Friday, December 02, 2005


We have seen in the past weeks how the polar bears are unable to reach their hunting grounds with the freeze being unseasonably late. It appears that the fate of the orangutan and polar bear – despite their vastly different existences – might run in parallel. Loss of orangutan habitat is driving the loss of polar ice. In a year of terrible floods we can recognize the human risk implied by global warming.

Over the next two weeks Montreal hosts the United Nations climate conference. One key issue that will be discussed is whether the Kyoto protocol should be revised to afford incentives for the protection of existing forest. Currently Kyoto only makes provisions for reforestation and aforestation. Whilst fossil fuels are seen as the driving force in Global Climate Change and the principle source of Greenhouse Gas emissions, there is another vast carbon source on the verge of being released into the atmosphere, with none of the benefits of fossil fuel combustion. 30% of terrestrial carbon reserves are locked up in peatlands. Indonesia holds 50% of the earth's peatswamp forest.

This means Indonesia's peat swamps are of global importance.These forests not only hold thick peat up to 20 metres in depth, but are one of the last refuges for the endangered Bornean orangutan, with only 50,000 individuals remaining, and critically endangered Sumatran orangutan with only 7,300 individuals left. Sumatran tigers, rhinos, and elephants are also at risk.

Destruction of lowland forest for conversion to oil palm plantations has been so rapid that developers are now turning their attention to peat swamp forests.These are an important component of the ecosystem dueto their function in absorbing excess water during thewet season, and releasing this stored water during the dry season, reducing the likelihood of floods and forest fires respectively. It is notoriously difficult to cultivate oil palms on peatland greater than 1 metre thick, and the costs of establishing a plantation on this soil type tend to be 40 per cent higher than on dry land. Although this land is not suitable for oil palm cultivation, it still holds valuable hardwood timber. The companies seek legal permits for plantation development in order to benefit from quick profit through unsustainable forest clearance. Past evidence shows that palm oil may not be developed after clearances – because of fire risk and unsuitable land. The peat is too soft to use heavy machinery to extract logs – one of the reasons that the land is unsuitablefor palm oil development – so logging canals are duginto the peat to extract the logs. The logging canals drain the peat domes and what is left is a tinder-box time-bomb of carbon-rich bio-matter.

The vast quantities of CO2 released in the 1997-98 forest fires in Indonesia will be dwarfed if palm oil moves into these vast expanses of peat. But that is what is set to happen. Proposals are being approvedright now. Indonesia is struggling to improve its economy and investment in palm oil is attractive, but the industry is not sustainable under current patternsof expansion. Millions of hectares of degraded and cleared land stand unused as more forest is cleared for quick timber profit.

NGOs are putting pressure on the palm oil industry to recognize the short-term perspective being employed. Last week in Singapore the palm oil industry's self-regulation initiative – the Roundtable forSustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) - approved a set of principles and criteria for the sustainable production of palm oil. This is a positive first step, but NGOs are concerned that the 2 year process of development before implementation of these guidelines might not be quick enough to save the peat swamps and their diverse inhabitants. The clock is ticking on the CO2 time-bomb…


Cockroach Productions has broadcast quality motion footage and high impact still photographs illustrating the palm oil story, the little known world of peat swamp forests and the plight of the orangutans. We arealso available for interview, having recently returned from several months on the ground in Indonesia following the story. ___________________________

Contact: Nick Lyon or Evie Wright @ CockroachProductions
Tel: 01823 451 790Mobile: 07816 755 128
For more images relating to the story see:


Monday, November 28, 2005

Another Crude Oil - Taster Poster

All images copyright Cockroach Productions 2005
For further info please contact Nick or Evie @

tel: 01823 451 790

Montreal addresses Global Climate Change

Today marks the first day of the United Nations climate conference in Montreal. Whilst the agenda will address how the goals of Kyoto will be met within the first period (expiring in 2012) we are more interested in what they will be discussing for the longer term. At present Kyoto makes no economic provisions for preservation of existing forest, rather it rewards reforesting (replanting of natural forest) and aforestry (growing plantations on land that is no longer forested). Whilst this was set up to develop a proactive solution to CO2 emissions, time is telling us that huge tracts of valuable forest are being lost because of their exclusion from Kyoto.

Valuable timber is the real reason much of the peat swamps are being cleared. The land is not suitable for oil palm development

Is reforestation more important that forest protection?

Our hopes for Montreal are that issues of forest preservation will be addressed and factored into the second period. One might hope that emergency protocol could be called into effect, because by 2012 we may well have lost much of the natural forest cover we are striving to protect – but this seems unlikely. It is important to note that preservation of forest goes above and beyond the importance of protection of traditional lifestyles and preservation of species. We at Cockroach are working hard to champion the causes of forest peoples who appear not to be in control of their futures as palm oil moves into their traditional lands. We have recognized the desperate plight of such charismatic and endangered species such as the orangutan, the Sumatran tiger, the jungle elephants, the
gibbons and siamang… the list goes on. But perhaps there is a reason closer to home that might end up being what saves Indonesia’s natural forests…

Bulldozers 'should' be used to clear vegetation for plantations on dry land, clearance by fire is illegal. On peat the ground is too soft and tha machines would sink. This means that fire is often used, and this is a CO2 disaster as the fire penetrates peat that runs 20 metres thick in some places. Burning for plantation clearance is illegal, but happens time after time, even in dry forest, because it is cheaper than using machines.

Peat Swamp, and what it should mean to us.

Whilst forest people and exotic species might captivate the interest of the public, there is a geographical remoteness that might let them fall from consciousness when overrun with the priorities of our busy lives. There is another factor closer to home that we should be recognizing. Animals and people might be losing their homes on the other side of the world, but we are suffering directly as a result. The case for global climate change grows stronger with each passing year. General scientific consensus supports the claims that the planet is warming, and the risks associated with this are well known. Indonesia is a special case. Not only does it harbour magnificent rainforests that we rely on for oxygen production, but it holds huge reserves of carbon, locked up in biological matter called peat. 30% of terrestrial carbon is locked up in peat, and Indonesia holds 50% of the worlds peat swamp. These areas are now under threat. Palm oil is THE major threat. Concessions of forest for conversion to oil palm plantation are logged out. The peat dries without its protective forest cover, compounded by logging canals draining the peat. With these peat swamps facing conversion we need to raise the question – shouldn’t Kyoto have made provisions to protect this carbon dioxide timebomb? We can only hope that Montreal will address this issue.

