Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A film that could save lives



"The great apes are our kin... Sadly, however, we have not treated them with the respect they deserve, and their numbers are now declining, the victims of logging, disease, loss of habitat, capture, and hunting... Great apes cannot be conserved for free... We need ordinary people in their millions to love an protect them. We need governments and companies to 'adopt' them and the places where they live. We need to turn the tide of extinction that threatens our nearest living relatives."

Kofi A. Annan
Secretary-General of the United Nations
World Atlas of Great Apes and their Conservation, 2005

If you’ve been following our site, you will already know that orangutans are under serious threat when they are found in oil palm plantations. The Sumatran orangutan is vying for the unenviable position of being the first great ape likely to go extinct within our lifetimes. We need companies to do their bit for great ape conservation - one way they can make a huge difference is to back the project we are proposing below, an idea the orangutan conservation organisations who would be involved are desparate for us to make.

We are developing a training video that will inform plantation workers what to do when they encounter an orangutan in their plantation. Working in collaboration with the Sumatran Orangutan Society and the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation we plan to make a health and safety style training video which we will be shown to workers in the oil palm plantations. The video will be an easy and effective way for plantation workers to learn what to do when encountering an orangutan.

The majority of plantation staff are migrant workers from Java or Sumatra, so unlike the native Dyaks, they are not familiar with the orangutan (Orangutans in Sumatra are restricted to such small ranges now that few Sumatrans have encountered them). Many workers have a false impression of the orangutan as a ferocious animal that poses a direct threat to their safety – a hangover, according to Dr. Birute Galdikas, stemming from the popularity of the original King Kong movie in Indonesia which will no doubt be exacerbated by the recent remake of the film.

The safety video will work to introduce workers to the orangutan in its true colours. It will include simple step-by-step instructions of what to do when an orangutan is spotted on a plantation, emphasizing the point that the workers should NOT try to capture or tie down the orangutan in any way. The reason that many orangutans are already seriously (often fatally) wounded before the rescue teams can reach them is that, despite having taken steps to alert the rescue team to the presence of the orangutans, the plantation workers have nonetheless undertaken to capture the animal themselves prior to the arrival of the team. A mature orangutan is immensely strong – it is almost impossible to tie up or capture an orangutan without first beating it unconscious. In order to stop this happening, the safety video will focus on giving clear instructions of which rescue centre to contact – these will be location specific – and will then recreate what will happen when the rescue team arrives. It will also provide information and images regarding the potential transmission of diseases between humans and orangutans should they come into contact with each other.

We intend that the video be made as a reconstruction of an orangutan rescue, filmed using members of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation rescue team as well as plantation workers. Karaoke is very popular across Kalimantan, and so DVD and VCD players are very common – distributing DVD and VCD copies of this simple film across the plantations offers a straightforward, effective, and relatively inexpensive means of preventing the many pointless and tragic deaths of orangutan on the palm oil plantations.

We are currently looking for UK-based businesses to help fund and support the production of this film.


Orangutans in oil palm plantations

Sometimes orangutans are in the oil palm because there is literally none of their forest habitat left, in which case they will require rescue and relocation. Sometimes orangutans are only passing through as they move between their well known feeding grounds. These orangutans may have been moving between these feeding areas for decades. A new oil palm plantation cutting into their established routes proves a dangerous place to travel. Whilst these orangutans could pass through the plantation to their feeding areas they are often seen as a threat. Some plantation managers have put bounties on orangutans because they see them as crop raiders, but orangutans generally pose little threat to the oil palms. Whilst out on a rescue we found the path made by one cheekpad male. There were a few young palms that had been pulled up, but these were in a straight line between two forest patches – it was clear the orangutan was just passing through and was not a crop raider. Oil palm plantations need to develop wildlife corridors that will allow these orangutans safe passage through their plantations. This will save the few palms that might otherwise get damaged and it will make the orangutans safer allowing them to move through the trees (their natural preference) rather than across the ground.

If you are interested in finding out more please contact us.

Nick & Evie @ Cockroach Productions
Tel: 01823 451 790 / 07816 755 128

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