The word friendship can be used to describe many things.
On July 23, 2012, I had an opportunity to see a different kind of friendship. As part of Asia Pulp & Paper Group’s (APP) Indonesian Stakeholder Engagement team, I went to a six-day Orangutan conservation training session in Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan, with 30 other APP and APP pulpwood supplier employees. The training was the first of a series of trainings that APP is initiating throughout the year in cooperation with the Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) to reaffirm APP’s zero tolerance policy on harming endangered animals found in their concession areas.
On the first and second day of this training, we were taught how to see orangutans and other wildlife animals as individuals with feelings, and how they are not so different from us humans. Orangutans, especially, are similar to humans in many ways. Some things that I learned were very interesting; for example, adult female orangutans sometimes “adopt” a child from another parent, and they do not treat their biological child or adopted child differently. Also, orangutans live in solitary, not forming groups like other types of apes and monkeys, perhaps not so different to some people you and I know.
For some time now, APP has had a policy on sustainable practices that it enforces to all of its pulpwood suppliers, including a policy of zero tolerance on harming endangered animals. For some of our pulpwood suppliers who may meet orangutans in our plantation forests, the question is: what should we do when we meet orangutans? Back in 2011, APP together with its pulpwood suppliers set up an Orangutan patrol unit (SATGAS Orangutan) to help the local government’s Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA). Now with this OFI training, we further learned to prioritize the safety of the orangutan when there is an encounter, to report the encounter to the BKSDA and to NOT get close or run away from them while waiting for the responsible parties to arrive.
On the third day of the training, we went to see orangutans in the wild. It was an amazing experience. I saw with my own eyes how they interact with humans, and it was endearing to see how innocent yet clever they are. Not all of the orangutans are docile though. At the orangutan conservation centre in Pangkalan Bun, Camp Leakey (a camp built by Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas as chairman of OFI to be her research place in 1971 in Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan), there is an adult male orangutan named Tom. He is the king of orangutans at Camp Leakey, at 150 kilograms and with dozens of wives. The OFI staff told me that if you meet Tom and he waves his hand at you, it means you have to get out of his way.
The last day of the training, we visited the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ), which was built in cooperation between OFI and the Ministry of Forestry. There are so many orangutans cared for here, from infants 1-3 years old, teenagers 7-8 years old and even orangutans more than 20 years old. I believe Dr. Birute has spent most of her time and energy protecting the orangutan, and OCCQ itself is home to many orangutans in Kalimantan. The OCCQ facility includes orangutan playgrounds and feeding places, and amazingly it is also equipped with medical equipment and professional doctors similar to hospitals you can find here in the city.
The training was conducted during a month-long fasting period for most of the participants but everyone remained enthusiastic and eager to participate throughout the training. The training ended with a break in fasting at one of the restaurants in Pangkalan Bun. The participants seemed very tired but happy. Some of the participants’ comments were captured in videos made by Alain Compost (a wildlife documenter), such as these below:
Heru Riyanto, Section Head Production PT. Surya Hutani Jaya:
“With this training, I could get closer to orangutans and can change my mind about them: The orangutan is not a dangerous animal. They do not bother us if we do not bother them. No Hunting, No Catching and No Killing! It is set in my mind and is my commitment”
Asmadi, Fire & Safety Dept, PT. Surya Hutani Jaya:
“There is a very valuable knowledge from this training. In Pangkalan Bun, the orangutan is very well protected and the government also supports this. OFI is working with APP, and we hope that OFI can be in East Kalimantan as well.”
For me personally, it was an eye-opening experience. We do not see orangutans in everyday life, but through this blog I hope I can inspire a new view towards the orangutans and other wildlife animals that they are our friends and need our protection.