms,
short legs, highly flexible shoulders, and a fully extendible elbow) and in
consideration of the fact that they are the fastest moving apes, as well as the truest
brachiators of the primate world, they are notoriously difficult to follow (Napier and
Napier 1985: 163). Though difficult to follow, gibbons are not hard to find.
Astonishingly, their famous mellifluous voices can carry over one kilometer (Bennett
1992: 157). This physical characteristic makes them vulnerable to poaching.
Wild gibbons have home ranges of an approximate average of 34 hectares
(Bennett 1992: 161). Each family unit needs a large amount of space in order to
survive in the wild and they number somewhere in the hundreds of thousands. The
one surviving genus of gibbons, or lesser apes, contains four subgenera and 11
species (Nowak 1999). The subgenus symphalanges, once recognized as a distinct
genus in the family Hylobatidae, has since been collapsed into the (gibbon) genus
Hylobate. Some of these 11 species are much more vulnerable and endangered
(particularly the Javan, Klossi and Pileated species) than others. Note however that
it is unlikely that population counts alone would reflect a low numbers in density; and
though gibbons are considered rare, it is because they occur in less and less frequent
patches due to habitat destruction and fragmentation.
In short, habitat loss and vulnerability to poaching are the factors that make
the gibbon vulnerable to extinction. These are also some of the causes behind the
endangerment and extinction of the nearly 200 plus species of primates. So where
does this leave us?
ORANGUTAN TRAGEDIES AND SMALL VICTORIES
People dont care about tomorrow. They are earning their living for today.
They are not thinking about their children and their grandchildrens future.
They are looking for money now.
What needs to happen to slow this process of deforestation? Is it too
late to save the forest?
People need to work together. We all must make compromises or
negotiations and work together towards planning a stable future for
As demonstrated in this study, processes of globalization are negatively
affecting human culture and other biological species throughout the world. Within
Indonesia, globalization has resulted in many cases of species endangerment, and can
also be linked to the potential extinction of orangutans in the wild. Factors that shape
supply and demand of a natural resource such as timber were examined from both a
theoretical perspective as well as from an applied field perspective. For example,
demand for timber is inextricably linked to both the geographic place it comes from
and the human communities that occupy this space.
More on Processes of Globalization and Consequences
A starting point for examining globalization can be found in Wallersteins
World Systems Theory. The theory is based on a premise of unequal exchange
which allows capital and wealth to accumulate in what are called core economies.
As processes such as trade, technology and communication reach distant places,
countries and cultures are brought into the orbit of the core economies and are then
affected in many ways, including culturally, economically and politically. Though
some would argue the benefits of globalization, clearly there are disadvantages also.
On a global level there is often an increase in the exploitation of local
resources by foreign entities. This comes in both the form of interest in exploitation
of natural resources, as well as an interest in protecting natural resources and
promulgation of a conservation-oriented perspective. Also important to consider is
the impact of structural adjustment programs often initiated by global organizations
such as World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The intent of structural
adjustment is for macroeconomic reforms (money and tax policies) to create a
positive climate for foreign investment, integrate local economy into global trading
systems, and orient the economy to export production rather than production for local
benefit. Unfortunately, this often results in an increased pressure to exploit local
resources for purposes of export, devaluation in currency, and sharp reductions to
public investments in social programs, further stressing environment and human
populations (Bodley 2000: 379). Globalization on this level makes local economies
vulnerable to worldwide economic perturbations.
