Thursday, September 13, 2007
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Juliette Jowit, environment editor
Sunday July 22, 2007
© The Observer
Two of the country's biggest retail names are to ban the sale of palm oil from unsustainable sources because of fears that it is leading to the destruction of rainforests. Palm oil has become one of the world's biggest traded commodities and is now the unidentified 'vegetable oil' in an estimated one in 10 of all products sold in Britain, from chocolate to cosmetics to animal feed.
The booming demand in Europe and Asia has led to growing concern that huge swaths of rainforest are being cut down to make way for plantations - damaging important eco-systems on which animals and local people depend - and threatening the survival of one of the world's last great apes, the orang-utan, the poster boy for a gathering global campaign. Rainforest destruction also accounts for about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, blamed for climate change.
Asda has become Britain's first supermarket chain to tell suppliers it will not accept products unless they can guarantee their palm oil is from sustainably run plantations. Body Shop, the toiletries and cosmetics company, has established a sustainable organic supplier in Colombia. Asda has banned palm oil sourced from the worst affected regions in Borneo and Sumatra and within a year hopes to have banned all unsustainable palm oil from 500 products.
Later this year retailers and manufacturers across Europe who have joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil are expected to publish details of how they will create a network of certified sustainable plantations. The move by Asda and Body Shop prompted calls for other companies to speed up the changes.
'It sends a very strong message to the Indonesian and Malaysian governments that, if they don't stop destroying rainforests, they'll be destroying their international market,' said Ed Matthew of Friends of the Earth. 'Our fear is that all the supermarkets have joined the Roundtable but they are not going to really implement the policy. What we saw when we got these companies to join is once one joined, another joined and it built up a head of steam. If they are now competing with each other to say, "We're not going to source it from Borneo or Sumatra", they are likely to do the same thing.'
The move to crack down on the damage caused by palm oil production follows a three-year intensive campaign by environment groups that won Friends of the Earth an award in this year's Observer Food Monthly awards.
Chris Brown, Asda's head of sustainable sourcing, said it would take time to work with suppliers to find sustainable supplies, but the supermarket was starting before the Roundtable report because of the speed of rainforest destruction. Friends of the Earth calculates an area the size of Wales is being cut down in Indonesia alone every year, and a 'major driver' is palm oil. 'I don't want to be associated with orang-utan habitat destruction,' said Brown. 'We can wait while committees pontificate, or say, "Let's get on with it".'
Body Shop, which has 2,200 stores in 57 countries, said within six months it planned to source only sustainable palm oil for soap, which accounts for 80 per cent of its use of the ingredient.
Given the scale of global demand for palm oil, a shift to sustainable production will be difficult in the near future, but supporters say there is scope to ban crops from newly cleared forests because of inefficient practices and 'millions of hectares' of already cleared forest land.
Rikke Netterstrom, Body Shop's head of ethical policy, called on other companies to follow to drive producers of unsustainable oil out of business: 'There's a definite tipping point once you get sufficient volume to drive the price down for the whole supply chain.'
Friday, June 08, 2007
Monday, May 14, 2007
Date: Monday 14th May
Doors open at: 7.00pm
Comedy starts at 7:30pm and runs until around 9.30pm
Venue: Lyceum Theatre, Wellington Street, London WC2 (Tube: Covent Garden / Charing Cross)
Cost: £20 per ticket
For bookings please call the theatre box office on 0844 412 1742
or visit www.ticketmaster.co.uk - type in "ORANGAID" into the event search
box, or click on the image above.
We hope to see you there - it promises to be a fantastic evening!
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Environmentalists launch ad campaign warning “green fuels” could do the planet more harm than good
8th May 2007
A coalition of some of Britain’s biggest green groups is launching an advertising campaign attacking environmentally destructive ‘bio-fuels’.
The adverts feature a petrol pump held to the head of an orang-utan. “Tell the Government to choose the right biofuel.” it says. “Or the orang-utan gets it”.
The groups believe a misjudged push for the wrong kinds of ‘green’ fuels could damage the climate and destroy some of the world’s last remaining rainforests. Biofuels can be used in place of petrol and diesel - because they can be produced from crops they could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and can play a small part in reducing emissions from transport. However a coalition including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, RSPB and WWF are warning that the Government risks implementing an ill-thought out policy which lacks the appropriate safeguards, meaning that the Government could be creating more problems than it solves.
