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Comments: Orangutan guerrillas fight palm oil in Borneo

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OMG! very sad post...thank you for shring this with us. It just amazed me how cruel people can be.

fred smilek

The greed of palm oil companies seems to have no limits. If they could they would convert every strip of land available for palm oil plantation.
Such destruction of environment that happens in Indonesia appears to have no equivalents in human history especially
in terms of lost biodiversity.
It is a real wildlife "holocaust".
Let's face the truth. Whether legal or not those activities are crimes against human and nature.

tom kloszewski

outstanding coverage! thanks, Rhett and Mongabay!

ryan king

Eh, I don't wish to start a massive argument, as we're on the same (environmental) side; but I do not agree with the tactics used by COP. Sure, they get attention more than a 'middle of the road' approach, it's sexier to talk more bluntly and say things about whoever does x is my enemy.

But I simply don't think the tactics will work to change anything for the better. Even if smear tactics and the like can begin to work on the greater international level, and we have people in the west damning palm oil for all its evils (which, although sure I don't agree with orangutans being injured by plantation workers and others - really we need to tell the whole story and explain that these people are just trying to make a living, and especially if the orangutans are damaging their personal food crops, they are going to be treated as just another pest (or as in some sites I know - even though the community has reported there is a conflict problem - it is not just as simple as calling the government and then they come and move the orangutans to someplace safe - because, well, there are little such spaces left, and at least in Sumatra there is the growing problem of people in Aceh not wanting to send orangutans from there down to South Sumatra where the reintroduction site is - so that door may be closing soon. All this too is not to mention the difficulties/cost of translocating orangutans, and on top of that there are also the risks of disease transmission, and then possibly overcrowding or social problems related to moving fully developed, territorial adult males. so, although I don't want any orangutans harmed, I would also find it really hard to say to people living adjacent to them that they just need to put up with what has become a pest species for them, even if it means their own livelihoods/families are to suffer (yes it is easy to theoretically say 'you shouldn't be living so close to the forest in the first place', but in practice who can actually say this - and plus things are getting crowded everywhere for people {which yes, there are six plus billion of us and counting and 6,624 Sumatran orangutans and declining - but that's just the way things are}).

Wow sorry I go a bit crazy with my parentheses comments sometimes.

Anyways, even if people start to damn these companies and the companies then adapt their marketing strategy and maybe sign onto RSPO or whatever, I have serious doubts that things will actually change on the ground in the plantations. Although there are efforts out there in place to educate workers and residents of plantations on both conflict mitigation and also conservation education, I think it's pretty safe to say that most plantation workers are not very well read on global conservation and other such issues, thus for them they are just going to do what they have to to earn a living and provide for their families. So people are just going to keep on working with oil palm (of which the price has just gone up again apparently so more people are becoming interested) and that's that. And in terms of it ever actually being 'sustainable', well, I don't think that's possible in really any crop that is produced on such a mass scale, especially when it's done in monoculture plantations with no agroforestry systems intersparsed.

Oil palm can be made more sustainable (than it is), but it is never going to be sustainable (at least on the scale it is now). So the sustainable term is yes I think a buzzword. Plus there still isn't full transparency on the production chain from planting the trees, harvesting them, milling, and then the final product - so I think there are always going to be some slip-ups in the system and some plantation (workers) that cut corners or work in some way to increase production (which is something that I think most all of us have done in our own work, no matter what it is, and are encouraged to do by the industry - so why should we expect it to be any different for this industry???).

So I don't think the industry is wonderful, and nor do I think the RSPO is some solid gold answer to all our problems. The RSPO is a voluntary organisation, and within that it has no official authority or ability to enforce any of its measures. Thus it was never set up to be this governing body that many of its critics make it out to be so that they can call it a failure. The RSPO is a move in the right direction, and important in that it provides a forum where producers, consumers, environmental and social NGOs can work - and which the media can monitor and report on. Through this forum guidelines and measures for production have been established and worked on under which an RSPO member company must have its plantation with an attached mill for production (this is one of the required terms in order for the oil to be termed 'CSPO' - certified sustainable palm oil) work under.

These individual 'sustainable' plantations (note - just those plantations that are working under these standards - just because a company is shipping CSPO it does not necessarily mean that every one of their plantations is) then working with these measures, audited by RSPO accredited inspectors (of which there is a shortage and thus a backlog of companies waiting to be inspected - again I think as a result of the voluntary nature of the RSPO and also the very large market of palm oil in Malaysia and Indonesia), are at least working on a scale that is 'better' for the natural environment than are those plantations that are not. This doesn't mean it's perfect, but it is still an improvement.

