Verifying supply chains and saving orang-utans

Conservationist Hardi Baktiantoro talks about his experiences protecting orang-utans

Hardi Baktiantoro looking at the x-ray image of an orang-utan who had been shot about 130 times by an air rifle in eastern Borneo in 2018. Four Indonesian farmers were later charged, claiming damage to their crops as the motive. Photo courtesy of Hardi Baktiantoro.

About 15 years ago, a baby orang-utan died during an undercover investigation on illegal wildlife trading in Indonesia. Conservationist Hardi Baktiantoro, who went undercover as a smuggler to aid Jakarta police, regrets this day. The orang-utan never woke up after being tranquilised, said Pak Hardi, a student activist at the time.

“To me, it was like killing a human baby,” he said. “Since that day, I promised to give my life to protect orang-utans.”

Today, Pak Hardi is founder of the Centre for Orang-utan Protection (COP) – a non-profit that works to save orang-utans and their natural habitats. To date, he has been involved in rescuing more than 250 orang-utans from Indonesian forests being turned to plantations.

“But to keep rescuing them is not the answer,” he said. “That’s like mopping a wet floor while the is tap still on. I decided to be someone who fixes the leaking tap.”

“To me, it was like killing a human baby,” he said. “Since that day, I promised to give my life to protect orang-utans.”

 

Rescued orang-utan Debbie at a COP wildlife sanctuary in Borneo. Photo courtesy of Hardi Baktiantoro.

In the spirit of seeking solutions, Pak Hardi is working with Kumacaya – a third-party verification system by The Forest Trust (TFT) that allows companies to monitor their supply chain for environmental and social issues. In 2017, Pak Hardi and his team spent about six months in East Kalimantan, Borneo, where they documented issues related to deforestation and orang-utans near mills and plantations.

 

“It’s a new way of communicating with companies,” he said. “We’re still verifying issues; but also discussing with companies to ensure that sustainability is not just a marketing tool.”

At first, other CSOs (Civil Society Organisations) warned Pak Hardi that this could be a way for companies to silence critical groups. But he was of a different opinion.

“Kumacaya is a facilitator to solve issues,” he said. “It’s effective, and there is more instant feedback from the field.”

 

Pak Hardi with an orphan orang-utan in the forests of Borneo. Photo courtesy of Hardi Baktiantoro.

Pak Hardi was selected for a pilot Kumacaya monitoring project in Indonesia. Monitoring projects are six months long and involve areas surrounding mills and plantations linked to several companies’ supply chains. CSOs and experts, such as Pak Hardi, will be chosen from three anonymous proposals sent to the Kumacaya team. During the six-month monitoring phase, and the ensuing three months, companies are given time to rectify issues in private. After this nine-month period, CSOs are free to take their findings public.

While there were companies with less-than-ideal practices that were resistant to change, there were also ones that invited him to find solutions together, said the 45-year-old from East Java, Indonesia. Corruption and lack of mapping information were major challenges.

“I found denying at first, rather than confirmation to solve the problem,” he said. “But it is better for buyers to engage these guys to stop deforestation, rather than stop buying altogether.”

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