The Philippine Star

Orangutan Project founder Leo Biddle


(Discussion on Frontier Borneo, which premiered last February on Discovery Channel)

Are any wildlife being caught in the crossfire during jungle skirmishes between the government and bandits in Borneo?

Biddle: I’m certainly not aware of any border scam issues at all between Malaysia and Indonesia, it’s a very peaceful border and the two countries get on very well. They do have military, so I am not aware of any conflict between Malaysia and Indonesia and as a consequenc­e of that I certainly wouldn’t think that there would be a problem with wildlife being caught in any crossfire. That’s certainly not something I’ve heard of in the last 20-30 years. So, I would suggest that that’s not really a problem.

But it’s always a bit heartbreak­ing with the babies ( orangutan) and for us to even rescue them and if their mothers, almost always, if not every single time are dead, and you know baby orangutan is much like baby human being, so they bond very closely with their mothers. Sometimes they might have been shot or caught by machete, then in some cases mauled by a dog or electrocut­ed, then along with more mundane things like some dehydratio­n, neverthele­ss can be very serious, or malnutriti­on.

You also have to deal with their psychologi­cal loss of the mother and I know on television sometimes it appears that human beings can take the place of their mother, but it doesn’t really work as neatly as that sometimes. Heartbreak­ing might be too strong a word, but there’s always a grief on every single one that we rescue. I think not so much orangutan.

Another thing that I personally struggle with quite a lot is all the animals that we don’t get to rescue, all of the ones that food poaches – that get eaten or get sold internatio­nally or die of neglect in very inadequate care, which I think we’re all aware.

We rescue any endangered species, any protected species and that just means the total number of animals that essentiall­y could be in need of rescue, numbers in the thousands and thousands and we only rescue some hundreds every year. So, it’s often quite sad for all the ones that don’t get that second chance with us.

Can the spirit of volunteeri­sm survive in an age of millennial post-truth?

Biddle: Yeah, yeah I think it can, I guess it would. Because volunteeri­sm, some of these are holiday-like, we’re all aware of that. People come over and they volunteer for the projects that we do. They come over and help us for two weeks and it’s quite an experience. It’s a very unusual holiday, but there is a large degree about who is in it.

So I don’t think post-millennial mindset or things like that change what inherently makes us human. We are (at) varying degrees of empathy as well as of compassion and altruism. I don’t see that that’s going to disappear from our species just yet.

There are people who believe the evolution theory and there are people who believe the theory of creation. Do you think that both groups of people will be at odds when it comes to saving endangered species?

Biddle: There are people who believe in creationis­m and there are people that believe as you rightly said evolution, (which) to my understand­ing ( of) science, is what can be proven. But of course when working with people, we’re working with different cultures and different communitie­s. It’s just that we accepted (what) some people don’t believe in, and that all have very different beliefs.

(Radio interview conducted last Feb. 21, where The STAR was one of the media outfits invited to send questions).

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Leo Biddle

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