Barbara Harrison, after 50 years of work, created the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in the jungles of Borneo.
The destruction of the jungles meant the destruction of their species, many of them endemic and threatened. Once again, the dependency among them reveals the danger of destroying the fabric on which life is based.
For the orangutans, whose diet includes over 400 different types of fruits, leaves, flowers and barks, the loss of the jungle meant they were left without food, and therefore were condemned to rapid extinction.
But, fortunately for the jungle and for the orangutans, these large simians have attracted the admiration and sympathy of the public and they are now the most visible image of conservationism in Borneo; the last hope for its threatened jungles.
Everything began when Barbara Harrison, from the Sarawak Museum, had the idea of rescuing the orphaned orangutans captured by the logging companies and teaching them to fend for themselves in the wild. The task was not easy, because the orangutans have a very long childhood, during which they depend entirely on their mothers, who teach them not only what to eat but also how to obtain and prepare their food. This, however, did not discourage Barbara Harrison.
After 50 years of work, her initiative has given rise to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.
The work of the centre is bringing results which go further than the reintroduction of the orangutans. Because from here they are starting to make citizens and governments aware of the need to conserve the last jungles of Borneo. And the key, once again, is that people come here, attracted by these expressive primates that remind us so much of our own species.
The tourists that come to Sepilok are changing the way of thinking of the local people. The visitors not only leave money but also demonstrate the admiration and the interest the natural heritage of the island arouses around the world.
The logging companies that caused the fires that have devastated the jungles of Borneo have been left without the support of the governments of the island, who are starting to hand over the concessions to NGOs willing to pay in order to conserve. These NGOs demonstrate that conservation can be profitable, and open the eyes of politicians and local people, who are starting to see the jungles as a form of life insurance.
As deforestation is reduced, some species that seemed condemned to extinction are once again given hope for the future. Animals like this Sumatran rhinoceros, the oldest and most threatened of the five species of rhinoceros in the world, have very slowly started to increase in number.
And, little by little, the miracle seems to be becoming a reality and new jungles are starting to be planted where for generations they had been cut down and burnt.