Dear VSA (Victoria Shanghai Academy),
today I visited the Jerora Orangutan Forest School and I would like take this opportunity to give you an update on our progress. I drove the VSA sponsored 4WD rescue vehicle to the Jerora roest over the newly constructed access road and suveyed the building and construction area.
The forest school is critical to train more orangutans tp prepare for life in the final release forest. At the moment we have one forest school in the village of Tembak, which is very diffcult to reach (the day before yesterday I spent 10 hrs for the car ride into and out of Tembak due to the very poor road conditions and many oil palm trucks that got stuck in deep mud clocking the only road there) and where the orangutans have to use the forest in two shifts. Jerora will have two forest schools of 2 hectares each which will allow us to train 16 additional orangutans there each year. This means that we will be able to release many more orangutans starting early 2019.
On Thursday, April 19th, I was still deep in the jungle of West Kalimantan, releasing three beautiful red haired girls back to their jungle home and was able to see just how much the training in the forest school as helped. Having released more than 500 orangutans myself in the past, I dare say that I never saw such a smooth start to their life in freedom as last thursday. What climbing skills and no stress at all. All three ladies immediately saw the jungle buffet around them and started eating so many things they had learned in the orangutan forest school. Joy took some special clay to settle her upset stomach, Bembi immediately went to eat the shoots of the thorny rattan palm that take a lot of skill and Molly was sucking out termites from nests she collected within minutes of opening the release cage! The new forest school your are sponsoring will greatly help many orangutans to make it back to a life in freedom after so many years of abuse in the hands of humans. Above you see some pictures from the trip to the jungle release.
The land for the forest school has been donated to the Sintang Orangutan Foundation by Father Jacques, a priest that has been living and working with the local Dayaks form more than 50 years. The area comprises 6 hectares of which two thirds is still virgin forest. Besides the two enclosures of 2 hectares each with electrical fences around them we will have an area for teaching permaculture, producing organic food for the orangutans and an education center as well as the small clinic building and holding facilites for more orangutans needing special care.
The forest is mostly a swamp forest but also includes some dry-land forest and some clear water ponds. The dry land was used in the past as a Dayak graveyard, the reason why the forest is still there so close to the city of Sintang. When young Dayaks wanted to cut the forest and plant rubber trees the elders did not agree and then gave the land to father Jacques so he could protect it. Now the land has an official land certificate in the name of the Sintang Orangutan Foundation which provides the highest degree of security.
Around the forest there was gold mining in the past that has destroyed a large area which in our case provides us with an extra zone where there will be no activity in the future since it is now unsuitable for buildings.
We have experienced delays in the construction due to a good action of the provincial police that is cracking down on illegal activities. This includes the shutting down of thousand of illegal gold mining operations but also the sale of wood. Now even legally cut timber from village lands cannot be transported outside their village district. This has resulted in shortages of timber in Sintang. This meant that the clinic building which will also house the staff to guard the orangutans and the facilities cannot be finished yet. This also resulted in us not being able to bring in the expensive copper wire yet, despite that we have finished the massive work of putting in the concrete foundations for the electrical fence and set up the boundary posts that will hold the wires. We are at the moment negotiating with the authorities to bring in legal timber with a special exemption from the Tembak region. When that arrives it will take only two weeks to finish the clinic building and six weeks to finish the electrical wiring system to keep the orangutans in the forest school. I will keep you updated after my next visit at Jerora which will be around the first of June.
I like to thank our special VSA friends for what they are doing to help our orangutans here in the heart of Borneo!
Willie Smits, April 19, 2018
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