For example, the Asian economic crisis of the 1990s affected Asia and many
other countries and cultures throughout the world. Corporate bankruptcy in Hong
Kong led to repercussions worldwide. Currencies throughout Asia including
Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Korea, and Indonesia
plummeted during this time (Linden 1998: 35). Russias already existing financial
problems were compounded by this event, which ultimately led to default on some of
their foreign debt. Owing to what has been termed global financial markets herd
behavior, this in turn caused stocks to plunge in many prominent economies. Some
believe that Indonesia was one of the countries worst affected (Homer-Dixon 2000:
The Indonesian rupiah prior to 1997 had been relatively stable at 2,500 to
US$1. The rupiah dropped to an all-time low in late 1997 of 17,000 to US$1, and
currently hovers at around 9,000 to US$1. This crisis in Indonesia further prompted
organizations such as World Bank and International Monetary Fund to implement
programs which greatly reduced investments (already low in human capital), and an
increase in efforts to attract foreign investment austerity. These measures have
increased social inequality and poverty. By 1998, Indonesias Gross Domestic
Product had shrunk to less than one-half of what it was in recent prior years
(Homer-Dixon 2000: 166). Specifically, Indonesias GDP dropped from 220 billion
to 85 billion (Linden 1998: 37). These events propelled another 20 million into
poverty, in one of the most populated countries on earth (Homer-Dixon 2000:
On a state and regional level, programs such as transmigration and resource
development have been initiated to repair the collapsing economy. These along with
increasing poverty have contributed to violence. In Indonesia, ethnic violence
(particularly between the Dayak and Madurese cultural groups) resurged during 1997
and 1998 throughout Kalimantan.
One consequence of macroeconomist reform and development has been
decentralization of political authority. In the context of the economic crisis and
increased social inequality, decentralization appears to have contributed to a growing
weakness in law enforcement. For example, in Mark Hertsgaards Earth Odyssey he
talks about what the decisive contributors are to deforestation around the world.
Hertsgaards belief is that a corrupt government, military officials, and police who are
well-connected to agricultural and logging companies play a major role in
deforestation in Indonesia (Hertsgaard 1998: 209). Locally, breakdowns in law
enforcement encourage individuals to make decisions they might not otherwise be
afforded, such as engaging in illegal logging activities. In the quest to eke out a
day-to-day living, local people are turning more and more to taking jobs in the
wholesale and unprecedented conversion of their natural landscapes for agricultural,
timber extraction, and gold-mining purposes.
On the upside, globalization has brought foreigners interested in conserving
the environment to Indonesia. This in turn fosters a conservation consciousness
among local populations, particularly those living near conservation-oriented
In summary, global demand affects local economies, which affects biological
life such as orangutans. Much of this study has illustrated specific cases of how
orangutans (as a species) are being negatively affected by processes of globalization.
However, within these tragedies, are some small, victories.
What Happened to Ingrid. Karol, and Ayu? (A Continuation of Their Stories)..
Shortly after her arrival to the orangutan care center, Ingrid-who had been
found on a plantation (see page 35)-needed surgery to sew up the area cut by the wire.
The wire had cut through the muscles near her hips, straight through to the bone. A
local doctor was summoned and he gave her an anesthetic so that he could perform
the surgery. Her wounds were quite deep and had to be flushed out and cleaned
every day for the first few months of her stay at the care center.
In all likelihood, based on what we saw and based on her temperament, Ingrid
had been very ill-treated by humans, and although well-cared for by the rehabilitation
staff, had never developed a tolerance for humans. Taking care of Ingrid was a
stressful and difficult to manage process for all involved. Each day, several of the
male assistants opened up her cage and encouraged her to come out. Then, with each
assistant being responsible for a particular limb, she was restrained just enough to
have her wounds looked at, cleaned, and a topical antibiotic applied. This process
was repeated every day for several months while her wounds healed and she regained
strength. While the encounters were stressful for everyone, it was important that her
wounds had a chance to heal, and that staff was there to see that infection did not
develop. This provided adequate time for her to regain her strength in preparation for
her eventual return to the forest. At that point, Ingrid was thought to be old enough to
survive on her own in the wild (as indicated by her teeth and body size).
After Ingrids confiscation, we set out to see some of the fires up close and
look into the causes behind them. What we found surprised us all.
Traveling by speed boat to Tanjung Puting National Park, through the back
side of the park rather than the familiar front side, we came upon areas that had been
recently burned. Near these were other areas, some of which were still smoldering.
The landscape was gloomy and depressing. It smelled like a gigantic campfire.
Throughout the journey to the park we encountered many already burned areas as
well as those burning without flame. We saw a lone deer in an area that had been
recently burnt, as well as a binturong/bearcat (an animal similar to a large raccoon
but with a prehensile tail) climbing up a burned tree. Perhaps not surprising to those
with much experience in the tropics, we rarely saw outright fires with lively and
colorful flames. Those sightings were more scarce and I only encountered that scene
one time throughout my three month stay in 1997.
