Ecologist in bid to save threatened orang-utans

Reino Gevers

Reino Gevers

HAMBURG - Dutch ecologist Willie Smits says he will never forget the day in October 1989 when he saw the desperately sad eyes of an orang-utan baby looking at him from a dark cage on a market in the Indonesian seaport of Balikpapan.

Smits was so disturbed that he returned to the market that same evening, just in time to find the limp body of the orang-utan lying on a rubbish heap where the trader had dumped it.

During the next 24 hours Smits managed to save the orang-utan from certain death, feeding it droplets of milk and water.

It was the start of a lifelong mission to save one of the world's last surviving great apes from extinction and to preserve its rainforest habitat that is rapidly being destroyed in Borneo.

"Time is running out. We have less than two years to save the last 40000 wild orang-utans from extinction," Smits said during an interview in Hamburg, Germany.

Smits is on a promotional tour of his book Think of the Jungle which he co-authored with German journalist Gerd Schuster. The spectacular pictures in the book were taken by Indian-born photographer Jay Ullal. - Sapa-DPA