Last week the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report stating that protecting the world’s forests is one of the single biggest steps the international community can take to lessen the effects of climate change.
The Government proposal – known as the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) – could, in its present form, lead to biofuel production causing the destruction of rainforests and wetlands, not only threatening endangered habitats and species but also releasing far more carbon into the atmosphere than could ever hope to be saved by replacing fossil fuels.
The groups are demanding the Obligation is tightened up so that biofuel producers must meet minimum greenhouse gas and sustainability standards, with environmental audits of the whole life-cycle of the fuels, from growing the crop to burning it in the car.
The adverts ask members of the public to write to Government and demand tough, compulsory standards.
Dr Douglas Parr, Chief Scientist at Greenpeace, said: “In its current form, this proposal is complacent. It could see biofuel production wrecking the climate rather than helping it, at a time when scientists are warning us that we need to slash emissions to avoid dangerous global warming. The Government must sort out this botched plan or risk losing the value that biofuels could offer.”
Ed Matthew from Friends of the Earth said: "The risks are so great that biofuels should be the last option to reduce transport emissions, not the first. Not only has the Government got it's priorities wrong, its biofuels proposals are so weak that they are in real danger of increasing global warming emissions, not reducing them. The word is incompetent."
Dr Mark Avery, Conservation Director at the RSPB, said: “A rush for biofuels could considerably accelerate the destruction of habitats and loss of wildlife in areas where it already at considerable risk. The contribution forests are making to tackling climate change, as well as harbouring rare wildlife, is more than enough to make their protection a priority. Without environmental standards, biofuels are a green con."
John Alker, Senior Public Affairs Officer at WWF-UK said: "A climate change policy that potentially increases rather than cuts CO2 emissions is clearly a nonsense. Biofuels could offer part of the solution to climate change - but Government needs to get this policy right in order to do so."
For more contact Greenpeace on 0207 865 8255 or Friends of the Earth on 0207 566 1720
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Chimps knocked off top of the IQ tree
ORANG-UTANS have been named as the world’s most intelligent animal in a study that places them above chimpanzees and gorillas, the species traditionally considered closest to humans.
The study found that out of 25 species of primate, orang-utans had developed the greatest power to learn and to solve problems.
Photo: Adult Male Sumatran Orangutan
Copyright Cockroach Productions www.cockroach.org.uk
The controversial findings challenge the widespread belief that chimpanzees are the closest to humans in brainpower. They also suggest that the ancestry of orang-utans and humans may be more closely entwined than had been thought.
“It appears the orang-utan may possess a privileged status among human kindred,” said James Lee, the Harvard University psychologist behind the research. “It is even possible that an orang-utan-like forager occupied a pivotal link in the chain of descent leading to man.”
Both orang-utans and chimpanzees share about 96% of their DNA with humans, although molecular studies suggest that chimpanzees are more closely related.
The study comes at a time when orang-utans are endangered as never before. Once widespread throughout the forests of Asia, they are now confined to just two islands, Sumatra and Borneo, and are highly endangered as a result of habitat loss and poaching.
Lee’s work involved collating a series of separate studies into the intelligence of different primate species. However, his research first had to overcome a much greater hurdle: would it be possible to compare different species of primates at all?
Spider monkeys, for example, have developed brains to cope with a fast-moving life in the tree tops, while slow lorises are small and leisurely nocturnal hunters.
The conventional belief is that comparing the intelligence of different species is meaningless because separate evolution over millions of years will have given them very different brains.
Lee, a junior psychology researcher at Harvard, found that in primates, at least, different rules seem to apply — the development of one set of mental skills seems to prompt the primate brain to develop other mental abilities as well.
“A primate genus with a high rank in an experiment testing particular mental abilities appears to have high ranks in all of them,” said Lee.
He also found that the single most important factor in deciding a species’ intelligence was simply the size of its brain: “The correlation of brain size with mental ability found in humans appears to extend throughout the primate order.”
This “remarkable finding” suggests, he said, that all primate brains work in much the same way, however they have evolved, allowing comparisons between species.