I'm sort of rambling here - here will try and respond directly to some of Hardi's comments:

"Some of the big international conservation organizations are also not happy with my group because they just want to make things look good -- like the government. "

I just don't like how this sort of news polarises the situation and sensationalises everything. All these stories do is incense the industry and turn them against any conservation inspired measures (and also perhaps cuts all desire to communicate with NGOs). No, the industry is not perfect, but neither is anything, and at least if the lines of communication are open we can try and work out some sort of compromise. NGOs whom are working to try and support/protect the natural environment or some other issue that does not directly affect peoples' livelihoods, well, with each year more and more human mouths to feed - our 'side' is inherently weaker.People need to eat, and palm oil is a great way to make money to eat and then some - why shouldn't people be able to buy all the things they want (just as most of us already have). And per the people who own the companies and keep on looking to expand and become tycoons - well, simply put - they don't need to work with us - they could simply carry on with business as usual and trample over everything if they wanted (and if the western markets don't like it - then the companies will just focus on and sell to China and other eastern countries, of which at the RSPO 2008 conference it was said that there is no market for CSPO in such countries {yet?}). But if instead we engage with the companies and try to help steer them towards the more sustainable direction (and explain along the way that there are methods that can be implemented that not only help the environment but also can provide alternative income and free, inherent ecological services), than the environment can prosper along with the local community.

We are in no way trying to make things look good or help greenwash the companies/industry. And saying in a blanket statement that they do - well, that (just as the book 'Green Inc.' I think could turn people away from supporting NGOs, thinking that ALL of them must be bad since it's been found that some of them are/may be misguided) may only serve in turning the general public away from supporting NGOs. Well, it could turn them away from supporting any NGOs that aren't making heavy statements declaring unknown people as enemy adversaries.

On that note, I suppose it can be likened to politics - G.W. Bush's policies on diplomacy did not really take the USA anywhere; whereas Obama's policy of engagement is seen to be opening doors and, seemingly per global public opinion - helping. Isolating and even making enemies of ourselves to the industry will not get us anywhere, and may in the end just end up in more destruction.

"But I don't think there are any permanent victories. Companies don't want to lose their money and when the focus is off them they will resume their activities."

How is this wrong that companies want to make a profit? I really think it's unfair that the entire industry is being damned and set apart from, well, every other industry. And per permanent victories - I don't think in a smear campaign that can ever be expected. A company working illegally, if called out/attacked on a certain issue, might just pull back and recoil from that issue - but then when we aren't looking will just do it somewhere else.

It's a matter of treating the symptom (further deforestation) and not the cause (their policies). And the latter are never going to be changed on the large scale by a couple of demos and campaigns. It's too large for that sort of approach to work.

"I think RSPO is just a shield for organized crime. RSPO has criteria but members still cut down the forest and kill the orangutan. For example in November 2007 during the RSPO meeting the IOI Group was still clearing the forest. So it's like a big joke for me. It is a PR game. RSPO makes Wilmar and Sinar Mas look good but I rescued several orangutan from the Wilmar plantation in 2006 and 2007. "

Per above - RSPO is a voluntary organisation, with the only requirement to join being that you pay the fees. One doesn't need to be a grower or even an organisation - private individuals can join. Just being a member does not imply that you produce sustainable palm oil or follow the policies or even participate in the voting process that determines RSPO criteria.

I really don't understand these and other attempts to bring down the only available open forum on developing more sustainable policies for palm oil. No, it is not perfect, and per the RSPO 2008 meeting in Bali, the discussion seems to be much more industry dominated (to the detriment of smallholder plantations and also social and environmental NGOs); but if instead we all made a conscious effort to join in this forum and help push things forward it would help infinitely more than just trying to cut it down from the sidelines.

Palm oil is not going away, and it should not go away - it is a great versatile crop that people can make a good living on, and let's not forget that no matter how hard some people in the west or whereever may try - it is nearly impossible to completely boycott the oil. And even if one managed to boycott it completely, they would just be causing some environmental problems elsewhere such as in South America with other types of oils and plantations. Also for those trying to boycott the oil - please do share what exactly the palm oil workers and their families are supposed to do to make a living. And also, please share how financially they are supposed to clear the millions of hectares of land already planted with oil palm, and what they are supposed to do in the meantime before the land is regenerated.

