Wednesday, 14 November 2007

PM's cash for orangutan just peanuts

The Australian, 13 November

PM's cash for orangutans just peanuts

Stephen Fitzpatrick, Nyaru Menteng, Kalimantan November 14, 2007

LONA Droscher-Nielsen has spent enough time living with wild orangutans to know monkey business when she sees it - and the straight-speaking Dane is suspicious of John Howard's election promise to save her great apes.

Lona Droscher-Nielsen with orangutans at her sanctuary in Kalimantan, Indonesia. She is suspicious of a Coalition plan to save the apes.

"If it were to be spent on habitat protection then I'd say it's worthwhile, but we already know that even the big organisations are not succeeding in doing that," Ms Nielsen said, speaking from the sanctuary she founded eight years ago in the Indonesian province of central Kalimantan.

The Prime Minister this week told how an 11-year-old boy's passion for the endangered species had convinced him to dedicate $500,000 over four years to ensuring the orangutan's future.

However, running costs at Ms Nielsen's centre alone - the world's largest, set in 70ha of rehabilitated forest and former botanical gardens on the hamlet of Nyaru Menteng just outside the provincial capital, Palangkaraya - come to about $US840,000 ($945,750) a year.

The project, run under the umbrella of the international Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, is bursting at the seams, providing as it does, a temporary home for 640 of the gentle creatures.

Many are orphans, their mothers killed by hunters in the pay of oil palm companies, or by oil palm farmers who fear their lucrative crop is at risk.

Palm oil, used in an estimated 10per cent of cosmetics and food items, is the new boom plantation for Indonesia and Malaysia, which produce about 80per cent of the world's supply.

Ms Nielsen admitted that half a million dollars would be useful. Any amount of money is important to her shoestring operation, which stumbles along from year to year in the hope of finding new donors, but she warned that the ongoing project to save the apes was far more expensive.

"Rescue centres like this one always need money, and people love to give money for rescue operations, but running the centre on a daily basis is a different thing," she said.
"It's harder and it takes more money."

And it takes the political will to protect Borneo's dwindling rainforests, which at current estimates will have disappeared entirely within 15 years.

Australia has committed $30million to a long-term reforestation and reflooding project in Kalimantan, but even that may be too little, too late.