Lee’s research threw up some other surprises, too. Gorillas, for example, emerged as less intelligent than spider monkeys while baboons, often considered relatively bright, were ranked 14th.
Recent field work by Carel van Schaik, a Dutch primatologist who is now at Duke University, North Carolina, appears to bear out Lee’s findings.
Studying orang-utans in Borneo, he found them capable of tasks well beyond chimpanzees’ abilities — such as using leaves to make rain hats and leakproof roofs over their sleeping nests. He also found that in some food-rich areas the creatures had developed a complex culture in which adults would teach youngsters how to make tools and find food.
He and Lee both suggest that the key factor in such developments is the orang-utans’ life-style, spent mostly in the tops of trees where there is little risk from predators. This has allowed them to establish long and settled lives similar to humans’ and also to develop culture and intelligence.
In his own research papers, Van Schaik has suggested that since the ancestors of modern orang-utans split from the human lineage about 15m years ago, the seeds of human culture must go back at least as far.
Chris Stringer, professor of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, agrees that the sociable lifestyles of primates are the driving force behind the development of intelligence. “Primates and early humans had not got the claws and teeth of predators so they had to rely on brainpower to communicate and protect themselves,” he said. “They are sociable creatures and living in small groups seems to have driven brain development.”
The idea that sociability and intelligence are linked is borne out by research into the relative brain power of diverse animal groups including cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and birds.
Dr Vincent Janik, of the sea mammal research unit at St Andrews University, said that some dolphin species had developed the ability to communicate far beyond that of great apes. “Dolphins have some abilities that great apes don’t have, such as copying new sounds. No primate apart from humans can do that,” he said.
Additional reporting: Max Colchester
Non-human primates in order of intelligence
3 Spider monkey
12 Woolly monkey
Friday, March 23, 2007
Friends of the Earth and Ape Alliance 's Palm Oil Campaign wins Observer Food Monthly award
Mar 22 2007
Friends of the Earth and Ape Alliance have won an Observer Food Monthly (OFM) Award for their campaign to help stop the trade in palm oil from driving the Orangutan towards extinction. The campaign was launched in 2005 in partnership with the Ape Alliance Palm Oil Working Group, which includes Orangutan Foundation, Sumatra Orangutan Society, Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation and Cockroach Productions.
Palm oil is found in one in ten products on the su permarket shelves including bread, crisps, margarine and cereals to lipstick and soap. The clearance of large tracts of rainforest in east Malaysia and Indonesia for palm oil plantations is the primary cause of the Orangutan's decline - as well as thousands of other species – these are some of the most bio-diverse forests on earth!.
Since its launch the campaign has notched up many successes including:
Attracting global attention to the devastating impact which the palm oil industry has on the Orangutan, their rainforest habitat and the communities who live alongside them.
Highlighting the need to strengthen company law so that companies are legally required to report on the social and environmental impacts of their supply chains.
Persuading all the major supermarkets to join a Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. The Roundtable is an association of business and non governmental organisations seeking to promote sustainable palm oil.
Helping to stop a mega palm oil plantation in Borneo, . The plantation would have led to the destruction of two million hectares of pristine forest - an area the size of .
Friends of the Earth is continuing to campaign to ensure UK supermarkets deliver on their pledge to use only sustainable palm oil and is working to ensure that the growing demand for biofuels doesn't lead to even greater destruction of the Orangutan's home forests. The organisation is calling on the UK Government to ensure no palm oil is imported for bio-fuel.
Friends of the Earth Palm Oil Campaigner, Ed Matthew said:
"We are delighted to have won this award. We have achieved a huge amount over the last few years but the sad fact is that the rainforest in and continues to be destroyed at an alarming rate and the Orangutan is still gravely threatened. Now the use of palm oil as a bio-fuel could push the Orangutan over the edge. The UK Government must ensure no palm oil is imported for use as bio-fuel."
The Ape Alliance Palm Oil Working Group has produced a postcard for people to send to their MPs and MEPs on the issue of palm oil and bio-fuels. Click here to find out more.
Friends of the Earth's Ed Matthews, with Helen Buckland of SOS and Ian Redmond of Ape Alliance, received the award from Alex James of Blur and Nicola Jeal, editor of OFM at a ceremony in London on 22 March. The awards, now in their fourth year, recognise and reward those who have made a contribution to the food industry for the better.