So to me it seems the best way forward is to try and work with the companies (which if anyone has a better idea than the RSPO - please share it) and help make things better.

I really don't think labeling the Indonesian government and/or palm oil industry a bunch of crooks is going to make them change their policies (and it certainly isn't going to make them want to talk/work with what you'd like to see happen). On a side note - it's no secret Indonesia's fairly long history of corruption - so I don't think it's anything they're not used to. Really though what this does cause is for a selection of the international community to falsely come out and say they want to boycott palm oil (the lifeblood of many local people here).

All this makes for an eye-catching story, and with the orangutans at stake it pulls at the heart strings, all of which certainly can't hurt in getting some funding. But at the end of the day much is left unsaid and the story unclear - after reading this and nearly every other negative oil palm article one is left with the feeling: palm oil is bad and should be stopped.

In the end it's actually rather unfair journalism and sensationalism. It's not explaining the whole issue and how complicated it can be.

That's not a slight at Mongabay - it's more directed at COP.

Again I understand your statements are the sort that get a lot of (media) attention; and again I'm on your side. But I really don't think this 'guerilla' style 'go it alone' approach is going to get us anywhere.

frank sumatra

Though some "don't think this 'guerilla' style 'go it alone' approach is going to get us anywhere," the present approach has gotten us where we are now. Sometimes you must speak up... be part of the solution...be the change you wish to see." Personally I applaud Hardi's actions and passion despite incredible odds and oppostiion.

jp taylor

I do not believe it is appropriate to criticize the responses of so called “guerrilla” movements if you are living or working from within the framework of the extractive, exploitative and violent systems (industrial capitalism...) which are responsible for their existence.

Furthermore, I do not think there is anything particularly “sexier” as Frank Sumatra (workin' for a palm oil co there Frank?) about having to resort – in desperation – to guerrilla tactics, direct action, or the polarization of enemy and friendly sides in the environmental movement. Hiding for hours alone in the tropical mud and bugs from men with guns in uniforms does not feel particularly "sexy." Nor does having to live your life on the run, as the members of COP must do. The rapidly growing cultural appeal of rebels, global guerrillas, and radicals is a reflection of the massive, systemic failures of mainstream organizations and institutions to deliver safe and sufficient solutions to the compounding social and environmental calamities of the 21st century. As industrial economies continue to collapse worldwide, most entities clinging to the behavioral patterns of violent resource extraction will be unable to rapidly and radically shift their values and practices in response to environmental conditions.

Allowing these industries, institutions and governments to continue pillaging what little is left of biodiversity is violence. Resistance in counter-violence. Complacency is complacency.

(r)evolution or extinction


ryan king


Ok, I won't go on using the silly name of 'frank sumatra' to post (thought the name was entertaining, but that's just my bad sense of humour). No I don't work for a palm oil co., but for a relatively small environmental NGO based in Sumatra. Chose not to go with my own name for not wanting the NGO to be characterised by my personal views on the tactics used by COP and others (of whom as stated we are on the same team and we know each other - it's just I don't really agree with their methods).

Thought I laid it out pretty clear on why the 'guerilla' tactics employed aren't going to do much good. And that I wasn't playing for the oil palm/industry team, but more trying to figure out a compromise of sorts that better suits everyone.

I hear what you're saying about 'extractive, exploitative and violent systems (industrial capitalism...) which are responsible for their existence.'; sure, the current system (neoliberalism I suppose) is terrible, and set up to prosper those at the 'top' the most. At no point did I say that's great and people shouldn't try and do anything about it.

My comments using the word 'sexy', were more directed at the media coverage that COP and others give to these actions. The whole 'shame on you for using palm oil' / "While you are reading this, forests in Kalimantan (Indonesia Borneo) are being destroyed and cleared to make way for new palm oil plantations." deal, yes, it gets attention (thus the use of the word 'sexy' - but it does not explain or deal with the problem.

That, which I suppose is the main thrust, can be summarised in the paragraph above starting with: "Palm oil is not going away, and it should not go away ..." (of which the three questions (1. what are local workers supposed to do for a living? 2. what of all the land already cleared and planted with palm oil 3. better plan than RSPO) asked weren't rhetorical - if anyone has any answers or even ideas for discussion let's share them)

Telling people they have to stop using palm oil will not make palm oil expansion stop (and even if it does cease or slow for markets in the west, the Asian markets along with many others will still use it {including myself and many colleagues - the alternatives, soy bean, corn, etc, are more expensive. These alternatives can be considered luxury, or class, items - not everyone can afford to pay the extra premium. And again, these oils just transfer the problems found in palm oil production to other regions.) (a better alternative which I failed to give previously would be to advocate an overall 'curb your consumption' campaign. Not just using less (palm) oil, but less (or just enough) of everything.