We witnessed thousands of trees being floated down the rivers of Borneo. These beautiful waterways are now like a funeral procession. It is heartbreaking to see. Very little primary forest borders any of these rivers anymore. Access is key.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A future for sustainable palm oil? A future for orangutans?

Good news from the 3rd meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil that has convened over the last few days in Singapore. There was overwhelming support for the Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil and as such the criteria have been agreed upon and industry has taken a vital step forward in stemming destruction of orangutan habitat.
The Roundtable was founded through a partnership between WWF and Unilever in the first instance. Numerous members have now signed up from different sectors of the industry. We are still pushing for British retailers to sign up to the RSPO, but the signs are that the tide is changing and UK corporations are beginning to see the value in pursuing a more responsible route for palm oil procurement.
Here at Cockroach Productions we continue to work to raise awareness of the palm oil situation in SE Asia, and have broadcast quality footage that is available for news broadcasts, current affairs programs and industry awareness programs. Read below to find out more.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

For Dutch Supporters

For those of you who haven't seen the Dutch news item - it is available for online viewing at the Twee Vandaag website

For those of you who saw the news piece on Twee Vandaag in Holland please follow this link to find out how you can help to save the orangutans who are currently losing their habitat to oil palm plantations. BOS Netherlands
"Leefgebied orang oetan verdwijnt snel
"Het eten van chips en koekjes draagt bij aan het uitsterven van de orang utan: de palmolie die hierin wordt verwerkt komt veelal van het Indonesische Borneo. En om de productie van die olie op peil te houden, worden miljoenen hectares tropisch regenwoud gekapt."
To learn more about what we filmed, read below.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Make yourself heard. Speak up for the orangutans.

Call to Action!

Please write to any and all of these addresses, requesting that the management immediately addresses the palm oil crisis and the destruction of prime habitat for orangutans. 25,000,000 hectares of already deforested land stands empty whilst areas of forest that we filmed for the documentary are being destroyed right now for palm oil plantations.

This land was rainforest last year. Borneo 2005

Palm oil needs to be labelled on all products that contain it, and palm oil must be sourced responsibly. We as consumers should not be in a position of contributing to needless destruction each time we shop. It is the clear responsibility of the supermarkets to pressure the industry and find palm oil from non-destructive sources.
In the letter below please
- type your name and return address
- copy and paste the supermarket addresses provided
- print the document out
- sign it
- post it off today


Letter writing campaigns have proven to be very effective in the past and we believe this will make a bigger impact than yet another circular email ever would. For the cost of an envelope and a stamp, and a few minutes of your time, you are playing a vital role in preventing the eradication of yet another species.

You can send a letter to one supermarket or to both of them - it's up to you - but the more companies you write to the greater the impact and the more chance we have to save the Orangutans! We would like to point out that since starting this campaign ASDA, Waitrose and Sainsburys have all signed up to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil which is brilliant. We just need Tesco and Morrisons to follow this good example.

One final request (optional but very helpful). Please can you send an email addressed to Nick or Evie at letting us know which supermarkets you have sent letters to. This will allow us to track how many letters each of the supermarkets receive and help us bring pressure to bear on them.

Sir Terry Leahy
Chief executive
Tesco House
Delamare Road
Hertfordshire EN8 9SL

Sir Kenneth D Morrison CBE
Executive Chairman
Wm Morrison Supermarkets
Plc.Thornton Road
Bradford BD8 9AX

The Letter

Your Address

22nd October 2005

The Supermarket Address

Dear Sir or Madam,

It has recently come to my attention that, as a direct consequence of my actions as a consumer, the Orangutan is in imminent danger of becoming extinct. As a regular customer of yours I would like you to help me make informed purchase decisions and help prevent this wonderful species going into terminal decline.

Palm oil is used in 1 in 10 of all consumables sold in British supermarkets (though it is often labelled as vegetable oil). Two of the main areas where it is produced are Borneo and Sumatra – the only two islands where orangutans still exist in the wild. Rainforests are being converted to oil palm plantations at an alarming rate, despite the existence of over 25 million hectares of previously-cleared land In Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) alone. The rainforest targeted for new plantations is the last remaining habitat of species such as the Orangutan which, at the current rate of population decline, are likely to be extinct by the end of this decade. Not only is the Orangutan threatened by loss of habitat, but palm oil plantation workers are also deliberately killing animals when they enter plantations, as they are perceived to be a threat to their crops.

Many hardwood products carry labels that show that they have not been sourced from fragile rainforest. In a similar way, I would like your company to clearly label products containing palm oil sourced from plantations that have not involved forest conversion, and withdraw palm oil based products that you cannot guarantee have come from sustainable sources. I have written to all the major British supermarkets and think that it would be very good PR for you to be the first to take a strong moral stance on this issue.

I do not believe that your company is aware of the role that it is playing in forcing the Orangutan to the brink of extinction (this issue has only recently come to light) but for further background information please see:

Also please see below some shocking facts that I hope will encourage you to take immediate action.

I look forward to receiving information on your company’s policy regarding palm oil. If a policy does not already exist, please tell me what steps you will be taking to ensure that I can shop in your store safe in the knowledge that I am not contributing to wiping out yet another species.

With thanks in advance,

Your Name

Killer facts:

According to the Indonesian Forestry Department the Orangutan population in 1990 was 200,000. In the year 2000 there were only 50,000 Orangutans left. Their demise is directly attributable to the encroachment of the palm oil plantations on their habitat.

The Bornean Orangutan Survival Foundation estimates that if palm oil concessions continue to replace forest at the current rate then within 3 years a viable future for the orangutan in the wild will be impossible. This means that by 2008, if action is not urgently taken, then Orangutans will have reached the point of no return.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Little Bigfoot on the run!