Because Dr. Galdikas wanted to have a closer look, we decided to stop at one
of the areas recently reduced to ash, the air still laden with heavy smoke. Almost
immediately we found tracks--railroad-like tracks-behind the curtain of trees at the
edge of the river. This type of road or track is common throughout forested areas in
Indonesia. It is a human-made structure built to make the transport of wood from
forest to river easier. We recognized these as the tracks of loggers and decided to
We came upon a recently abandoned loggers camp. There was a make-shift
camping hut used to temporarily house the loggers. Many of the loggers belongings
were still there, implying a temporary absence. The chains, however, seemed to be
missing. The temporary hut, otherwise complete with personal belongings, gave us
the impression that what we had initially encountered at the river was purposefully
planned, so as to detract others from entering the logging area. Our conclusion was
corroborated by similar reports of landscape conversion in combination with effects
from weather patterns (El Nino): Furthermore, prospective plantation owners often
seized the opportunity to demolish remnants of forest in order to issue a formal claim
for conversion (Rijksen and Meij aard 1999: 191).
Tanjung Puting was supposed to be protected by law and guarded as a
national park, allegedly free from activities such as the extraction of timber. It
appeared that this was a case of opportunistic exploitation. Certainly there was
something to be gained by big companies (likely both timber and palm-oil
companies) covering up their work tracks, and thereby buying time in a place where
precious time for maintaining and preserving the natural ecosystem and the species
within them, is quickly disappearing.
After trekking into the middle of the national park, a two hour walk from the
river, with adequate staff transporting Ingrid by cage (as well as Karol and Ayu), their
cages were opened. While Karol and Ayu lingered a bit, Ingrid as expected, took off
quickly. She ran up a tree and seemed to disappear before our very eyes.
On the walk out from the release site, we stopped. The last sounds of a male
orangutan long call could be heard in the distance. Perhaps half an hour later, peace
and tranquillity were interrupted by the sounds of a far off chainsaw. It was then that
I became ever more acutely aware of what is happening to Indonesias greatest
Local Opinions About Land Conversion and Globalization-Interview with a
The following opportunity occurred when an Indonesian vet, visiting from the
Sumatra Orangutan Society, appeared at the orangutan care center in Pangkalan Bun.
Andrea: Are many vets interested in working with endemic species such as
Sujamo: In Indonesia, people do not become vets for the money. Going to
school to become a vet is a way of getting your education cheaper and
it does result in a skill. However, only five percent of veterinary
students end up practicing. Others find work as scientists, work for
pharmaceutical companies, and teaching.
Andrea: Have you encountered orangutans prior to working for S.O.S.?
Sujamo: Yes, in the markets in Medan and Bogor there are exotic animals for
sale, including a jaguar from Latin America, tarsiers, eagles,
Andrea: What do you think needs to happen to stop or slow down the rate of
deforestation to save the orangutan?
Sujamo: Projects like this certainly help but they are not enough. Forest
ecology and environmental education is really lacking in Indonesia
and that would be an important place to begin. Also, if it is possible to
improve the local economy I think that would help because then
people would not want to work for logging companies. However,
much of the demand comes from western nations, so while
there is a demand, there will always be someone willing to look for a
April 14th, Camp Leakey
In Indonesia, people have been using rivers for hundreds of years for far more
than just travel. Rivers are used for bathing, brushing teeth, cleaning dishes, fishing
and washing clothes. An example of these uses can be seen in a section of the
Sekonyer river, near Camp Leakey. There the river provided both a place to wash
clothes as well as a clean, cool and refreshing bathtub, used daily by the assistants in
camp, as well as most visitors to camp.
The river which goes to Camp Leakey, the Sekonyer River, forks
approximately 11/2 hours upriver from its mouth. The left fork flows to Aspai (the
gold-mining operation). The water along this route has become a creamy
coffee-color (effects from pollution) all the way up to the mining operation and
beyond. The right fork flows to Camp Leakey and is mostly a transparent, iced-tea
color. Each year, however, the coffee colored water creeps closer and closer towards
camp. Still, the water in front of camp remains the typical iced-tea, tannin-laden
color of the tropical rain forest, and apparently free from pollution.
