sábado, 15 de noviembre de 2014


Willie Smits (born February 22, 1957, in Weurt, Gelderland, the Netherlands) is a trained forester, a microbiologist, conservationist, animal rights activist, wilderness engineer and social entrepreneur. He has lived in Borneo since 1985 and is an Indonesian citizen. While working as a forest researcher in East Kalimantan, Indonesia in 1989, Smits encountered a baby orangutan in a cage in a market, and later returned to find it abandoned on a rubbish heap. This was a turning-point in his career: taking the orangutan home, he nurtured it back to health. He was soon given other orangutans to look after, and the work of rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing orangutans into the wild developed into what was to become the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. For over twenty years Smits has worked for the survival of this threatened species of ape, during which time his work has also broadened out into the related areas of sustainable farming, reforestation and remote monitoring of forests. He travels widely, raising awareness of the issues surrounding deforestation in Borneo and the plight of the orangutan, also showing how it has been possible on a relatively small scale to reverse the great damage that is being done to the orangutan and its environment. He became a senior advisor to the Ministry of Forests in Indonesia and has been knighted in the Netherlands. In 1991 Smits founded what was soon to become the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS), in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), the world’s largest organization for the protection of the endangered Bornean orangutans. Two years before, Smits had had his first encounter with an orangutan in the market. It was a life-changing event and Smits often retells the story: “Somebody stuck a crate in my face at the market in Balikpapan. Looking out between the slats were the very, very sad eyes of a baby orangutan. I couldn’t forget them. That evening I went back after the market closed. Walking around in the dark, I heard a horrible gasping sound. The baby in its crate was on the garbage dump, dying. I picked her up.” He nursed her back to health and named her Uce for the laboured sound she made while gasping for breath. A few weeks later he was given another sick orangutan to look after, which he named Dodoy. The Bornean orangutan: with the help of thousands of schoolchildren in Balikpapan contributing small amounts of money, Smits was able to set up what became the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation to rehabilitate orphaned and misused orangutans and return them to a safe place in the wild. Wanariset became home to hundreds of confiscated orangutans, rescued from illegal animal smuggling, kept as pets or exploited in other ways. The Dutch orangutan-scientist Herman Rijksen recalls Smits creating the facility: “In no time he set up the most fantastic oversized quarantine facility, better than any hospital in the whole area, because that’s typical of Willie. He wants to do it very, very good.” Smits quickly saw that protecting orangutans in their habitat not only benefi ts orangutans but also the environment, biological diversity, the poor in Borneo and all the world’s people. The activities of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation expanded from rescuing, rehabiliting and releasing orangutans to monitoring, conserving and rebuilding rainforest, along with the social engagement that made this sustainable. Smits also took on an increasing campaigning and advocacy role, to make the plight of the orangutan and its habitat more widely known, along with the message that something could - and was - being done.