Winners were selected by a combination of OFM (OFM) reader votes and a celebrity judging panel which included: cookery expert Nigel Slater; Ruth Rogers, of the River Café; Tom Conran, restaurateur; Joanna Blythman, food writer; Jay Rayner, Observer restaurant critic; Robbie James, Waitrose; Caroline Boucher, deputy editor OFM and Nicola Jeal, OFM editor and chair of the judging panel.
For further information, contact:
Ape Alliance : 01453 765 228 or visit www.4apes.com/palmoil for contact details of the Ape Alliance Palm Oil Working Group members.
Check out the video evidence at www.films4.org/palmoil
Contact Nick @ Films4Conservation: 01823 451 790; firstname.lastname@example.org
Friends of the Earth
26 - 28 Underwood St.
Tel: +44 20 7490 1555
Fax: +44 20 7490 0881
Friday, March 09, 2007
The majority of the captured animals seen in the film were being kept on palm oil plantations or nearby villages in various locations across Borneo and Sumatra. The caged gibbon is one of 300 000 captive gibbons across the Indonesian archipelago.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Pre-Dawn Interview in Sebangau National Park
0400 Hours and we're setting off into the forest with Susan.
SC: "We’re now at the junction of transect zero, which is our main transect into the forest, and transect B. We’re more or less in the centre of group C’s territory, so, because we don’t know exactly where they are going to sing, we wait in the middle of the territory and that means when they do start singing we’re very well placed to go after them."
"Most of the 11 gibbon species… 9 of them have these duets where the male and female have very distinct songs. The Javan gibbon doesn’t and the Kloss gibbon doesn’t, we’re not entirely sure why, but the rest of them have these very distinct male and female parts and within that the female’s the most distinctive, she has the longest and loudest call, that part of the song is called the “great call”."
Pram: "How many gibbons in this area, Susan?"
SC: "In the grid system, which is 2km2, we have 12 groups, and if we average 4 gibbons per group – that’s 48. It’s not high-density forest, but there are definitely gibbons here and we reckon this is probably the largest population of gibbons in Indonesia at around 30,000 animals, if you include the whole Sebangau, not this particular area."
"We’re looking mainly at the feeding ecology of gibbons, the types of trees that make up the majority of their diet, which part of those trees they’re eating, whether it be the fruit or the seeds or the leaves or flowers, and we’re also collecting samples of the all the food the gibbons eat to do mechanical and nutritional analysis on, to actually work out how much energy they are actually getting from the food. We’re also, because noone has studied the gibbons here before, we’re also doing behavioural study, looking at where they go, what they do, group interactions, interactions between gibbons and orangutans and indeed gibbons and any other animals, to build up a good overall picture of the behaviour of gibbons in this forest."
"As I said before, gibbons here are at quite low density, but there certainly are gibbons here, they’re certainly thriving and they’re definitely reproducing. So, we’re wanting to understand how they’re managing to survive, first of all in a relatively low-productivity peat-swamp forest, and second – a low productivity peat-swamp forest that had been a logging concession for 30 years."
"This here is… we actually did this because orangutans eat the bark of this tree, and what they actually want is this sap and the cambium which is underneath the bark, so they actually get the tree and strip the bark themselves. Because its an orangutan food and that’s part of Mark’s study, which is the comparison to mine between orangutans and gibbons in this forest, we had to get samples of the bark to send off to the lab in Bogor for nutritional analysis. When we’re taking samples from trees and things like this, especially taking bark, we take it from many different trees, there’s no way we could take enough bark from one tree without doing a lot of damage."
"Right, the gibbons are singing so we better go… so now we go and find them!"
See the video above to find out more about our morning in the forest following the gibbons. This blog entry is a precursor to a broadcast project we are developing with Susan and Chanee.
Monday, March 05, 2007
A new film from our friends at the Environmental Investigation Agency
Every year 2.8 million hectares of Indonesia's forests are illegally felled. The vast profits from this trade benefit a small minority of ... all » powerful timber barons with little or no return for local people.