Here is a real example of a fish out of water - a siamang forced to come down to the ground to cross a forest clearance to reach better forest patches with fresh leaves and fruiting trees. The siamang is a stunning gibbon found in Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. Sadly it is endangered and becomming more so as palm oil reduces its natural habitat. Traditional beliefs in central Sumatra prevent people from hunting the siamang. Without their haunting dawn chorus the Rimba people don't believe the sun will rise. Well we will be facing dark days indeed if palm oil expansion and forest conversion continues at its current rate.

This picture is a composite of 13 frames from our film: "Another Crude Oil", documenting the rise and rise of the palm oil industry, and the fall of the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. Whilst filmming we heard numerous stories of how palm oil developers were purposefully encircling small patches of forest, cutting them off from the larger stretches and then working their way inwards until animals would make a dash for it. Hunters would be waiting. Not local subsistence hunters, but sport hunters, police and army officials. This is organised hunting of protected species.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Make Way Jungle - We Want Oil !!!

On Location: Central Kalimantan, Borneo, July 2005

The New Forest of Indonesia - Oil Palm, Kalimantan 2005

This is the nursery for a new oil palm plantation. In the distance you can see the forest still standing. This nursery is smack in the middle of 30,000 hectares of primary forest that has been given as a concession to a PT Oil Palm group for conversion into an Oil Palm plantation.

This means that by the end of the year this land will have been logged of all its valuable hard wood trees. The land will then be totally clear cut, and the topsoil turned over. Not a tree will be left standing. The whole landscape will be empty. Then the palm oil will be planted.

This photo is tragic, not sweet. These orangutans should be with their mothers, but their mothers are dead. They are now cared for and in the process of rehabilitation through the dedicated work of BOSF. We are concerned however that there will be nowhere to release them if things don't change now.

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation rescue orangutans from the plantations in this area. They estimate that around 600 orangutans inhabit this area, earmarked for imminent conversion. The fragments of natural forest left are saturated - i.e. they have reached their carrying capacity for orangutans. Orangutans need large home ranges for their survival. Many of the animals living in this area will undoubtably die. Many more are likely to enter a life of misery in the illegal pet trade.

Driving through the rough jungle track on the back of a tractor we are surrounded by the doomed forest. I smell the sickly sweet smell of fermenting fruit. I look over to Melky from the rescue team: he nods - it is the smell of orangutan. It is right there in the trees nearby, or had been very recently. A rusa deer crosses our path and maroon leaf monkeys move in the trees. All this is about to be lost.

Eko, BOSF paramedic, logs a future rescue location

The situation is incredibly sad. Eko, a BOSF paramedic logs the position of the camp in his GPS system. He knows he will be returning in the months to come to rescue orangutans. But where will they go? Habitat is dissappearing too fast now. We are told at the rescue centre that they are reaching maximum capacity - too many orangutans are coming in. Their forest home needs to be protected right now.

The situation is simply crazy. It is not that land is at a premium for development. There are vast areas of land standing empty in Kalimantan. Huge expanses of grasslands that were once forest. No crops have been planted here, but still, the little primary forest left standing is at risk of conversion to oil palm. The simple reason for this is the value of the hardwoods these forests contain. It is a one time windfall, it is not sustainable, and it is a tragedy. Orangutans are not the only animals to suffer. We have chosen just one species as an example, a flagship, one of our closest cousins, and one with an uncertain future.

Things are not hopeless, but we need to make things change. Help us get this message heard.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Oil for Ape Scandal - New Ape Alliance/FoE publication

"Palm-oil production is linked to species extinction, human rights abuse and worker exploitation. But there is not a single British supermarket that can guarantee that its products aren't fuelling the destruction. Most haven't even worked out where the palm oil in their products comes from."

Friends of the Earth's Executive Director (UK), Tony Juniper

"Governments in countries providing finance or a market for palm oil must legislate to make their corporations responsible and accountable for their impacts. If not, it is we who will have to explain to our children in a few years' time that the orang-utan became extinct, not because of a lack of knowledge, but because of corporate greed and a lack of political will."

Ian Redmond, Ape Alliance's Chairman and Chief Consultant to GRASP (UNEP/UNESCO Great Ape Survival Project)

"The orang-utan is endangered because of habitat loss. Today the greatest threat to orang-utan habitat is the continued expansion of oil-palm plantations. Palm oil is the greatest enemy of [the] orang-utan and their continued survival in the wild."

Professor Birute Galdikas, Orangutan Foundation International

Quotes taken from Helen Buckland's (BOS-UK) new report for Friends of the Earth:
The Oil for Ape Scandal, how palm oil is threatening the orang-utan

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Working in Sumatra - huge thanks to the STCP

We spent a fortnight working together with the Sumatran Tiger Conservation Program. Having travelled up from Jakarta through West Java and via ferry to southern Sumatra, we then embarked on an uncomfortable but enjoyable journey - crammed like sardines amongst all our kit - that took us half way up the bumpy roads of Sumatra, interviewing people and filming wildlife and palm oil along the way. Finally we arrived in the beautiful natural forests that the Tiger Protection Units patrol. With the help of STCP we filmed elephants, gibbons, hornbills and a beautiful variety of Sumatran wildlife. This incredible biodiversity demonstrates all that is in jeopardy through the growth of palm oil - the mono-crop main character of the film - that is replacing these natural forests at a rapid rate throughout Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Evie filming confiscated skins, bones and teeth at STCP Field Station

We also spent valuable time on the oil-palm plantations whilst working in Sumatra. They're everywhere you look and hard to avoid. Even many private gardens house a mini nursery of palm oil saplings to sell. Wildlife conflict was in evidence wherever we went. Simpai (leaf monkeys) in stranded tree stands deep within oil palm plantations, elephant damage in the plantations where they had been driven out of their forests by the illegal loggers (able to penetrate the valuable timber forests), unusual pets found in the plantation tethered up round every corner.

