This article first appeared in Orbit magazine Issue 80, Spring 2001, pages 8-9. By Mr Zaqie head of Yayorin, the Indonesian Chapter of the Orangutan Foundation - an NGO working to protect Indonesia's orangutans
What makes me enthusiastic about studying and understanding primates, and in particular orangutans, is their similarity to humans, both in their behaviour and emotions. I have always been interested in knowing more about the role of the orangutan in the ecosystem – especially at a time when people are ignoring the importance of the environment. In the last three years the history of orangutan conservation in Indonesia has been very sad. It is clear that their situation is closely correlated with the complex political and economic situation in Indonesia. During this time, local and central Government have paid little attention to conservation.
The evidence of this is obvious in Central Kalimantan where the forests have been exploited for the sake of the local economy. Even Tanjung Puting National Park, a protected forest since 1936, is not safe from illegal logging. Ramin, a hardwood found only in Indonesia, is logged and gold is mined. The enormous habitat destruction is the biggest obstacle to the continued survival of primates, particularly the orangutan. Protecting the forest against illegal loggers poses a threat to conservationists too. We are perceived as standing in the way of local people's economic needs. They see us as a threat to their livelihood when in reality their poverty is caused by timber bosses and other capitalists over exploiting the land.
Among the most pressing problems is land management – an issue that does not affect much of Europe where the concept of national parks originated. With the current social and economic problems in Indonesia, protected areas are severely challenged. That is not to say that Indonesians have no notion of conservation. Traditionally the many tribes in Indonesia lived in harmony with nature. They understood the benefits of conservation; we have been able to adapt traditional beliefs and western ideas.
However, the current situation in Indonesia has undone all our efforts to conserve primates. We fervently wish that this instability would end. There has, however, been one positive outcome: we have learnt that we cannot 'go it alone' – you cannot pursue nature conservation without dealing with social and economic problems at the same time. The future of primate conservation depends on uniting people's needs with those of the animals.
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