The Palm Scribe

Boss of BOS Jamartin Sihite: Looking Forward to the End of Orangutan Conservation

For Jamartin Sihite, working in nature and environment conservation came naturally. From very early on, the young Sihite already believed fervently that human depended on nature for life itself, but human had also inflicted great damage on Mother Earth.

BOSF CEO Jamartin Sihite. (Photo: BOSF)

“Since I was small, I already had the notion that mankind must pay back for the damage that it has inflicted on nature. If we want to benefit from the products of nature, we should do it responsibly and sustainably so that the natural riches are not depleted,” Sihite told The Palm Scribe in a written interview.

“A balance between the use of the products of nature and environmental conservation is an inevitability,” added the long-time conservation activist who has been actively supporting protected species such as the giant Komodo lizard and the iconic orangutans of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Sihite joined the BOS Foundation in 2010 as president director of PT. Rehabilitasi Habitat Orangutan Indonesia (RHOI), a company set up by the Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation to obtain concession rights so they could restore the ecosystem in those areas.

The Foundation had rescued and released back about 400 individual orangutans into the Gunung Seratus and Sungai Wain protected forests in East Kalimantan during its first decade of operation from 1991 to 2002. It, however, had to halt the program because of the unavailability of proper forests to release the orangutans in.

Sihite became CEO of the BOS Foundation in 2011 and by the next year, the Foundation managed to obtain an 86,400-hectare concession in the Kehje Sewen forest in the East Kutai district of East Kalimantan. This enabled the foundation to resume its orangutan release program after being rehabilitated at its center at Samboja Lestari in East Kalimantan.

BOS Foundation also gradually obtained more forest concessions, including the Bukit Batikap in Murung Raya district in Central Kalimantan and starting in 2016,  the Bukit Baka and Bukit Raya National Park in the Central Kalimantan district of Katingan. A total of 301 orangutans have been released in these new areas.

In total, the Foundation has already rescued more than 2,200 orangutans since its establishment in 1991, Sihite said.

Operating in Central and East Kalimantan, BOS Foundation now manages forests covering some 500,000 hectares. and runs two rehabilitation centers, one in Nyaru Menteng in Central Kalimantan, where currently about 440 orangutans are undergoing rehabilitation, and another in Samboja Lestari in East Kalimantan where 155 of the animals are being cared for.

Sihite received his undergraduate degree in soil conservation, from the Bogor Agriculture Institute (IPB) in 1989. He obtained an MSc and later a Ph.D. in environmental science from the same university in 1993 and 2004 respectively.

His career in conservation started by working as an ecology specialist and environmental scientist for various project-based assignments with WWF Indonesia. WCS and other Indonesian consultants. His career later included a long stint as a lecturer was the Faculty of Landscape Architecture at the Trisakti University, working as a team leader and later deputy director for conservation for Komodo and senior advisor for the Nature Conservancy

His first professional brush with orangutans came when working as a deputy chief of party for USAID-OCSP (Orangutan Conservation Services Program) in 2007- 2010 before taking the president directorship at RHOI in October 2010.

Sihite said that his long-term hope is that one day, “this matter of orangutan conservation can end. That we would no longer need to save orangutans.”

He also said that his other fervent hope is that there would no longer be any forest area, especially those with high conservation value, that are cleared.

As with any other conservation activists, Sihite derives satisfaction in his work when seeing the positive changes taking place in the environment.  He cited rehabilitated forests, the release of orangutan into the wild, as providing immense satisfaction.

“But those are just small victories. Our fight and journey ahead are still very long, very long.”

Conservation, sustainability is everybody’s business … and responsibility:

While many are busy pointing the finger at each other over issues of sustainability and conservation of the environment, Jamartin Sihite begs to differ. For him, conservation of the environment is everybody’s business and also their shared responsibility.

Sihite, a long-time dedicated and passionate conservation activist, said that for him, and the Borneo Orangutan Survival ( BOS)Foundation of which he is its Chief Executive Officer, believe that the conservation of wildlife, including, orangutans, as well as their habitat, was the responsibility of everyone.

“We always believe that conservation is the duty, obligation, and responsibility of us all… everyone should think about how to safeguard the conditions of nature,” Sihite said adding that everyone needed to realize that their life fully depended on nature.

And by everyone, Sihite meant everyone, including those often at the receiving end of criticism and accusation of being destroyers of the environment, the plantation and extraction industries.

“All community groupings are stakeholders in this efforts, including business players, palm oil plantation or mining companies,” he said.

