I had no inkling that a book I read about 14 years ago, and a memorable encounter with an amazing juvenile orangutan in the Tanjung Puting National Park in 1996, would lead me, all these years later, to embark on a life-changing journey. The book was Reflections Of Eden - my life with the orangutans of Borneo, by Birute M.F. Galdikas, and the orangutan was Gistock.
Twelve years later and I found myself packed and ready to fly off to Pangkalanbun in Central Kalimantan where I would spend a month volunteering at the Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine near the village of Pasir Panjang. The Centre is run by the Orangutan Foundation International which was founded by Birute Galdikas, following her years of research on orangutans in the area which is now the Tanjung Puting National Park.
Sadly, because of the continued devastation of the rainforests in Borneo and Sumatra, more and more orphaned and displaced orangutans are being brought to the Centre, which now houses over 350 orangutans of all ages, with the youngest being a few months old.
My time at the OCC&Q had a profound effect on me. For the first time I was actually face to face with some of the consequences of deforestation. These helpless creatures, whose habitat is being systematically destroyed to make way for thousands and thousands of hectares of palm oil plantations, are being killed or captured and sold as pets because of the drive to satisfy the worlds demand for palm oil. It is not only the orangutans and the hundreds of other species of flora and fauna (some not even named yet) whose survival is in question. I was also confronted with the human cost - indigenous people who had been displaced from land in the forests on which their families had lived and survived for generations without due compensation, and who were now having to rely on handouts from farmers to feed their families. A whole way of life for these people has been destroyed.
The more I got to learn, the more I began to understand the inter-relatedness of things, and the enormity of the problem:- the orangutan, rainforests, indigenous people, palm oil, third world development, money, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and global warming! It is easy to be completely overwhelmed and to say that I, as one person, cannot possibly make a difference. But I also learned that there are already many people and organisations out there who do care and have been working hard to make a difference.
They just cannot do it on their own - they need help and support and encouragement. So it is that on my return to Hong Kong I decided against the “out of sight out of mind” route, and set up Orangutan Aid in an attempt to increase peopleʼs awareness of the situation and try to raise funds for those organisations who are actively working on projects to save the orangutan in the wild and to improve the world for us all.
Orangutan Aid, registered in Hong Kong for charity status and was run as a society. All funds raised were used to assist projects working with orangutan rehabilitation, and their rainforest habitat protection.
In 2019, personal circumstances have meant that I will be leaving Hong Kong to relocate in New Zealand, and as such the fund-raising aspect of the work Orangutan Aid does, has been suspended for the moment. I will continue with advocacy for orangutans from New Zealand. In the meantime any financial support may be made to any of the following organisations which are doing excellent work for orangutan conservation.