Fighting for a Better Future through Conservation

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Doy, suatu siang di Desa Pematang Gadung. Dok pribadi
Bird-lover Doy believes creating a better future for his village lies in ensuring that the forests and animals that inhabit the area are protected.

By Alexander Mering

Thirty years ago, Kalimantan, the world’s sixth largest island, was full of tigers, elephants, orangutan, exotic birds and plants but in the space of a single generation, many of the island’s beautiful flora and fauna are becoming endangered or extinct.
Official figures show more than half of Indonesia’s rainforest, the third largest swath in the world, has been felled in just a decade and permission has been granted to convert up to 70% of what remains into oil palm or acacia plantations.
Animals and plants are not the only victims of deforestation. Last year, more than 600 major land conflicts were recorded in the oil palm plantations. Many turned violent as communities that had lost their traditional forest fought companies and security forces. More than 5,000 human rights abuses were recorded with 22 deaths and hundreds of injuries, according to The Guardian newspaper.
Abdurahman Alqadri, better known as Doy to friends and family, knows these statistics all too well. In 2007, while serving as the village chief of Pematang Gadung, he was threatened by a rogue police officer angered by his campaigns to prevent oil palm and mining companies from setting up business in his village.
“The best way of convincing people that converting virgin forest for oil palm or mining is bad is to show the destruction these activities can cause. At the time, illegal gold mining had caused the Kepuluk river near my village to be polluted with mercury. The river became more mud than water and animals such as the arowana fish and crocodiles had disappeared. Also, it was becoming harder and harder to catch fish for food such as ikan seluang (Osteochillus Schlegeli),” said Doy, 38.
“I assisted Metro TV in reporting on the situation. That’s when the death threat came – a police officer threatened to put a bullet through my head. The officer said the report made the police look bad, as if they had not been doing their job.” 
Doy remained unfazed. During his time as Pematang Gadung’s village chief, the forests located within his village’s boundaries were untouched by oil palm, mining, and other businesses. And although he was paid a low salary of IDR700,000 a month for his position as village chief, Doy did not hesitate to fund his conservation campaigns with his own money.
He travelled far and wide to attend seminars organized by conservation groups, met regularly with local government officials to gain support for his campaigns, and also travelled to the capital, Jakarta, to meet with national leaders to discuss conservation issues.
And while he has since left his job as a village chief to pursue his passion for teaching, he has continued his conservation campaigns.
In 2009, Doy formed Kawan Burung Ketapang (KBK), a group of bird lovers dedicated to identifying, monitoring, and cataloguing the different species of birds found in the Pematang Gadung forest in West Kalimantan.
Pematang Gadung’s forest, which is primarily made of peat, is home to hundreds of species of birds, some of which are endangered like the Mandar Padi Kalung (Gallirallus philippensis), Serak Padang (Tyto longimembris), and Bangau Storm (Ciconia Stormi), of which only 500 are left in the world.
To ensure the different species are protected, Doy led a campaign to apply for a hutan desa permit for Pematang Gadung, which would give the village the right to manage the forest and prevent others, such as plantation or mining companies, from converting the land.
It has been 4 years since the application for the permit was submitted and Doy is anxious to see it approved as he has heard that an oil palm company is interested in converting Pematang Gadung’s forest into a plantation.
“I hope this year, 2013, proves to be the year we get approval for the permit,” said Doy.
Doy’s perseverance and passion for conservation has won him more than a few converts.
“I didn’t use to understand why we needed to conserve the forest but after seeing what has happened in other villages that saw their forests converted into plantations, I’m convinced Doy is doing the right thing,” said Pematang Gadung resident Abdul Kadir.
“Those villages have run out of land and can no longer plant enough food for their families. Where oil palm reigns, those villages are experiencing a shortage of water as water supplies are routed to the plantations instead.”
Doy’s fight does not end with Pematang Gadung. He has set his sights on conserving the coral reefs of Pulau Sawi in West Kalimantan, where rapid and unfettered development have destroyed a large chunk of reef.
For Doy, conserving the environment has become a part of his soul: “Destroying the forests is the same as destroying one’s humanity. If we truly love God, then we must love what he has created and protect them from harm.”