Nick with field coordinator Pak Yunus (left) and some members of the TPUs

We would like to thank Pak Waldemar, Pak Daniel, Pak Yunus and Pak Neil, along with all the dedicated members of the Sumatran Tiger Conservation Program and their Tiger Protection Units for their immense help and good humour whilst we were shooting with them in Sumatra. Thanks to their shared enthusiasm for the project we managed to shoot a huge amount of great material that will be invaluable in telling the palm oil story. Please visit the site of the Sumatran Tiger Conservation Program - the work they are doing is incredibly important, and they are tirelessly committed in their efforts to protect the critically endangered Sumatran Tiger. They deserve our support.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

First Images from the Film: Another Crude Oil

We're back in England now, and are reviewing our footage and working quickly to get the documentary together. Here are some of the first images we have reviewed since our return. Still frames from "Another Crude Oil":

Film Frame from "Another Crude Oil" copyright Cockroach Productions 2005

Above: A female orangutan in shock. Here her head is cradled by a BOSF paramedic as the team work to stitch up her knife wound from an attack on the oil palm plantation.

Film Frame from "Another Crude Oil" copyright Cockroach Productions 2005

Above: Eko, a BOSF paramedic, draws blood for routine tests for Hepatitis A, B, C; Herpes Simplex 1 & 2, HIV and Tuberculosis.

Film Frame from "Another Crude Oil" copyright Cockroach Productions 2005

Above: Eko works to close a wound on the female orangutan's hand.

Post-production for the film is now underway. We are entering our second round of fundraising and sponsorship negotiations. Please contact us if you would like to become a part of this effort by supporting our film, and making these images of suffering a thing of the past.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Meet the characters: Chanee - Radio Kalaweit

On Location: Radio Kalaweit, Central Kalimantan, Borneo
July 2005

"Thousands of orangutans, gibbons and other animals are now exterminated by bulldozers to create enormous palm oil concessions. Every day, our radio station (Kalaweit FM) broadcasts messages to sensitise people about the oil palm issue in Indonesia" Chanee, Radio Kalaweit.

Nurpradawati, Chanee and their son, Andrew outside Radio Kalaweit

One of the characters you will meet in the documentary is Chanee. Originally from France, Chanee now lives and works in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan,where he and his wife, Nurpradawati, founded the radio station 99.1 Kalaweit FM. Radio Kalaweit mixes popular and mainstream Indonesian music with an environmentally-friendly and educational focus - regularly broadcasting messages informing the listeners about the negative impacts of the illegal animal trade and the detrimental impacts of capturing wild animals to keep as pets, as well as providing advice on what to do if you do come across an illegally captured animal. The station has massive popular appeal - particularly with the young of Kalimantan - and the number of listeners continues to grow. Chanee is now planning the to extend the geographical range of the station's broadcast capabilities across Kalimantan. Chanee's idea to establish Radio Kalaweit stemmed from his long term involvement in, and committment to, saving the gibbon. Chanee started out working in zoos in France, until, becoming disillusioned with idea of keeping animals in captivity, he travelled to Thailand in order to help with gibbon conservation in the wild (it was here that he got his name - "Chanee" means "gibbon" in Thai). Following the huge forest fires that destroyed vast quantities of forest in Kalimantan and kept much of South East Asia under a blanket of thick smog for months in 1997, Chanee successfully gained permission from the Indonesian government to establish a gibbon sanctuary in central Kalimantan. His gibbon island, near to Palangkaraya, has provided a sanctuary for gibbons confiscated from those keeping them illegally as pets ever since.

A victim of the illegal trade in gibbons

With financial support from the Arcus Foundation, Chanee then established Radio Kalaweit (kalaweit meaning gibbon in Dayak) having perceived the importance of education amongst ordinary Indonesian people in the struggle to protect the gibbon from extinction. The station now has so many committed listeners that Chanee often receives animals from owners who have felt pressurised into giving them up by the sheer weight of disapproval from their friends, neighbours, and relatives. Through providing listeners with information, encouragement, and advice, Radio Kalaweit is taking very positive steps in developing a public awareness of, and aspiration towards, wildlife and forest conservation in Kalimantan.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Return from Kalimantan, Next Destination: Sumatra

Earlier this week we finished shooting in Central Kalimantan, following a successful field trip to Danau Sembuluh and Tanjung Puting National Park. We spent two days filming interviews and talking to people in the villages surrounding Lake Sembuluh, where everyone has a story, either about hardship caused by the encroachment of palm oil plantations, or about encountering wild animals such as orangutan, sun bear, and mouse deer who no longer have enough forest left to avoid encounters with local human populations. On the eastern borders of Tanjung Puting National Park a plantation-built track (running 6.4km into the park) has been made for the express purpose of facilitating illegal logging. The more degraded the national park land becomes through illegal logging, the easier it is for the palm oil companies to win concessions for the forest - why protect forest which has already been destroyed? You can hear the chainsaws working.

Tomorrow we leave for Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Sumatra, where we plan to film the work of the Sumatran Tiger Conservation Program. Sumatra has a longer history with palm oil, some of the estates being over 100 years old. Still the expansion of oil palm and also the pulp and paper industries is putting serious pressure on natural forest. The World Bank estimated that all un-potected lowland forest would dissappear from Sumatra by the end of 2005. Let's hope this is not going to be true. There are certainly some very dedicated people working in the STCP who are working on expanding park boundaries and with it protected lowland areas. These areas are home to the Sumatran Orangutan (with only 7000 left in the wild) and the Sumatran Tiger (with only 500 left in the wild!). There are numerous other endangered species in these forest and we hope to capture footage of some of these over the next few weeks.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Working with Orangutans

Orangutans are not all sweet and nice. Most of the babies are... the problem is that when you're filming and there are forty babies around you - the nice ones will be contemplating deep thoughts by themselves, or playing with each other, or lazing in a swing, or snoring flat out on their backs. The one in ten that aren't so chilled out will wait till your back is turned and come and bite you on the bum, or the ankle, or the knee or your big toe. It bloody hurts. When one of them grabs hold of your clothes you can expect a 10 minute tug of war before you're free. Of course this kind of behaviour is reserved for visitors - the orangs are fully aware they can't get away with this with their babysitters.

Evie, the director, getting to know one of the characters.
photograph courtesy of Sean White

If you are lucky enough to be approached by one of the more friendly babies then you have a very different experience., and nothnig beats it. As time goes by you recogise the individuals that are out to get you and learn to run when you see them coming. I'm sure we looked ridiculous as we threw our cameras and tripod over the shoulder and ran for it when a small ball of orange hair trundled towards us, but they have sharp teeth, and they'll climb you like you're a tree. The DVD extras for the documentary may well come packed with wobbly shots as the camera is hoisted up quickly in the face of a charging minature ape, or wrestled from the grip of an overinterested baby.