This film shows how civil society groups in Indonesia have joined together to tell their story and press for change in the major market for unsustainable timber - the European Union.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Globalization and Great Apes: Illegal logging destroying last strongholds of Orangutans in National Parks
24th Session of UNEP’s Governing Council/ Global Ministerial Environment Forum 5-9 February 2007.
The report says that natural rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo are being cleared so rapidly that up to 98% may be destroyed by 2022 without urgent action. The rate of loss, which has accelerated in the past five years, outstrips a previous UNEP report released in 2002 at the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) Then, experts estimated that most of the suitable orangutan habitat would be lost by 2032.
The illegal logging, driven by global demands, accounts for tens of millions of cubic metres annually and an estimated more than 73% of all logging in Indonesia. Approximately 20% of the logs are smuggled directly out of Indonesia, the remaining is used to support an extensive international and local wood industry, and then exported to the international markets by well-organized, but elusive commercial networks.
New satellite imagery reveals that the illegal logging is now entering a new critical phase: As the demands grow, the industry and international market are running out of cheap illegal timber and are now entering the national parks where the only remaining timber available in commercial amounts is found.
Satellite images confirm, together with data from the Indonesian Government, that illegal logging is now taking place in 37 out of 41 national parks, and likely growing. “At current rates of intrusions, it is likely that some parks may become severely degraded in as little as three to five years, that is by 2012”, says the new study “The last stand of the orangutan: State of emergency.”
Overall the report is concluding that loss of orangutan habitat is happening at a rate up to 30% higher than previously thought. The report, compiled by a wide range of experts, is being launched at UNEP’s 24th Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum. Here, close to 100 environmental ministers and state secretaries are meeting under the theme of globalization – environmental risks and opportunities
Indonesia is active in fighting illegal logging and has worked with a series of international programmes and initiatives to reduce the logging. However, says the report, while many of these initiatives are valuable, they require the assistance of the international community to stop the demands for illegal timber, and they are also mainly long/term in effect. In response, the Indonesian government has on several occasions in recent years directly used support from the Navy and Army to arrest, confiscate timber and drive companies out of the parks.
Recently, the Indonesian government has launched perhaps one of the most promising initiatives in recent years, namely the training of specially equipped ranger units (SPORC) to protect the parks.
Achim Steiner, UN Under Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “Globalization is generating unprecedented wealth and lifting millions out of poverty. But in this case, the illegal logging is destroying the livelihoods of many local people dependent upon the forests while it is also draining the natural wealth of Indonesian forest resources by unsustainable practices. The logging at these scales is not done by individual impoverished people, but by well-organized elusive commercial networks“.
“National Parks form a cornerstone in the 2010 target to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss and are also so valuable for eco-tourism and in generating new livelihoods. Their protection is vital to these international goals and to the entire concept of protected areas”.
He called on governments and the international community to assist the Indonesian authorities with the equipment, training and particularly funding needed to enforce and patrol their national parks from illegal loggers.
H. E. Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia’s environment minister and outgoing president of UNEP’s Governing Council, said; “We are currently in an unequal struggle over illegal logging, which in the medium to long-term could be won through certification processes. Such processes can help global consumers choose between sustainably produced wood and palm-oil products and those produced illegally and unsustainably”.
He said that the government was acting in the short term with counter measures including through the development of Ranger Quick response Units to counter illegal forest destruction. “However, the challenge of policing and enforcing Indonesia’s vast parks is immense and rangers have currently little access to ground vehicles, boats, arms, communications or aerial surveillance such as planes or helicopters. In 35 of our national parks we have over 2000 rangers but they have to patrol an area of over 100,000 km2”
The scale of illegal logging, including into national parks is likely to increase not only in Indonesia, but also in other parts of Asia, Africa and Latin-America. “The situation is now acute”, says Christian Nellemann, leader of the Response team. “The recent Indonesian initiatives on law enforcement will require the necessary scale, financial and logistical support in order to stop the extent of this illegal logging. If successful, the Indonesian experiences gained in the coming years may substantially improve our ability to protect national parks and fight illegal logging in other parts of the World“.
The report is prepared by GRASP, the Great Ape Survival Partnership lead by UNEP and UNESCO in collaboration with a wide range of NGOs.