I was only advocating for the more pragmatic, diplomatic approach (of which we are gaining some headway).

Per the 'guerilla' approach - although I can't advocate it, can think of a few cases where it may have had some effect. The movements spawned out of Edward Abbey's writings come to mind. However, I think the power there came from the anonymity of the actor(s).

As an example:

A powerful film that shows some of the reality of what's happening to the forest and its inhabitants.

Who shot it? - nobody knows

Who can use/screen it? - anyone

Can the industry/'men with guns in uniforms' do anything about it? - no

It's really not as simple as making it an 'us' vs. 'them' (as it rarely ever is). Because in the 'them' is: palm oil plantation workers and their families, people who use palm oil most days {which includes most of us!}, a large part of the national economy and sure, the industry barons.

I'm a conservationist, so am all for the more natural nature - but have realised there's no separating out humanity from that.

We've got to figure out a better and more balanced equation.

All I'm saying is working out that solution is going to be a lot harder if you're out crawling around the tropical mud with the bugs, instead of sitting down and engaging with the 'other side', working towards a mutual plan forward.

dave dellatore

"Massacre in Peru ongoing, 100+ killed"


"it is the devil's way now
there is no way out
you have not been paying attention
paying attention
paying attention
you have not been paying attention"

si vis pacem parabellum

ryan king

The Global Significance Of The Amazon Protest


anyone got any leads/info what WWF, CI, IUCN, or any NGOS are doing in reaction to this?

ryan king

Why don't people realise that the RSPO is like OXFAM in a way. They have a mammoth task that in reality they will never complete. No-one tells OXFAM they have failed everytime a kid dies of starvation, so why do it in this case? People like COPS and Greenpeace need to stop attacking the people who are trying to make a difference and push this world back up the slippery slope that we have shoved it, so why not get behind them and help them by education people in what is going wrong and work together. Surely the RSPO is a fantastic opportunity for all types of people in this industry (from animal lovers to money makers) to get together and make change happen, yet still everyone gets at each others throats.

It is sad to think that we are the most brutal and inhumane of all the animals. Logic tells us so much yet we just have ruined everything that we have ever been given. Cynical and disgusting. Dave or Frank whatever your name is, you made some very good logical points, offering a pleasently well rounded argument which left a lot of room for intelligent debate and what did you get "do you work for an oil company"? Shame man.

Why can't people accept that civilisation as it is today has put us into a position that we are baisically pulling the plug on our own way of life. I bet if we went up to a cave person today and said 'hey we are going to dump millions of tons of concrete over here and then we are all going to live on it and then for food we are going to plant just one kind of thing over loads of land and so this tiny percentage of people that are now going to supply our food have to travel far far away because there is nothing nearby. and then we are going to dump tons of chemicals onto the food to make it tasteless and kill all the fish and the animals that we would have otherwise learnt from and eaten. We are then going to take all the comfy natural textiles you and replace them with this amazing thing called plastic and remove all of our body hair so we have to cut down more plants and trees to keep warm. its gonna be great guys!"

they would have laughed and then probably killed you for being mad.

anyway i digress, just the ignorance and illogical 'oh but the poor monkey' (yes I know they are orangutans in this case) irritates me. In england rabbits and squirrels are a pest, in south africa cockroaches and monkeys, for fishermen, birds are a pest. civilisation and monoculture cannot work side by side with animals in the current situation, so why not all the monkey lovers and the money makers get together and make a truce instead of ripping each others heads off.

Rhiannon D'Arcy

When will we ever learn, corporations only understand money. We can all sit around tables and debate the best way forward whilst habitats are constantly being destroyed. Deforestation is not a new problem that everyone in the world faces and yet the selfish attitudes of each nation, like immature children saying I won't play ball if you don't, will really get us nowhere. Career politicans say what they believe we want to hear and yet do nothing. Companies hide behind claims of signing up to RSPO but the reality is, who will question any organisations supply chain for a product that is not actually traceable. So called sustainably sourced produce and non sustainable product can be mixed together, who would know or be able to trace thi back? I totally applaud the direct action of COP as it seems someone genuinely wants to help the Orangutan before they are extinct, let alone the cruelty and suffering they have to endure. The beautiful pictures of the baby animals melt everyone's hearts quite rightly, but please don't forget for every cute image you see a mother has been slaughtered to release her baby. I hope everyone will help the desparate plight, not only of the Orangutan, but all the other wildlife that is being anhilated for greedy corporate profit. When all the forests are gone, land polluted and oceans destroyed, only then will we perhaps understand that we cannot eat money! Unbdoubtably politicians will still be debating.