Nick, the producer, getting to know one of the characters.
photograph courtesy of Sean White

Photographing orangutans is fun because they love looking into the lens. Its not like normal wildlife photography. You are working with a self-consious subject who shows a huge amount of interest in what you are doing. Sometimes there's a bit too much interest and the orangutans volunteer themselves as camera assistants. We had help with focus pulling, panning and in the grip department. Unsurprisingly the results weren't great, but at least nothing was broken.

Trying to cope with increasing involement in the filming process.
photograph courtesy of Sean White

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Danau Sembuluh and Tanjung Puting

We're now about half way through our time filming here in Kalimantan and things are progressing very well. Tomorrow we are filming interviews with the local people living in the villages surrounding Danau Sembuluh. We've been fortunate enough to find contacts in WWF and Wahli here in Palangkaraya who know the local dialect and will beable to act as both translators and interviewers. A lot of new concessions for plantations in the area are currently being processed, and the villagers will in all probability lose all their land rights and so too their current means of subsistence. Of course, the destructive effect of the spread of palm oil on the local population is no less devastating than its effect on the environment, and this will be a primary focus in the film.

We are then visiting the Tanjung Puting National Park. This was for many years the only area granted national park status in Central Kalimantan, and was made famous through the work of Birute Galdikas, one of the original three "big name" female primatologists who worked under the tutelage of Louis Leakey, together with Dian Fossey and Jane Goodhall. Sadly, the borders of Tanjung Puting, which houses not only orangutan but also large populations of proboscis monkeys, slow lorises, sun bears, leaf monkeys, tarsiers, hornbills and more are now being lost to the incursion of the palm oil plantations. Through a legal loophole, three different palm oil conglomerates have recently been granted concessions for plantations which intrude a mile into the Eastern border of the national park land itself. Tanjung Puting is world famous due to the diversity and rarity of the species which inhabit it. We plan to film some of the logging sites which are already destroying large areas of this precious habitat.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Notes from the field

Friday 8th July 2005
Orangutan Film Protection Project
On location: Nyaru Menteng, Central Kalimantan

I wake at 06:00am. My sarong is wrapped around me, it got cool through the night. This won’t last long, the sun is rising and the humidity is high. Evie hasn’t slept so I leave her in bed whilst I walk back to the centre to check in with last night’s arrivals. They are still in their crates, but the larger male is due to be looked at first. I wander around near the gate shooting some footage of fruit being prepared for the orangutans. The sickly sweet smell of jackfruit hangs heavy in theair. There is a light drizzle and I struggle with the umbrella and camera.
Just as the team unload the crate from the pickup Evie arrives. She managed to get an hour’s sleep – it will have to do – she needs to film the setting of the leg. We both know I might pass out. Indra is trying to get an angle with the blowpipe. It’s harder than one might think – it’s dark in the crate and there are limbs in the way. Jhon tries to illuminate the scene with a torch. The shot’s in but not all the sedative injected. Eko lifts the crate door and an arm grabs for something, so they quickly and carefully lower the door to pin the arm down. The rest of the sedative is administered. Eko looks to me and says he’ll call this one Nick, is it ok? Sure, I’d love to have an orangutan named after me. There’s no more movement from the crate. Jhon shakes the crate gently to see if there is any reaction. There is not.
With the crate door up they pull it backwards to reveal the orangutan. On closer inspection Eko informs me that “Nick” is a female of 11-12 years...
There is a large medical kit on the floor: stethoscope, suture kit, syringes, antiseptic, bandages and viles of medicine. I film cut away shots and zoom to get a closeup of the needle as Eko clears the air bubbles. A drop glistens in the sun as it makes its way down the needle. Indri is holding the patient’s head. She is treated with gentle tenderness. There is a deep gash on one of her fingers. I can see the white of the bone amid the semi-congealed blood. I ask Eko whay happened.
Eko: She’s from the sawit (palm oil plantation). The workers attacked her with...I don’t know in English.
Nick: Dalam Bahasa Indonesia
Eko: Dengan parang
Nick: a knife...

Evie and I knew these sorts of encounters between the orangutans and plantation workers were common, but we didn’t expect to witness the results as soon as we arrived. I’m filming as Eko disinfects the wound, but when he brings out the needle and thread Evie instinctively take the camera from me. I try not to look too much, Evie say it is gross. We shoot close ups of the patient’s face throughout the check-up procedure. She is not unconscious, just immobilised. She watches Evie and I. We are standing a little way back to give the team room to work. She looks to be in absolute shock. 12 years in the jungle, learning her territory, fruiting times for different trees, medicinal properties of different plants. Everything has changed now. Palm oil has replaced her home and she has suffered an encounter with scared men with knives. Now she will be put in a cage...I’m not sure when or where she will be released. Suitable territory is disappearing at an alarming rate. Her lip is trembling. I don’t know if this is due to the sedative or the shock. It leaves me deeply disturbed.
Neither Evie nor I have seen footage like this before. Maybe television won’t buy it, but it needs to be seen. People need to know what is happening here.
Lone says that last week a plantation called up to say that they had caught an orangutan – BOS try to stop them from doing this – without a tranquiliser dart the only way this can be done is by beating the orangutan. The team arrived to find the orangutan tied down so tightly the hands were almost severed – it died shortly after. If they’d called the centre and not attempted to catch it this orangutan would still be alive.
We film the leg setting in the afternoon. Although it’s a more traumatic operation the young male doesn’t seem as affected by it as the ordeal of the older female. The broken leg was an accident. The cut was a result of an attack. For a young orangutan there are constantly new experiences and encounters – every day is a learning experience. He will, no doubt, be scared – but perhaps this is not so disturbing as the situation of an older more experienced orangutan finding itself in traumatic circumstances.
The power cuts out again tonight. We eat in the dark cavernous house. The candlelight illuminates numerous rats, and a couple of bats circle around the eaves. The reassuring sound of geckos tells us that at least something is eating the mosquitoes that are eating us. In my sleep I dream of six-foot tall rats.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Notes from the Field

Thursday 7th July 2005
The Orangutan Film Protection Project
On Location: Nyaru Menteng, Central Kalimantan

First day at Nyaru Menteng and a rescue team returns. The sun has already set and the flash of headlights announces the car at the gate. We’d been walking back towards Aula to have dinner and settle for the evening. With the rescue back we run into the office to grab the camera, rig the mic and pick up a spare tape and battery. There’s very little light. The stars are out, but we have a narrow window to see them through the surrounding trees. It’s good to be out of Jakarta with its orange sky at night. We film by torchlight. There are two crates in the back of the pickup. The yellow glow of torches reflects of the ventilated aluminium sides, preventing us from clearly seeing the occupants. The captives are quiet, perhaps in shock. They will have been tranquilised before they were moved into crates – wild orangutans are strong and independant-minded.