Note to Editors:
Bornean and Sumatran orangutans are classed as Endangered and Critically Endangered and are listed on Appendix 1 of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Recent estimates suggest there are between 45,000 and 69,000 Bornean and no more than 7,300 Sumatran orangutans left in the wild.
The orangutans share their habitat with a wild range of other threatened and ecologically important species including the Sumatran tiger, Sumatran rhinoceros and Asian elephant. UNEP and the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) have launched the Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP) in response to growing concern over the plight of the orangutan, chimpanzee, bonobo and gorilla.
The report “Last stand of the orangutan: State of emergency” can be downloaded at:
- www.globio.info including high and low resolution graphics for free use in publications.
Tel: +254 207623084, Mobile: +254 733 632755
For photos and broadcast quality film footage, please contact Nick Lyon, Producer at Cockroach and the Orangutan Film Protection Project
Tel: +44 1823 451 790, Mobile: +44 7850 921 208
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan (ANTARA News) - Forestry Minister MS Kaban has strongly warned the Makin Business Group for planning to open an oil palm plantation in an area which hosts the habitat for about 1,600 orangutans in Katingan district, Central Kalimantan.
"We have given the company a warning and asked it to save the life of orangutans in the area," Minister Kaban said here Tuesday night.
Kaban made the remarks during a meeting between Vice President Jusuf Kalla and Central Kalimantan`s regional government officials, mining, plantation and forestry businesses.
The minister said if not seriously reprimanded Makin Group`s plan could lead to the [loss] of thousands of orangutans in the area.
Therefore, he called on the business group to save first the rare animals in the area which was to be turned into a plantation.
"I think Indonesia has been under a heavy spotlight for incompetence in preserving its biodiversity," the minister said.
Makin Group is planning to open a 50 thousand hectare oil palm plantation in Katingan district, Central Kalimantan, in 2007.
In the area, there is a habitat for orangutans with a population of 1,600.
In the meantime, Assistant Manager of the Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS), Hardi Baktiantoro, said the opening of the plantation in Katingan district was a serious threat to 1,600 orangutans in Kalimantan.
"Based on our data, the area, where Makin Group is to open an oil palm plantation, is host to some 1,500-1,600 orangutans. If the company resumes its planning, it will exterminate the rare animals," he [said].
He predicted the population of the Kalimantan orangutan would have been extinct by 2010 in line with the opening up of forests to make way for palm oil plantations.
"The biggest threat to orangutans is the expansion of oil palm plantations," he said. (*)
Copyright © 2006 ANTARA
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Shooting for the conflict-mitigation training film necessitated the inclusion of a re-enactment of palm oil workers following the correct procedure having encountered an orangutan entering the plantation boundaries. We arranged to film this re-enactment at a plantation about 7 hours' west of Palangkaraya, near the city of Sampit. The plantation in question was in the process of being established - and the land was being rapidly deforested, drained, bulldozed, and planted. This was previously prime orangutan habitat, and the BOS-F rescue team have made countless orangutan rescues from the small forest islands yet to be cleared in the vast new plantation. The small patches which remain are full of endangered species, competing for increasingly scarce resources and all slowly dying from starvation. An extract from our shooting diary…
“Unable to find a 4WD to hire, Pram and his friend Udin tracked down a fairly battered Kijang for the trip. We arrived at the plantation late at night, hoping to be able to find a couple of rooms in the workers' accommodation in which to stay. The plantation’s Indian-Malay manager was in town watching a World Cup match, but fortunately the satpam (security guard) let us use the room next to his (wooden slat floor for a mattress, hot and full of mosquitoes, but better than a night in the car).
The grey dirty water in the mandi next door was surprisingly effective at refreshing our already sweating and aching bodies at sunrise next day. We were up early to meet with the plantation staff manager, Pak Hari – a Sumatran with a love of Country and Western music and line dancing. Our tour of the clear-felled plantation in Pak Hari’s spotless and aircon-cooled pick-up was made more surreal by the in-car soundtrack of “Country Road” (interpreted by the famed Indonesian singer Tantowi Yahya). We arranged to film the reconstruction at daybreak next morning, and then set off in the Kijang in order to get some documentary evidence of the devastation wrought on the plantation.