He said there was nothing wrong working with plantation companies in conservation efforts as long as the companies showed good commitment to sustainability and environmental conservation.

He took the example of a small man-made island in Wahau, East Kutai district in East Kalimantan, currently used by the Foundation to prepare orangutan before they are released into the wild. The 80 hectare island, is part of a concession held by palm oil plantation company PT Nusaraya Agro Sawit (NAS). “This management is the result of our cooperation with that company,” Sihite said.

“Several companies gathered under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO ) are providing high conservation value area to support wildlife and habitat conservation,” he said. RSPO is one of the internationally recognized sustainability standards for palm oil.

But he added that so far, only a very small part of the total forest surface managed for conservation by BOS Foundation was part of concessions of palm oil plantations.

“In essence, we at BOS Foundation wants that in the future, the palm oil industry must be more pro-conservation of the habitat and the orangutans,” he said, adding that a number of industry players have already expressed their commitment to harmonize their commercial interests to the need for the conservation of the environment.

In the short term, Sihite hoped that all stakeholders realize that everyone should think about how to well maintain nature so that when its riches are needed, it could provide it.

“I hope all stakeholders, be they the central government or the governments in the region, people’s organization, the communities, and all business players, can work together to conserve the environment and its content, especially orangutans,” he said.

“One must realize that we are living in full dependence of nature.”

In running its operation, the foundation also always tries to enlist the local community so as to develop not only the local economy through the provision of jobs but also to help guarantee the continuity of the company’s operation. Local manpower takes the priority in all recruitment, from technicians, the orangutan babysitters, to managerial positions.

The BOS Foundation also works together with the local population in the provision of fruits and vegetables to feed the orangutan daily, as well as in the provision of boat transportations to the various work areas.

“The majority of our employees in Nyaru Menteng are residents from around Tangkiling village, with the addition of some residents of Palangkaraya,” Sihite said that one of the difficulties faced by the foundation is the great interest in local communities to get involved in conservation efforts.

“The level of intent is way over the capacity that we can accommodate. Our colleagues in local communities are very bent in helping out, but we cannot accept all their assistance can we accept….We see that our efforts to conserve orangutans and their habitat so far, have provided a positive example and many people have since been moved to join us,” he said.

However, Sihite also admitted that some of this determination among local communities may also have been prompted by the perception that TBOS Foundation can provide jobs, rather than based on the perspective of environmental conservation,

Rampant land conversion and weak law enforcement are the main challenges faced by environment conservationists in their drive to save a primate that can only be found in Indonesia’s islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, Sihite, said,

“The main constraint in orangutan conservation is the fact that there are still land conversion taking place and a weak law enforcement on crimes, such as illegal trade in wildlife,” he said.

Another challenge was posed by the complex bureaucratic procedures and phases that have to be passed when trying to deal with a problem under binding cooperation agreements with the government, central or regional.  Economic and development interests also often lead regional governments to come out with policies and decisions which puts nature conservancy, including of orangutans, in the backseat.

Sihite, who has been with BOS foundation since 2010, also pointed out that while laws existed and provided protection to wildlife, they tended to overlook the need to also protect the habitat of wildlife and the environment in general.

“Illegal exploitation is still taking place in areas that should have been protected, such as in protected forests or national reserve parks.,” he said to illustrate the point. Another example was the government’s plan for geothermal exploitation in the Leuser ecosystem in Aceh in which the local provincial government included areas within the Leuser National Park for the development of the energy. he said.

Operating in Central and East Kalimantan, BOS Foundation now manages forests covering some 500,000 hectares. and runs two rehabilitation centers, one in Central Kalimantan’s Nyaru Menteng where currently about 440 orangutans are undergoing rehabilitation, and another in Samboja Lestari in East Kalimantan where 155 are being cared for.

The foundation continues to be on the lookout for new forests that can host orangutans released back into the wild. These forests have to meet several criteria, including that they are situated at an elevation of below 900 meters above sea level, have adequate stocks of natural food plant, have very small, wild orangutan population,  and are safe from future area exploitation.

Based on the latest PHVA (Population and Habitat Viability Assessment) calculation released in August, there are an estimated  71,820 individual orangutans living in 17,460,600 hectares of land in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

For Sihite, conserving nature and the environment would assure the sustainability of forests in its various roles, including in providing for the needs of humans.

“A balance between the use of the products of nature and a sustainable  environmental conservation is an inevitability.”

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