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A personal appeal from Dr Biruté Mary Galdikas.

The world is on fire. Everywhere you look, somewhere, there is a massive wildfire burning. As I write this sitting at my desk in Camp Leakey, fires are currently burning in Canada, Australia, and other locations.

Unfortunately, the island of Borneo is not an exception to the recent occurrence of massive fires. For the last 50 years, we have been protecting wild orangutans in Borneo where Camp Leakey is located. Borneo is a biodiversity hot spot with a multitude of endemic species and large areas of rainforest. The forests of Borneo, home to the endemic Bornean orangutan, are threatened with large-scale destruction. The main mechanism for forest destruction in Borneo is fire. Fire comes when the rains stop and drought descends upon the land.

Last year in 2023, our re-wilding team of eight indigenous individuals worked with great energy and dedication to plant 152,000 seedlings of native trees in an open area where the forest had burned down in previous years. Uncharacteristically, bountiful rains continued for months into what normally would have been the dry season. The newly planted seedlings thrived. Our re-wilding team was jubilant.

Then the rains abruptly stopped. Within the next weeks, small fires were reported in areas near our re-planting locations. In a few weeks, the fires grew larger and by the time the fires had spread to our area, they were out of control. Our staff fought the fires bravely and ceaselessly, sometimes for 24 hours straight. Eventually, the government brought in helicopters to water-bomb the flames. It was no use. Not until the rains started up again two and a half months later were the fires finally extinguished.

We could not believe the damage caused by the wildfires. While our staff had contained the fires from entering the adjacent forest, most of the open grass and fern covered areas which we had re-planted months earlier were gone. Only the ashes remained of thousands of thriving seedlings. Of the 152,000 seedlings planted in 2023, only 2,000 remained. We were devastated.

But with renewed vigour and determination, we immediately started planting in 2024. We were not defeated. Without forests and trees, wild orangutan populations will not survive. Trees are orangutans’ and our lifeline to the future. We have no option but to move forward to repair the harm that has been done.

We need your help. In recent years droughts have lasted longer and are becoming more frequent. When the rains stop next time, we need to be prepared! We need to recruit and establish a permanent fire brigade of at least eight men and women. The fire brigade will patrol for hot spots and put out small fires as they get started. They will start digging multiple water holes on the periphery of forests and burned areas where future fires are anticipated. They will start establishing fire breaks in critical areas. The fire brigade will also need specialised fire-fighting equipment, protective clothing, and gear. The team will need drones with extended range capabilities and thermographic cameras, vehicles to transport firefighters and equipment to burning areas, and a speedboat designed to traverse the moat system in our managed swamp forests.

We will need to raise $150,000 to begin our fire preparedness program in earnest. Without such a program, I hate to think of what the near future will bring in terms of droughts and fires. Please help save Borneo’s forests from fire and help wild orangutans survive.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your continued support.

With much gratitude,

Biruté Mary Galdikas
OFI Founder and President

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