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The World

Biofuel boom backfiring

Palm oil plantations are encroaching on rain forests where endangered orangutans cling to existence.

October 19, 2008|Paul Watson | Times Staff Writer

As companies lobby to clear more rain forest, other Indonesians are laboring to restore habitat for orangutans and rehabilitate those who lost their jungle homes or were rescued from poachers.

A decade ago, raging fires burned millions of acres of Borneo's forest. The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation bought 4,500 acres that farmers had abandoned to grassland at Samboja Lestari, on the island's eastern side.

"People thought that in one or two years, we would give up," said Ishak Yassir, the foundation's regional program manager. "We proved them wrong."

His Indonesian staff cares for 224 orangutans; each day, teachers take their wide-eyed pupils to forest school. They teach them the basics, such as tree climbing; the proper way to eat dirt to get at insects, seeds and other nutrients; and avoiding snakes.

Once they graduate, they join the list of orangutans ready to leave rehab.

Yassir's staff has cleared more than 50 young adults for release over the last six years. But the orangutans' rescuers can't find enough safe forest for the apes to go home to.

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paul.watson@latimes.com

Special correspondent Dinda Jouhana in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

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On latimes.com

Forest and friends

More photos from the park at latimes.com/world

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