Forest clearance at this plantation was happening so rapidly and on such an extensive scale that Pram likened it to the 2004 Tsunami. Mile-upon-mile of fallen trees has replaced one of the most bio-diverse areas of the planet. Workers live under makeshift plastic shelters near the plantation’s edge, where the forest topsoil, not quite destroyed yet, has turned into a tar-like inky mud.
They do have plantation accommodation, but the plantation is so vast that this would add a 14 mile hike to their daily grind, and as they work from sunrise to sundown, navigating the treacherous paths in the dark is no fun. There’s no shade and I had to shamefacedly revert to walking around with an umbrella, neo-colonial style, to hide from the blazing equatorial sun.
Although the Kijang had done well at navigating the extensively potholed road to Sampit, the thick mud of the plantation tracks proved too much for it and we almost immediately got stuck for several sunburnt hours.
After various attempts to free the car ourselves we were joined by a young plantation worker. Originally from Jakarta, he had left his job at a textile factory in the capital to come and find work in Kalimantan. Eventually it transpired that the plantation employed him as an “orangutan guard”. From 5am till 7pm it is his job to patrol a 3-mile section of the plantation perimeter keeping an eye out for desperately hungry orangutans damaging the palm oil saplings in search of food. According to him, the managers had recently ordered 300 snares to be set within the small patch of forest under his guard, in order to capture any orangutans remaining within it. We filmed an interview with him, Pram acting as interpreter. This snared forest patch and this guard were part of a much larger team operating along the plantation boundaries.
At sunrise next morning, fortified by a paper bag full of deep-fried tofu sold to us by an ancient old man on an equally ancient pushbike, we set off to film the re-enactment. There were some early glitches – when our “actors” started shouting “Let’s kill it!” at the imaginary orangutan they were trying to scare back into the forest, we had to have a bit of a chat with them and shoot the scene again. Pak Johannes, the security guard, turned out to be a surprisingly competent and confident thespian, although his overly cautious motorbike driving (despite us leaning out of the window of the Kijang shouting “lebih cepat pak!” at him) meant that we were left worried about how to convey an appropriate sense of urgency in the scene.
During our three days spent working and filming on the plantation, we heard countless stories of the suffering endured by the remaining wildlife that used to live in this forest. Workers responsible for forest clearance around the edges of the forest islands saw orangutans entering the plantation in search of food everyday. We found a captured gibbon, one of many caught and held captive on the plantation by workers, destined to be sold into the pet trade in Sampit and sent downriver on a logging boat to Jakarta.
Unfortunately we were powerless to release this gibbon… neither could we blame the guard. This was his job, and his salary could be traced back through management to the parent company and some big well-known investors and buyers. On the edge of the clearing the gibbon’s mate (gibbons are one of the rare pair-bonded primates) was screaming for its imprisoned partner. It was a disturbing scene.
On the return journey, the trusty Kijang was again put through its paces. Extensive deforestation along the banks of the Kasongan River has made it prone to bursting its banks during heavy rain, and the road from Sampit to Palangkaraya travels alongside the riverbank for extended distances. The flooding on our return journey was severe – waist-height in certain places – and without a 4WD we shouldn’t really have been attempting to get through it. In typical opportunistic fashion, local villagers were spear-fishing in the dark with flashlights where river had replaced road – quite helpful for us as they marked the boundaries of the tarmac. Water was at times coming in through the doors of the car and the exhaust pipe was fully submerged. Pram gunned the engine in first gear for almost an hour, at times Udin ran in front of the car to keep us on track – the slightest deviation off the raised road and we would be washed away. It was a nerve-wracking return journey for all of us except our unexpected reptilian passenger - a turtle found belly-up in the middle of the road earlier in the day, fallen from the back of a smuggling truck ahead of us – which we later released into the swampy land near to Palangkaraya.
This was a depressing return to the palm oil plantations of Central Kalimantan. Despite the successes of the UK palm oil campaign in the previous 12 months, positive change is not happening quickly enough in the Armageddon-landscape of Borneo. One small positive result was that Pram was able to return to the plantation with the BOSF rescue teams and the captive gibbon we found was released – one can only hope her haunting song has brought her mate back to her. Pram is now field-coordinator for Cockroach Indonesia and we’re very pleased and privileged to have him on our team.