We’re told that the young male has suffered a broken leg. The team splinted his leg in the field, before moving him; but Lone feels his foot and it is cold. She is worried that the bandages might be too tight. Lone talks with Eko and they decide to resplint the leg before morning. The team lift the crate off the pickup and put it in fornt of the car’s headlights. The power cut out a few hours earlier so the car is the best availabel source of light.

I’m squatting on the ground between the headlights. There’s enough light to film here and I’m not getting in the way. The slight exertion starts me sweating, again. Eko administers more sedative to immobilise the young male. Lone comments that he’s more placid than most orangutans of this age when first caught, even so, he needs to be still for Eko to work on his leg. The break is in a tricky position – his right femur just above the knee joint. It would have been easier to immobilise the bone if the break was in the middle. Tonight’s splinting is only a temporary measure. Tomorrow Eko will set the bone straight and put it in a cast.

I’m getting tired – we only flew in this morning and were up late last night packing and sending vital emails from Jakarta. Evie takes the camera and continues to shoot. Evie and I are both exhausted, but the natural adrenaline release brought on by witnessing this event keeps us going. Once the leg has been resplinted Eko gives the orangutan another injection to rouse it from it’s sedation. The team moves quickly to get the orangutan back into its crate, the drug is fast acting and he begins to stir immediatley. Lone covers him with blankets and puts some hoter water bottles in the crate – he’s still cold. The team will work on his leg again tomorrow, when it’s light. The larger male’s wounds are not so serious – he will stay in his crate until morning. The cages at the centre are full, there are too many orangutans coming in. Lone will have to find room in the morning.

We finally head back to Aula. From the track there are a network of wooden walkways traversing the peat swamp. Our house sits on stilts above the swamp. We’re locked out. Luckily Lone is with us. She is small so we manage to help her through a small, high window. We’re grateful we don’t have to spend the night on the stoop. Inside the barn-like pondok there are high vaulted ceilings. The cooler evening air hasn’t yet cleared the day’s heat. The third room we try has a fan that works. I set to stringing our mosquito nets in a way that we can walk around the room without clothes-lining ourselves. Evie fills up our wooden shelves with dried and tinned food that we brought from town. We’ve misplaced our water bottle. Evie brushes her teeth with apple juice, I just go to bed. The fan struggles to send it’s breeze my way, my mosquito net absorbs what little reaches me. I fall asleep at once. Evie is kept awake by the rats in our room throughout the night.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Thanks to BOSF and the Pusat Primata Schmutzer

Photograph BOSF Communications and the Team(L-R): Nick, Willy, Yudhi, Lili, Sally and Evie.

We would like to extend our gratitude to the BOS Foundation Communications team based at the Pusat Primata Schmutzer in Jakarta - for their support in the last few weeks. With the help of this team we have now acquired all the neccessary permits for filming in Kalimantan, and are due to leave this Thursday. We are also very grateful for the invaluable advice and enthusiasm of Pak Made, Colin & Hannah.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Pusat Primata Schmutzer, Ragunan Zoo, Jakarta

The Ragunan Schmutzer Primate Centre was donated to Jakarta by the late Mrs. Puck Schmutzer and the Gibbon Foundation. It was opened in 2002, and now houses 22 species of primate, including orangutan, gorillas, chimpanzee, and several species of gibbon. School groups visit the centre and are taught about the importance of primate protection and habitat conservation by volunteers, most of whom are students and recent graduates. Today we spent the morning filming a group visit from the Al-Akhyar school in Jakarta, shown in the photo. The existence of this educational facility provides some hope for the orangutans of Kalimantan and Sumatra. Thanks to Kus and Siska from the primate centre for their help and enthusiasm today.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Going Undercover

Today was a successful but emotionally draining day, spent documenting a show which featured orangutans. The show had the orangutans in clothes, riding bikes, playing doctors and nurses, dancing… exploitation of an endangered species.

As the oil palm plantations stretch further and further into the Kalimantan forests, the habitat of the orangutan diminishes, meaning that they are much more vulnerable to the illegal trade which may result in them spending a life such as that led by the orangutans we met today – kept in tiny cages, the only ‘relief’ being to perform a show several times a day to amuse the paying public audience.

How to make a Donation

We've had a couple of enquiries about how to donate to the project, so we hope this will help. For people in the UK you can write a cheque payable to Cockroach Productions and send it to:

Cockroach Productions,
The Old Tannery,

For supporters outside the United Kingdom, we ask that you email us at:

and then we can advise you how to transfer funds. Please note that posting messages directly onto the blog does not give us your reply email address, so if you wish to contact us please email the address above.
The Team has just returned to the UK (September 2005), and we are now getting stuck in to the editing process. We still need help. We have stunning and powerful images that tell the story of palm oil and the social and environmental disaster that is surrounding it - we need your help to get this message out. Please help.

Thank you for your generous support, and best wishes from the OFPP team.

Friday, July 01, 2005

On Location - Pusat Primata Schmutzer, Java, Indonesia

Today we started shooting the first Indonesian footage for the film: a good start to the new month. We are now staying at the Pusat Primata Schmutzer (Schmutzer Primate Centre) where we are building up footage of the education programmes that teach Indonesian children about the concepts of conservation and the variety of primate species in Indonesia, and the threat that many of these species are facing with logging and plantation concessions and illegal activities. Through this we are hoping to illustrate the efforts being made locally to protect the future of the forests and their inhabitants.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Help make a difference to this site!

