Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Budiharto, Giving life to Indonesia's wildlife

Theresia Sufa , The Jakarta Post , Sukabumi, West Java | Tue, 04/28/2009

Even after almost 10 years of working at the Cikananga Wildlife Rescue Center, wildlife activist Budiharto still can't help feeling sad when he sees animals devastated by hunger.

"I come close to tears as I watch wild animals limping out of hunger, forcing me to rack my brains to find some way of securing food for the hundreds of them now in the center, to save them from starving," said the 41-year-old, who is wildlife manager at the center.

The center, in Sukabumi, West Java, was set up in August 2001 by a non-profit wildlife conservation organization. It is used to hold animals confiscated from the public by the Forestry Ministry's Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), as well as those surrendered by their owners, most of which are endangered native species.

Among the creatures under the center's care are long-necked tortoises (Chelodina siebenrocki), Javan hawk eagles (Spizaetus bartelsi), Javan gibbons (Hylobates moloch), double-wattle cassowaries (Casuarius casuarius), orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus), honey bears (Helarctos malayanus) and panthers (Panthera pardus melas).

The center also provides a means to educate visitors about environment conservation, by acquainting them with a special wildlife school that also functions as a physical rehabilitation base to prepare endangered animals for their release into the wild.

The aim is to raise public awareness and thus put an end to the environmental crime of raising rare animals at home. Love of animals is thus at the center of their release and of the proper maintenance of forests as their habitat.

But since funding from an affiliated foundation was terminated, the center has been in trouble, with the hundreds of animals at the center underfed and physically weak.

"We used to run smoothly with the foundation's aid, but now we have to meet all the food and maintenance costs ourselves. When the aid was cut off, there were 1,000 carnivores and primates here, leaving us in a panic," said Budiharto.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Budiharto and 14 fellow activists, the center has managed to continue to survive and feed its remaining 296 animals. Together, they have been going around Sukabumi everyday to obtain chicken meat from friends who work with chicken breeding farms, while also selling brown sugar they produce to get money to buy animal feed.

Sometimes they pick up a little extra money from the students or foreign researchers who spend the night in guesthouses within the center's compound.

They have also reached an arrangement with two supermarkets in Sukabumi to get animal feed, such as perishable farm produce and meat unfit for human consumption, although this cannot be expected on a daily basis. Bandung's Biofarma pharmaceutical company has also helped out with some cash assistance.

"There're times when we didn't get paid for months for doing this job. As wildlife activists, we realize we're here not just for money but for our dedication to the rescue of Indonesia's indigenous animals," Budiharto said.

"Our love of wildlife is so deep that we have endured this hardship till now. But we simply can't cope with this problem alone, so we need help from all parties including the government, because the animals belong to the state. We need not only funds but also help with animal releases."

This is because, Budiharto said, the animals are kept in the center only temporarily, meaning they have to return to the wild whenever other animals enter the center.

Unlike zoos, this center aims to turn tame beasts into wild ones to enable them to survive in their natural habitat. Often, this is not easy because most of the animals in the center have had traumatic experiences.

For instance, a bear called Hunny was about to be slaughtered for soup at a restaurant in Jakarta when it was rescued and adopted by residents.

A panther named Gon-gon was found by the BKSDA and an environment NGO in a Ciamis forest in West Java with one leg trapped; the leg had to be amputated because of gangrene.

Thus unable to return to the wild, Gon-gon must go to a zoo or a captive breeding place - or be given a lethal injection according to international requirements.

In 2007, six Javan gibbons from the center were turned over to the rehabilitation center in Bodogol resort in Bogor's Mount Gede-Pangrango National Park, and eight Javan eagles were delivered to the Eagle Sanctuary at Mount Halimun Salak National Park in Bogor.

Therefore, the center has to cooperate with various national parks. "Through the center, we wish to demonstrate that we are not fond of denuding and destroying forests as these are the habitat of wild animals," Budiharto said.

"The presence of this center serves as proof that our nation is very eager to protect its native wildlife and return endangered species to nature for their conservation."

To see a photo please click on this link