Alice Dennett

There you people go again anthromorphizing animals. How can you claim that the infant is "traumatized" or the claim that these animals posses in any way human chracteristics or even motrals or spirituallity of any kind. yes they are close to us but they are still only animals. My point is, why do people from the west go into dirt poor countries and try to dictate to the people there how to eat how to make changes which throw their entire way of life into unemployed chaos. The other thing that disturbs me deeply is to see these animals dressed in infant clothes, and they are diapered, as well as rare and precious medicine is wasted on these animals. These recources could be of much better use to the diet poor villagers to improve their lot, buyt nope somehow in the twisted philosophy that you people spout apes take precedence over humans! I see oxyegen antibiotics and intravenous fluids, and a host of resources being wasted on these animals, and frnkly it sickens me. When I see a video of an orangutan supposedly being shot out of a tree by a hunter and then the tiny infant (who is strangely not sqeuaking loudly, as it is being pulled of its dead mother. In the very next scene a BOS truck is racing to the scene purportedly to "rescue and orangutan and her baby but they shoot it out of the tree with a dart gun, and heres the b.s. It is the exact same scene as the supposed "hunter" in the previous scene shooting the ape, its the same rifle the same hat with the exact same logo and the samwe tshirt! Do you see the propoganda the lie? I do And I am sick of hearing for six years now the orangutans will be extinct in the wild in five years!!!! Hey the deadline has long passed and the claims are b.s. Stop the propoganda stop pushing these pests, yes I said pests down our throats like they are our long lost relatives they are not related to humans in any sense execpt for the tenous dna claim. Thats is not enough to convince me at all, so why don't you st5op degrading they very govt that was tolerant enough to let you into their cuntry, and styop your war on the palm oil industry. Its unfortunate but the search for bio fuels has taken us to these impasse and I can tell you that the majority of people (real human beings) would much rather continue enjoying the comforts of the world we (again human beings not apes) have built for us and our descendants. If you want to live in the jubgles of borneo please do so with my every blessing but do not daree yto presume to think for me. I do not condone the wholesale slaughter of any species, But I do believe that the amount of false claims by the very people that are saving these apes, as well as claiming they possess humanity really is the wrong approach, most humans find it degrading to be put on the same level as an animal, and of course like my self are turned off totally by being bombarded by the slick(and costly) television shows and ads that are crafted to elicit sympathy and money from us in the west. Hey I and many others have much better causes to donate

john zawada

John Zawada, I'm Indonesian and trust me, you are an ignorant idiot. GO AWAY !!!


Finally a Local Indonesian Group and a Brave person like Hardi to stand up against the massive palmoil industry. Very true that many big NGO's dont fight the palmoil This has nothing to do with some disturbing remarks commented below concerning anthromorphizing animals' remarks, those comments surely are a result of severe ignorance we are loosing orangutans (our closest relatives, for heavens sake) at fast rate, does it matter if its one year, five or ten years we are talking about?
Still something needs to happen to protect orangutans and their forests and by doing so, we protect the people depending on the resources like Rotan and traditional medication from those forests too! Unbelievable that someone can still comment contra!! except for palmoil companies who think of nothing more then their own profit!
With all respect for COP and their many dedicated volunteers in the field trying to make this world a better place! They use just the rights tactics by being there in the field, exposing whats going on NOW instead of researching and publishing years after damage has been done!

Femke den Haas

Hardi Baktiantoro is a hero to me and so many others. These forests and the amazing animals and indigenous people must be saved! I went to Borneo to see the orangutans and I saw the devastation of the palm oil industry and I also saw the orphaned orangutans who deserve their homes- and their mothers! Such a tragedy to see all these orphaned orangutans who have lost their mothers, their forests and their way of life! Please boycott ALL palm oil products and help save these last remaining forests!

Patty Shenker

Orangutans suck. Let the nasty apes along with their infants be killed. They are sick breeders.

Rachel Ellen

Rachel Ellen -- you are a pathetic excuse for a human being. You are probably repulsive, overweight, and full of hate. May you die alone in misery.

Timothy Carr

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