We are just about to start filming, and we will be writing up what we are doing and the stories along the way. This board will therefore be getting a bit more exciting and we'd like to be able to post up some photos from the field. We are therefore looking for someone to help us get a digital stills camera so we can make this page a bit more interesting to look at. The images we shoot can then be used by our sponsor for their own publicity purposes too.

If you're interested in helping us with this then please contact:

Help get some images up on the page and we'll get your name up on the page! This is a not-for-profit venture, and the project has been made possible through the support of many people and lot of time and effort. All the photos on this page have been taken when we've managed to borrow a digital camera, but this is not always possible and not always high quality. We need your help...

Thanks to SONY

We would like to thank Sheila O'Brian from SONY. Its always hard to get the interest of big companies in particular projects, so when we find someone who makes the effort to help us we really appreciate it. A big company does well to have a such individuals.

Thanks to Australian Airlines

I'd like to say a big thanks to Catherine Wake and Casey Avard at Australian Airlines for sorting out getting out film equipment into Indonesia at the last minute. Its help like this that has made the project possible and we would have been stuck without you.

Thanks to John Barry

Thanks to Vince Clark at John Barry for helping us complete our kitlist. We now have a our boom and headphones and will start working on the sound library soon.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Progress Report

Quick Update: The Indonesian Embassy has given us the all clear for the film project and we are getting our journalist visas. We will be leaving Sydney for Indonesia on Wednesday 22nd June, and commencing shooting soon after.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Thanks to MAXELL

The OFPP would like to say a big thank you to Mohan and Alfian, our new friends at MAXELL Singapore for helping us by providing the miniDV tapes on which we will be shooting the project. This is a great help to us, and will give us a reliable medium for capturing our precious images.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Male Orangutan - The Thinker

the thinker
Originally uploaded by Nick Lyon.

North Sumatra, Indonesia 2001

Friday, May 27, 2005

Progress Report

We are currently in Sydney, whilst our journalist visa applications are processed in Jakarta. Evie and I are currently working on sponsorship deals here in Sydney and more globally as more and more people get behind us in support of the Orangutan Film Protection Project. We currently aim to return to Indonesia to commence principle photography in 3 weeks.

If you are interested in helping support the project please contact us.

Thanks to KATA

Cockroach Productions would like to thank Bellina and the team at KATA , in Israel, for getting behind our new production company and providing us with a backpack and raincover for our camera. The Orangutan Film Protection Project will take us into jungle where conditions are tough. We had a bag for our camera which we felt was not up to the job so we approached KATA based on the ergonomics of their design and the protection afforded by their equipment. The raincover will prove invaluable with the shooting conditions we will find ourselves in. Even when its not raining a monkey can move in the tree above you and send down a very expensive shower of water if it gets into the digital equipment. Our camera, therefore, will be protected from the elements better than we are. We will keep you updated.

The photo show Samantha Smith (from Miller - KATA's sales representatives in Australia) presenting the Director - Evania Wright and Producer - Nick Lyon with KATA's BP-502 backpack and RC-10 raincover.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Introducing Cockroach Productions

"Nick Lyon and Evie Wright are two young documentary filmmakers from the UK who recently started up their own production company – Cockroach Productions... Their first project as an independent company is very exciting... they are about to head off into the jungles of Indonesian Borneo to film at an orangutan rescue centre, covering the relocation of orangutans that have been left without habitat following the encroachment on pristine rainforest by palm oil plantations. Little known and innocuous-looking, palm oil is amazingly found in 10% of supermarket produce – from lipstick to margarine, soap to ice-cream."

Follow link for the full article

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Thanks to RODE Microphones

On Friday we went to RODE head office to meet with Martin Sharp and collect our microphones for the project. We would like to thank Martin for organising RODE's support of the project and Bill Barsby for his technical run through of the equipment. We would also like to thank the rest of the of the team at RODE for their help. We hope will to provide a beautiful soundscape to the film using these microphones. We are especially excited to start collecting stereo soundscapes of the jungle with the NT4 and to record our musical score with the K2. We now have a great audio capacity to compliment our visual approach to the film. Updates to follow...

Monday, May 16, 2005

Miller Sponsorship Presentation

Diane Clementson (pictured right), a director of Miller Tripods, presents Evania Wright and Nick Lyon from Cockroach Productions with a Miller Solo carbon fibre tripod with a their DS20 fluid head.

Initial tests of the set-up prove to give us great stability with our Canon XL2 even when mounting large telephoto lenses via the EF adaptor. The head gives smooth and solid movement, and the low minimum height of the legs will give us great eye-to-eye shots of our wild subjects.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Mother and Child

mother and child
Originally uploaded by Nick Lyon.
This is the reason we are making the film. Protecting the relationship of the orangutan mother and child entails preventing the destruction of their habitat. Incursions into orangutans forest home also fuels the illegal bushmeat and pet trade.

Thanks to Miller Tripods

We picked up our new Miller DS20 fluid head and SOLO DV carbon fibre tripod system today. We would just like to say thank you to Heidi and the team at Miller for helping to support the Orangutan Film Protection Project. We are very happy to be heading off to the jungle with such a lightweight and sturdy system.

Another Crude Oil?

Another Crude Oil?

A Cockroach Films Production in Association with BOS-USA & BOS-UK
Dir. Nick Lyon & Evania Wright

Sponsored by: the British Government, BOS-UK, Miller Tripods, KATA
bags, RODE Microphones & NickLyonMedia

A dense mist hangs over a verdant forested hillside. It is early and the dawn chorus of a gibbon pair can be heard in the distance. We see some movement in a high treetop – a flash of orange reveals the presence of a maroon leaf monkey. A blue haze mingles with the mist, our view widens and we see the source of this smoke. The level ground has been clear-cut and the only remaining forest is on the steep slopes. A river snakes through the smouldering desert carrying an endless line of tree trunks…


In central Kalimantan, vast stretches of rainforest are being cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. Wild animals, including populations of orangutans, are finding themselves isolated in shrinking forest islands in the midst of inhospitable and dangerous terrain. It is the work of the dedicated BOS Nyaru Menteng team to relocate these animals before it is too late. But what is driving this encroachment on pristine forest?

