Wed, 05 Mar 2003

Taman Safari's Hadi Manansang dies at 87

Pat Irving, Taman Safari Indonesia, Bogor, West Java

As light slowly dawned over a mist-shrouded Mount Pangrango on Sunday morning, there was a buzz of activity at Taman Safari Indonesia as a television crew prepared to broadcast live from the park's animal hospital.

However, behind the bright lights and the on-air antics of a very naughty bear cub, a pall of gloom was gathering.

The many staff members who awoke well before dawn to help prepare for the show, and also to serve breakfast to journalists attending a conservation-awareness seminar at the park, had received very sad tidings. As more staff appeared, they shared the seemingly unbelievable news: Pak Hadi Manansang was dead.

Pak Hadi was more than a father to Taman Safari Indonesia (TSI)'s three directors -- Jansen Manansang, Frans Manansang and Tony Sumampau -- he was a much-loved and respected figure to the 850-plus staff of the brothers' business enterprise.

Although 87, and with some history of health problems, Pak Hadi's death was unexpected and sent shock waves through the ranks of the assembling staff.

A vital part of the wildlife park's activities right up until his death, Pak Hadi's bright and alert demeanor belied his age.

Among his many personal projects for the organization, none gave him more satisfaction -- or brought more joy to visitors -- than his enthusiastic fostering of young people and their talents. To many of TSI's young acrobats, for example, he was a much-loved father figure.

Taman Safari Indonesia has a well-earned reputation as a world leader in the conservation and preservation of wildlife, but Pak Hadi's beginnings were humble by comparison.

Born in Shanghai, China, on Aug. 13, 1916, he later earned an enviable reputation as a remarkably agile and flamboyant acrobat. He toured the world displaying his exacting craft, before founding Indonesia's Oriental Circus. His sons have many memories of life as an integral part of this country's most popular traveling circus.

When the popularity of the circus started to wane in the 1970s, the brothers shared with their father their dream of developing a wildlife park. In him they found not only a willing supporter, but a vital mentor for what was a daring and imaginative project.

Taman Safari Indonesia opened in 1986, and the family was able to use their special skills -- their love of wildlife and their profound and hard-won knowledge of animal behavior -- to focus on a unique blend of conservation, entertainment and animal husbandry, which has been slowly developed into the thriving and multifaceted business that it is today.

Pak Hadi was a man with many rare talents, not least among them his capacity to explore new horizons.

Just a few months ago, for example, he took it upon himself to learn English. A daunting task even for a younger, less busy person, he took to it with his usual relish. He somehow found time in each crowded day to absorb taped instructions, listen to English-language news broadcasts and study newspapers written in the chosen language with the careful approach for which he was well-known.

He was also a man with an astonishing ability to really communicate across generations. He still enjoyed the company of three friends with whom he attended school in China, and they often could be seen enjoying very animated discussions about a vast range of topics, well versed as the group was in the latest developments on the world's stage.

At the other extreme, he developed a close relationship with many, many very young people. These he took under his wing, providing much needed emotional support, lashings of gruff old- fashioned love and an all important material start in life.

He also had an endearing way of making people feel comfortable and welcome, including -- perhaps especially -- those far from their own families and adjusting to a new culture.

Still an inveterate traveler, he visited many countries in recent years and made annual visits to the country of his birth, accompanied by one of his sons -- and, on his most recent visit, by grandchildren.

Fiercely independent -- he had lived alone since his wife died several years ago -- he nevertheless held his family as the most important constant in his life. He loved having them join him for Saturday evening dinners at the big new house he had built high up in the park's interior.

He took a keen interest in the many and varied activities of his three sons and their wives and also followed the fortunes of his nine grandchildren -- who live on three continents -- with pride and a great deal of satisfaction.

The humble man who spawned one of Indonesia's most famous tourist attractions and the world's most important guardian of Indonesian wildlife, would not have foreseen the depth of sadness at his passing. But as Sunday progressed at Taman Safari Indonesia, it was obvious that -- while the staff were following the old circus adage "the show must go on" -- for Pak Hadi's family and the many employees, the show has lost more than a little of its sparkle and glitter, the music just a dash of its joy.

But the crowds continued to pour in through the gates, unaware of the loss suffered by those at Taman Safari Indonesia. They came to enjoy, to wonder, to learn, to create joyful memories: Perhaps the most fitting tribute of all to a grand old man.