Since the early 1990s, the left side of the Sekonyer has seen an increase in
human activity. There is more traffic (bringing noise and pollution) from logging
activity within and outside of the national park (which is bordered by this river). The
pollution from the gold-mining operations has not yet affected the entire river, but it
is slowly creeping upriver and also downriver towards the Java Sea. Since the
pollution of the river from Aspai, there have been less frequent sightings of wildlife
(including birds, monkeys, and crocodiles) in the area and along the river.
When I first came to Indonesia and Camp Leakey in 1995, while many kinds
of wildlife were often seen near camp, crocodile sightings were rare, especially near
camp. Crocodiles were known to lounge in a marshy area a few minutes before
camp, but I did not see any the first few times I went to camp. The river was also
notably cleaner in 1995 than it is now.
On a Monday morning (April 15th, 2002), we learned that a British tourist had
been killed by a crocodile, the day before, at Camp Leakey. Apparently, two
kelotoks (boats) had brought tourists to camp. A British family occupied one of the
boats and the other held a Canadian tourist and a British tourist. On Sunday around
noon, one of the assistants was bathing near the pier, partially submerged, and felt
something peculiar in the water. At the same time, the British tourist was submerged
in the water, hanging on to a wooden pole used to dock kelotoks and speedboats. The
assistant began to climb out of the water and looked to caution the tourist. He was no
longer there. The assistant ran to camp to get help. Several assistants accompanied
him and as they arrived closer to the pier, they heard an engulfed scream and
thrashing, coming from the water.
The Indonesian word Pawang translates into someone who holds magical
powers over animals or has special skills with animals, an animal tamer. When a
person is believed to have been killed by a crocodile, it is common to call in a
pawang. This was the case on that day in April at Camp Leakey. The night after the
man had gone missing a pawang was asked to go to camp and help recover the body.
After a traditional ceremony invoking perhaps symbolic communication between the
pawang and the resident crocodiles, the body was apparently spotted in the jaws of a
crocodile, heading up river. People then got into boats and caused enough of a
disturbance within the water to make the crocodile release the body, and it was
At that point not all of the details were known, but the photos taken of the
recovered corpse revealed a series of bite marks and cuts on his upper thigh and
stomach. There was blood on his face. His body was swollen from nearly two full
days of being underwater. It appeared from the photo that he died from drowning
rather than injuries inflicted by crocodile bites.
The common crocodile in this area is the false gavial, noted for its long,
skinny snout. The crocodile that killed the British man was not of the common
variety in the area. It is known locally as buaya katak, and is capable of living in
both fresh water and salt water. This particular kind of crocodile is one that prefers
food after it has become rotten. The animal thus stashed the body underwater.
However, crocodiles do not usually prey on humans, as they are not a normal part of
their food chain (KalTeng Pos, 18, April, page 11).
This was the first reported human death from a crocodile on this section of the
river. On the main section of the river, according to a local policeman, the years
between 1998-2002 saw deaths of 23 people to crocodile attacks (Tuesday, April 16,
2002, KalTeng Pos, page 1 and 11). Clearly, animals of many sorts, including
crocodiles, have moved out of the once fertile, intact ecosystem and breeding
grounds, to other areas. Disruption in the crocodiles habitat has resulted in their
encroachment on habitat occupied by humans.
As seen in that example of a crocodile killing a human, disturbed habitat
negatively affects biological life. Crocodiles have been forced to compete with other
species for scarce and precious resources. With mercury contamination from the
gold-mining operation and increasing river traffic, the ecosystem is out of balance.
As in the case of orangutans, they have been increasingly pushed into human
occupied areas, often resulting in conflict between the two species.
Didnt Leave Nobody but the Baby
A couple of weeks after the crocodile incident, a cryptic message arrived at
the care center that a tame, older orangutan was due to show up at the orangutan care
center. That morning however, fate delivered a different orangutan. He came in
wearing human baby clothes. He only had four teeth and was very skinny. His name
was Yuris. I asked where he came from and why the people who had him decided to
bring him here. I was told that he had come from a village near the national park,
Sebukat. Apparently, there was a plantation of gembor bark near the park.
The man who brought him said that this orangutans mother was killed by a
crocodile while she was eating leaves on the river bank. He told us that they just
found this baby orangutan on his own by the bank of the river.