Cockroach Productions have teamed up with the Balikpapan Orangutan Survival Foundation to document and raise awareness of the current environmental crisis in Indonesia. The exponential boom in palm oil trading is affecting tropical zone deforestation globally, and Indonesian logging and plantation expansion in particular. The film makers will explore the key issues of global market forces, and to follow these through to the effects on government policy. The film will explore the difficulties faced by local governments in fighting corruption as it pertains to plantation concessions and associated logging of high-value, slow-growth timber trees.

The OFPP will follow the rescue teams based in Nyaru Menteng in Central Kalimantan as they fight to relocate 400-600 orangutans from shrinking ‘forest islands’. Regulations on wildlife corridors have all too often been ignored. The cleared land presents a dangerous desert, particularly to predominantly arboreal species such as the orangutan. When the last trees are felled the animals fall at the mercy of chance. Hunters ignore bush-meat bans. The trade in endangered species is a high-risk, but high-profit, alternative to manual labour in situations where companies ignore minimum wage commitments.

“If we are to succeed to stop this slaughter, we need your help. We need to care for the victims... yes. But just as important, we need to launch a very intensive awareness campaign including radio, TV, newspapers…”
Lone Dröscher Nielsen, BOS Nyaru Menteng

The majority of wildlife documentaries often perpetuate an illusion of the pristine. The encroachment of roads, railways, aeroplanes, cities, and people is kept safely out of sight. We hope to highlight the increased contact between industrial society and natural environments as they rapidly fragment into isolated pockets. The overly comfortable position we can find ourselves in as we watch a beautifully crafted sequence of a gibbon brachiating through the tree tops might be shaken if we were allowed to hear the roar of chainsaws that had caused the gibbon to move.

This film will illustrate the overwhelming and hidden power of a product that some traders refer to as ‘liquid gold’. Vast quantities of palm oil are being extracted from oil palms farmed on unregulated and irresponsibly-run plantations. Eventually, oil palm produce and its derivatives arrive in our supermarkets, where, amazingly, it can be found in 10% of all products. The film will suggest strategies of developing a new consumer consciousness that rewards environmentally and socially responsible production of this wonder crop.

The Orangutan Film Protection Project will work in co-operation with environmental and humanitarian NGOs. It will raise consciousness of pressing issues. A boycott of products containing palm oil would be both impractical and socially irresponsible because there are many smallholders whose livelihood depends on the product. What we hope to do with the OFPP is develop a system whereby responsibly farmed palm-oil can be tracked through the market place and clearly labelled on products. Through the medium of film we hope to develop a consumer consciousness of these issues, and use purchase power to reward corporate responsibility. At Cockroach Productions we believe that the growing popularity of feature length documentaries in the box-office reflects a customer desire to consume information and develop a more acute and critical political awareness. With knowledge comes choice of action, and this is a powerful tool when sales dictate corporate strategies.


What is this crop that is replacing vast tracts of pristine forest? Some facts about palm oil:

o Palm oil is the most productive of the edible oil plants per acrei
o Oil palm requires less pesticide, herbicide and fertiliser than other oilseed crops
o Oil Palm derivatives are present in 10% of supermarket products, from margarine, biscuits, confectionary, icecream and ready meals to soap, lipstick and paint
o 51% of global trade in edible oil relies on palm oilii
o From 1995 to 2002 palm oil usage in the European Union increased by 90%iii
So why is this seemingly environmentally friendly crop causing so much damage to Indonesia’s ecosystems?


In 1998 the Chinese Government enforced a complete ban on logging of natural forests in the up-river regions of the Yangtze and Yellow River regionsiv. Between 1997 and 2000 China’s native timber production fell by 97%v. However, China is still producing vast quantities of wood products, twice the amount accounted for by official import records. China’s ban has solved local sourcing problems but has translocated the logging problem to illegal exports, mostly from Indonesia. Indonesia has encouraged foreign investment for palm oil production and has allocated vast concessions for its production. However, of the 8,000,000 ha. of land cleared for palm oil production in the last ten years, only 1,200,000 ha. have ever been plantedvi. It is clear that the legal concessions are being abused whereby valuable timber trees are logged and extracted via the black-market before the area is levelled. The land is then left bare in many areas. As well as having a devastating effect on the environment, this is a disaster for local people who don’t take a share in the profits of illegal activity. The local government loses vast potential tax revenues, both on the illegally exported logs and the undeveloped, clear-cut land. We hope to promote the future use of pre-cleared land and stop loggers acquiring new concessions to cut into pristine forest. There are vast tracts of land that could potentially be developed for their initial purpose – palm oil plantations. They lie as wastelands now, whilst virgin forest is destroyed.

Another Crude Oil? is the pilot episode in a series of socioenvironmental documentaries. Cockroach Productions will work to inspire interest and action through the OFPP.

Ultimately we are hoping, with the help of BOS and the involvement of other major humanitarian and environmental charities, to produce a series of documentaries highlighting the immediate and serious threat that the palm oil trade is presenting to the rainforest in the Indonesian archipelago right now. Through the development of consumer awareness, we aim to encourage corporate responsibility in palm oil trading. As such we hope to protect the interests of local people and the forests that surround them.

Nick Lyon, OFPP, Cockroach Productions 17th January 2005

Photographic credits:
All primate photographs © Nick Lyon
All logging images courtesy of BOS-USA

i Jamie Grant (WWF) & Emma Duncan (WWF), People & the Planet: “Greening the palm oil industry could help save Indonesia’s forests”
ii Mielke, Oil World Annual 2003, cited in AIDEnvironment: “Palm Oil Production in Southeast Asia”
iii Friends of the Earth: “Greasy Palms – palm oil, the environment and big business”, page 10
iv D. Kaimowitz, International Forestry Review 5(3), 2003 page 205: “Forest law enforcement and rural livelihoods”
v Environmental Investigation Agency & Telapak Indonesia: “Timber Trafficking: Illegal Logging in Indonesia, Southeast Asia and International Consumption of Illegally Sourced Timber”
vi L. Williams, BOS-UK 2004: “Illegal Logging invites disaster, but meanwhile there is money to be made”