Tue, 09 May 2000

Orangutans' plea unanswered

How much care should the orangutans of Tanjung Puting National Park in Kalimantan be given? After staying there for six days, I was able to dig deeper than just surface appearances, and contrary to the ideas expressed by Mr. William Furney in The Jakarta Post on April 11, Man's nearest relative going the way of the dodo, I say sufficient care is given.

The rehabilitation camps in the park are intended to serve the purpose of preparing the orangutans for release back into the wild, and what will become of that purpose if the orangutans are treated like humans? " ... the vet would take the animals out and leave them to forage in the bushes", is a true statement by Mr. Furney, yet the interpretation is wrong.

The orangutans, Nyoman, Benson and Alwi, were donated to Tanjung Harapan in Tanjung Puting National Park as tame orangutans, who were in no state to be released into the wild and fend for themselves. These "morning releases" by Dr. Gede, the veterinarian, are to let them slowly learn to build their own nests and to find their own food. It is indeed true to say that the rangers in the camp did not interfere in the business of the orangutans, but should they? Should they be there to stop fights? No, the orangutans need to learn defense as well as offense. Orangutans, unlike other primates, do not fight to the death; they fight until one orangutan loses.

To question, "Why these usually docile creatures were attacking people?" is equivalent to asking "Why is this innocent man so self-conscious and defensive, even though he gets beaten up and watches people die everyday next to him?" Loggers, who are known for killing orangutans in their way, surround the park and the orangutans connect the sound of saws with death. If my brother was killed by an angry man, and years later I see a weird person running toward me, screaming in an unknown tongue, I am positive that my paranoia would take over.

What we fail to realize is that orangutans do not understand human language, and when we holler, "Put down my camera!" they could very easily misinterpret it as "come here and let me steal and torture you!" Now, if you were in that situation, would you not bite a potential "attacker"?

I can very clearly understand and picture the amount of money collected for these orangutans, yet the orangutans are not facing the problem of poverty, rather they are facing a problem of shelter and food, both of which are provided by their rapidly disappearing rain forest. More stunning than the statistics are the reasons that allow this plunder of our forest. My stay there showed about 200 logs being illegally taken downstream every day, as though it was normal business. The reason is that there is no one to stop it. In that whole portion of Kalimantan, not once did I spot a police post, officer or station, a huge change from Jakarta. The loggers have unrestricted entry and exit; therefore the rain forest is clearly doomed and the orangutans headed for extinction.