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April 16th, 2007
Orang Utan Conservation in Indonesia

Palm oil today is used both for food and bio-diesel fuel. After devastating forest fires in the late 1990s, the Borneo Orang Utan Survival Foundation (BOS) was created to protect and nurture orang utans, as to rejuvenate their habitat.

Today BOS has saved hundreds of orang utans, which are found only on Sumatra and Borneo, as well as sun bears and some birds.

BOS runs Nyaru Menteng in Central Kalimantan and Wanariset-Samboja in East Kalimantan. The original Orang Utan Reintroduction Centre (Wanariset), which was started in 1991 in the village of Samboja on Borneo’s east coast, has taken care of 1000 orang utans so far, releasing more than 400 (which it still monitors) back into the wild through an intricate set of socialisation and survival training programs.

In 2000, BOS began buying up land in the village of Samboja to create Samboja Lestari. The main focus of this project is to replace “alang-alang” (a highly flammable coarse grass which makes land fallow) with forest trees. As of October 2006 more than 587 indigenous species of plants, especially fruit and shade trees beneficial to orang utans, had been planted.

Now, with more than 160 employees, BOS’ Samboja Lestari (which now includes BOS-Wanariset) is the organisation’s main wildlife sanctuary. It provides ‘forest schools’ for orang utans to learn to socialise and go about their daily activities. The facility also includes six artificial islands to house orang utans that can never be released, as well as a sun bear sanctuary.

To create the wildlife sanctuary, BOS surveyed small, barren pieces of adjoining land using two Trimble 5700 GPS systems. The land parcels were precisely surveyed to establish accurate land titling records. The GPS also enabled BOS to document their land mass: the sanctuary today covers 2,000 hectares. Topographic mapping was then carried out over the entire sanctuary area using the RTK GPS.

Orang utans usually eat on the go, traversing the treetops and munching as they go, ending up quite far from the original tree. Their long-range foraging helps in forest regeneration: fruit seeds dropped to the ground facilitate replanting; and when the orang utans tear off high branches sunlight can reach the forest floor.

In the “forest schools,” natural playgrounds for orang utans to learn how to live in the wild, the primates will roam freely during the day and return to sleeping cages only at night. The sanctuary also has a new medical clinic and quarantine area, and a nursery for baby orang utans.

After the forest fires in 1999, BOS opened another orangutan conservation centre called Nyaru Menteng in Central Kalimantan. This centre aims to develop strong relationships with the regional government to curb the conversion of land for palm oil plantations or timber use as well as to save orang utans. The BOS Mawas program is also in Central Kalimantan; this program was started in order to save the orang utans’ peat swamp forests, which can have peat up to 12 metres deep!

The peat swamp forests are critical in global hydrology and climate change. Work here includes helping local people fight poverty, improving health and water supplies and supplying conservation education. These programs hope not only to restore forest lands for orang utans, but to help the surrounding communities find sustainable economic activities without heavily impacting nature.

BOS also runs a volunteer program that helps support the sanctuary: www.createrainforest.com. Donors can adopt individual land parcels one metre square.

If they visit the BOS sanctuary, BOS uses GPS receivers to navigate donors to their adopted plots in the jungle.

In this way the program benefit orang utans by providing them a safe and secure sustainable habitat where they can live in harmony with the environment, including humans.