We were told that he had him for a month or so, and that the orangutan had no
teeth when he first arrived. The man who had dropped him off to the care of this
center said he did so because the orangutan was too skinny and did not want to eat.
He also mentioned that keeping an orangutan was illegal and that he was afraid the
police would put him in jail.
Not much of the story was believable. The arrival of four teeth in just one
month is quite fast, based on the development in orangutans at the care center. It was
more likely that he had been in captivity longer than the stated one month. The story
about the crocodile killing the mother orangutan is also highly unlikely for several
reasons. Orangutans are not frequently seen near water, and a mother ape would not
be away from her young offspring. If a crocodile did get the mother, it surely would
have killed the baby as well. Finally, the fact that they came from a village near this
plantation was also suspicious. It is more likely that the mother was foraging in or
near the plantation, was encountered, killed, and her baby taken.
That evening the previously anticipated orangutan arrived. Pinky, as she was
known, was older than Yuris by several years and was probably around six years. She
was in seemingly good condition and very docile. Her hair was thick and healthy and
she did not seem to have any obvious illnesses. She liked to be groomed, a clear
indication of her lengthy time spent in captivity with humans. Furthermore, she did
not seem to know much about orangutan behavior. Her climbing skills were lacking
but she soon overcame that. Pinkys healthy condition, along with the fact that she
ended up at a rehabilitation center rather than living with people in captivity, was
promising. The staff at the center were optimistic that she could adapt to the newest
phase in her life, and build necessary skills for survival in the wild.
These stories, though apparently unrelated, share the themes of globalization.
Specifically, habitat disruption and land conversion as processes of globalization are
pushing animals out of their previous habitat, often towards conflict with people, and
The Interconnection Between Human Culture. Biological Life and the
What is the interconnection between orangutans, human culture, and the
environment? As seen throughout this study, a necessary link between biological life
and the environment is a dependence on the natural environment. Historically, this
relationship represented a balance of life within the natural environment. Currently
however, changes are occurring, rapidly decimating the environment for both human
culture and orangutans. These processes of globalization (extraction of timber,
conversion of rain forest into plantations, gold-mining) coupled with poverty, are
disrupting the balance between human culture, orangutans, and the environment.
What is sobering about this is that disturbance of this scale may lead to the extinction
of orangutans in the wild as well as the ability of native populations to continue to
live depending upon their rain forest for sustenance.
Local Opinions. Interview with a Javanese Veterinarian
Many people, including natives, recognize the connection between biological
life and the environment. One of the orangutan care centers veterinarians mentioned
this connection and his concern for the current lack of balance between human
culture, other species and the environment. He was Javanese, soft spoken, and had
good English language skills. The following excerpt highlights his concerns.
Andrea: What did you think about orangutans prior to working here?
Irdan: I read about their possible extinction and wondered how I could help
prevent this situation.
Andrea: What do you think is important for people to know about orangutans?
Irdan: I think the most important thing that people need to know about is
anthropozoonosis/zoonosis. Humans are so similar to orangutans that
the spread of diseases such as TB and Hepatitis is possible.
Andrea: What do you think about the forest?
Irdan: I think that within the forest there are many ecosystems, animals and
people, which are interdependent on each other. There must be a
balance between each of these pieces. Currently, the forest system is
out of balance. If the forest is broken, there will be less animals or no
animals. What is important, if there is no balance within the forest, is
that the problems associated with the imbalance will certainly come
back to the people.
Andrea: Can you give me an example?
Irdan: Disease and land poverty.
Andrea: What do you think is the future for orangutans and people in
Irdan: Not good! There is already such ecological devastation from the loss
of the rain forests, eventually, Indonesia may sink to the bottom of the
ocean. Currently, the island of Java is known to be sinking due to this
ecological destruction. Lots of flooding occurs in areas like
Pontianak. Jakartas International airport is flooded. The landscape is
turning to sand. The future for the orangutan also does not look good.
I am worried that they will go extinct.
Implications for Conservation and Discussion
This study illustrates the interconnection and organic interdependence among
species, including human culture, and environment. Understanding how complex
processes involved in globalization are articulated with specific, local situations, is
critical to the future protection of a species such as the orangutan.