Construction of Pondok Cempedak Two
“We need some trees!”
Reports: Report 1 April-June 2017
Report 2: July-September 2017
The Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ) was built in the village of Pasir Panjang near Pangkalan Bun, Kalimantan Tengah (Central Indonesian Borneo) during 1997-1998 and formerly opened in 1998. Until this time Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) had operated its orangutan rehabilitation and release program primarily in camps within and near the forests of Tanjung Puting National Park. By the end of 1997, even before the OCCQ buildings were completed, OFI was taking care of 80 wild born ex-captive orangutans who were primarily victims of the massive forest fires that ravaged Kalimantan during 1997. These fires represented one of the worst forest fires in recorded human history and destroyed about 10 million hectares of forest in Kalimantan and Sumatra.
In the early part of the new century an epidemic broke out at the OCCQ. It left three orangutan juveniles who were housed together partially paralyzed. We were never able to accurately pinpoint the disease except that the cause was a polio-like virus but not polio itself. One of these orangutans became quadriplegic as a result of the virus but lived another ten years in this condition as she was taken care of 24 hours/day by two local caregivers and occasional Western volunteers.
At this time we decided to move the infant nursery further away from the rest of the Care Center. Years earlier, long before OFI had initiated its forest acquisition program or built a Care Center, Dr.Galdikas had personally bought a piece of land across the road from a local who urgently needed funds for medical care. A new facility for infant quarantine was built there in 2002. Since there was a fruiting Cempedak tree (Artocarpus integer) on the property, we named the new facility “Pondok Cempedak.” A few years later after a large Quarantine complex had been built at the OCCQ, quarantine activities were moved to that location. Pondok Cempedak became an ordinary auxiliary housing facility like others that we had built outside the original Care Center property.
Pondok Cempedak sits on a strip of land that is 40 meters wide and 200 meters long. As the original infants housed at the facility grew, they destroyed the small trees on the property. In 2005 we built a large playground as a substitute for the demolished trees. The following year OFI staff built a second playground 20 meters from the first. By 2009 all the original infants had grown and had been moved to other facilities or released to the wild while other orphans were moved in. These also grew and became juveniles. It became clear by 2014 – 2015 that the orangutans had totally outgrown the two playgrounds and the few remaining trees in the vicinity. The juvenile orangutan would often escape into the far distant swamp forest that they could see from Pondok Cempedak. This swamp forest was so far away that staff would have to retrieve them on their motorcycles. The orangutans escaped so often into this forest we came to believe they liked motorcycle rides. However, the situation was getting untenable.
Fortunately, in 2016 the Youssef-Warren Foundation came to the rescue. The Foundation approved the proposal from Orangutan Foundation International Canada (OFICanada) to re-locate Camp Cempedak and its orangutan residents to a forested site on the OCCQ grounds. Here the orangutans would have access to actual trees and forest canopy each day. Daily release into a forest habitat would provide the orphan ex-captive orangutans the wide experiences nesting, foraging, etc. so needed in preparation for life in the wild. This would provide better preparation for the orphans than mere play in a human constructed playground.
In February 2017 the Youssef-Warren Foundation transferred the approved funding for the re-location of Camp Cempedak to OFICanada.
By March 20017 the funding had reached OFICanada’s bank account in Pangkalan Bun, Kalimantan Tengah.
The OCCQ consists of a hundred hectares of forest. It took several days of surveys to identify an ideal site where Pondok Cempedak could be re-located. We had several criteria in mind. The new location had to be on dry ground, more or less, and it had to be within a forested area. Dr. Galdikas, the OCCQ Manager Pak Tumin, and the Release Co-ordinator Pak Sehat made the final decision choosing a site where there was a small clearing surrounded by tall secondary forest. The area consists of tropical heath forest on dry ground that becomes a bit damp in the wet season. Although there is primary peat swamp forest within the OCCQ boundaries with a few “giant” old trees remaining, very little primary forest on dry ground remains. Most of the dry ground tropical heath forest was cut down years ago for horticulture and is just now finally recovering.
Once the site was chosen, the clearing was expanded and some small trees on the periphery cleared.
But there was a problem and that problem consisted of the lack of ironwood. Ironwood is the “stone” in this part of Borneo where there is no natural stone or rock. Ironwood is locally fundamental for construction. The government, finally anxious about the disappearance of ironwood in its forests, suddenly imposed extremely and uncharacteristically severe embargoes on the cutting and transport of ironwood. Since ironwood had been long classified as an endangered species, this type of action should have been carried out long time ago. Within a few months, the price of ironwood tripled and quadrupled. Soon there was no ironwood available.
Staff repeatedly scoured the timber markets of Pangkalan Bun and eventually found enough ironwood to begin construction. In mid-June 2017, after hiring two local carpenters and their helpers, OFI staff began construction of the new Pondok Cempadak Two facility.
In July it began to heavily rain. This was uncharacteristic for the season as in a typical year the dry season usually starts in May and continues through September into October. But 2017 was not a typical year. The dry season never really arrived. Certainly it rains even during the dry season but this rain was more incessant than usual. It seemed to rain every second day or so. By September construction work was impeded by heavy rain.
There was an even more severe problem with the construction. We had a very difficult time finding ironwood. However, by the end of September 2017 the main building (Figures 1, 3, 4, 6) of several rooms had been built along with an adjoining kitchen and two toilets (Figures 2, 5) connected to the main building by a raised outdoor wooden platform. In the front of the building a small porch had been erected. The main building consists of several rooms where caregivers will sleep at night to keep a watch on the orangutan juveniles. To save on wood, the toilet structure was built of concrete.
In addition, a 30 meter walkway to the front of the main house was built over over spongy damp ground. Although the site is located on dry ground, the ground can turn muddy and soggy during the rain. The intention was to build a 100 meter long walkway but the ironwood was simply not available. Once the ironwood becomes available in the timber market, then we intend to complete the walkway.
The sleeping cages (Figure 3) were the last to be built. The plan to build eight cages of ironwood and galvanized steel did not materialize because we totally ran out of ironwood. We were able to build three sleeping cages before the ironwood ran out. We started salvaging odd pieces of ironwood from old huts and abandoned structures in the Care Center forest but there was very little “found” ironwood. What little had been available from old structures had long ago been incorporated into newer structures such as causeways.
Again, we decided to be patient and wait for the embargo to end. We speculated that the local ironwood loggers, operating in tiny groups of 2 -3 men, if they were still working, were sending their logged ironwood over the border to West Kalimantan and then on to Malaysian Borneo (Sarawak). Timber laundering through Malaysia had allegedly been going on for many years. No reason to stop now!
By this time the previously easy-going timber trade in Pangkalan Bun had become much more intense. Whatever ironwood appeared in the market place was immediately snatched up and every sale was based on the presentation of immediate hard cold cash. In the past timber traders might give you a few weeks to pay.
Over the next few months OFI will endeavor to locate sources of ironwood so that the sleeping cages and the walkway planned for Pondok Cempedak Two can be built. Unfortunately, if we use other types of wood, the structures will deteriorate in a few years. We will investigate the possibility of using steel and/or steel mesh exclusively for building the sleeping enclosures even though that would increase the cost substantially.
We thank the Youssef-Warren Foundation very much for making the re-location of Pondok Cempedak a possibility and, once the construction of the new facility is completed, very much look forward to giving the orangutans in that facility a “new life” in the trees before their eventual release to the wild.