No forest: 'Man's cousins' suffer

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by: A. Alexander Mering

We promised to meet up at the soccer field at Rasau Jaya town, now officially part of Kubu Raya Regency. The distance is only a few kilometers from Pontianak city. This was an unusual meeting; Samson and Maya do not know me. Moreover, Maya just arrived from Sintang Regency a week ago.
Yuliantini, a friend of mine, and office of World Wildlife Fund Indonesia (WWF) who organized the meeting also invited Kiky Wuysang, a photographer from Pontianak.
I waited several minutes for Jefri Dahrin, from the Environmental Conservation Office in West Kalimantan (Kalbar) and Yuli to arrive.
While waiting for Kiky, who called earlier to inform that he was lost while looking for the office I photographed some wild orchids on a huge tree in front of the premises, at Ayani road.
Yuli photographed a belian (hardwood) tree before we left.
Before it was made part of Kubu Raya, Rasau Jaya was a small district known for its fertile soil. Before the realignation, this area was under the administrative system of Pontianak Regency and centered in Mempawah. Even though it is under the regency, Rasau Jaya is the closest agricultural area nearest to Pontianak, besides Kakap. The area is 11,107 square feet with a total population of 21, 501, in 2005. Most of the vegetable and fruit supply of the residents in Pontianak are from this area.
“So, where are we meeting them?” I asked.
“Yes, there?” said Yuli.
I was dumbfounded as I still could not understand. How did Samson and Maya get trapped at Manggala Ani quarters? This was the firebrigade team, at the KSDA office, known as Forest Fire Prevention Pontianak District Operations (DOP), Rasau Jaya. How could the firemen take care of babies?

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His name was Sabirin, he was very young. Maybe 19 years old or so. Due to family financial constraints, this lad from Desa Teluk Pak Kedai, could not continue his studies. Eventually, Sabirin signed up to become part of the Forest Fire Prevention Brigade.
As soon as I finished high school at Bhayangkara, I immediately applied for a job here,” he said. I interviewed him at the kitchen balcony of the DOP Pontianak office, Rasau Jaya, while looking at Samson sitting in a plastic sack, between the iron grills. Maya lazed around while trying to drink the remnants of milk in er bottle. Maya was already 5 years old, and older than Samson by 1 year and four months. However, Samson had lived with longer with the team. According to Sabirin, Samson came to them four years ago. This was where we met to take pictures of him.
“It was in March that he was sent hear by an officer from KSD Sintang Regency.”
“But how do you care for him? Have you ever been trained to care for orangutans?”
“No, we have never. We learnt from experience,” he added.
Sabirin is a humble person. As part of the Manggala Agni team, he only receives a token of Rp 600 thousand, with a daily food allowance of Rp 5000. Sunarya, his co-worker, is also responsible for the care of Samson and Maya. Moreover, Sunarya is more experienced in handling the orangutans. Both of them do their tasks as best they can; so much so that Samson is treated as their own sibling, even though it is only a baby orangutan. Now, both of them care for Maya.
During the first few months of Samson’s arrival, Sunarya was the busiest. He usually had to wake up in the middle of the night to calm a bewildered Samson, crying out endlessly or just to give him milk. Sunarya seemed a patient person to me.
“Then, how do you calm him when it happens?”
“I stroke his head, as one would a child, and he would calm down and sleep”, said Sunarya, who was put in charge to take care of Samson and Maya with Sabirin.
While we were talking, Kiky was busy taking many pictures.
“If we are late in giving him his milk, Samson would cry and trash his body on the ground,” he added.
Samson’s cries are unlike human babies’ sounds, it is a bit unclear, but it is evident when Sunarya passes by his cage and pretends to give him milk. Maya deliberately turns the other eye, but her eyes would slowly take a peek, sensing there is something interesting to eat.
Though the orangutans are washed with soap and use shampoo every two days and take care of by the officers at Manggala Agni, the life of Samson and Maya, would not be as easy if they were in their wild habitat. They were not only chased out from their Borneon home, but separated from their family. Tragic, as Samson is only a baby, who like any other human babies need their parents.
No one knows the story of Samson and Maya; even Sabirin and Sunarya, Pak Jef or Usman, head of the DOP do not know the instances behind their lives. They only know that Samson was take from a village in the Kapuas Hulu Regency, while Maya was sent to the KSDA Sintang Regency to Pontianak.
It is evident, however, that the mammals a part of the Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus) population at the Betung Karihun National Park (TNBK), Kapuas Hulu, which is in danger of extinction due to active hunting and habitat destruction from logging. WWF personnel at Putussibau office, Albertus Tjiu, had complained that illegal logging activities destroyed low lands which in turn forced the orangutans out of their natural habitats to deeper forest areas.


The adverse effect due to the excavation of forest areas resulted in destruction of species on a large scale, thus forcing the mammals to move from their further upriver and nearby villages. Other threats include hunting; where these mammals are sought after for their meat (protein) or sold illegally.
Of the three sub-species, Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii and Pongo pygmaeus morio; Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus is the most threatened. According to Albert, data on the Population and Habitat Viability Assessment (PHVA) Orangutan for 2004, showed that the population of Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus is 7 936 population (14.10 percent), the Pongo pygmaeus morio 15 406 population (27.40 percent), and the Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii 32 906 population (58.50 percent).
“The declining number of orangutans in West Kalimantan is at an alarming rate, especially since we do not have any special place for them,’ said Yuli, who had just finished his rounds at the cornfield behind the DOP office with Pak Jefri.
At WWF, Yuli acts a coordinator for a forum on saving wildlife in West Kalimantan. He also works for Traffic Southeast Asia.
“Orangutans from West Kalimantan, that are sent to rehabilitation centres, not one of them come back here. This is why we urge the authorities to build their own rehabilitation centres. As at present, we have to send the animals to animal farms, or to amusement parks. However, we believe that they must be handled by experts, such as doctors and psychologists dealing with orangutans.”
“For example, do the caretakers know that the orangutan is monogamous? If it is separated from its partner, it will die,” he added.
I was dumbfounded upon hearing Yuli’s words. Who knows what will happen to these ‘cousins’ of humans. Samson and Maya are here, because there is no proper organisation in West Kalimantan to care for them. They are the kept in a cage, locked away for safety. Hidden away from prying eyes near a small shed at the DOP office. If it rains, Samson would be cold, so would Maya. The plastic bags used to shield the orangutans from the rain were not enough.
I spied into Samson’s cage, which was smaller than Maya’s. Flies were thick in its cage, flying and stopping on the bits of food there. Samson and Maya were suffering. Sabirin added that four days previously, Samson had been treated for fever and stomachache. A few days he had been refusing food and milk. “He usually eats four ears of corn and drinks three tins of milk daily,” said Sabirin.
“It was only Monday that he became better, and started playing again,” he said. Sometimes, Samson would be brought along the DOP office compound. “He is very affectionate, if he is tired he asks to be carried. He is just like a child; cries a lot and sulks.”
I looked at Samson in its cage. It started playing again. The milk in the bottle given by Sunarya, was half spilt. Maya had already slept. I took another photo of Samson. While lying down, it looked at me once again from the cage. His deep eyes seem to hide a tragic past.
Click! This is the hundredth time that I have taken its picture, portraying a sad and hidden history of one Borneo’s endangered species.