The Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation is an Indonesian non-profit NGO founded by Dr Willie Smits in 1991 and dedicated to the conservation of the endangered Bornean orangutan and its habitat through the involvement of local people. It is audited by a multinational auditor company and operates under the formal agreement with the Indonesian Ministry of Forest to conserve and rehabilitate orangutans. BOS manages orangutan rescue, rehabilitation and re-introduction programmes in East and Central Kalimantan. With more than 500 orangutans (per December 2018) in its care and employing between six hundred and a thousand people at a hundred sites BOS is the biggest primate conservation NGO worldwide.
BOS Foundation (initially the "Balikpapan Orangutan Society") was founded in 1991 by the ecolgist Dr. Willie Smits and the teacher Peter Karsono, supported by researchers at the Tropenbos Kalimantan Program and schoolchildren of Balikpapan. As its sphere of activity broadened, it was renamed the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation in 1994. Since then it has received increasing recognition in Indonesia and globally, with sister organizations in 11 other countries.
The Bornean orangutans are endangered according to the IUCN Red List of mammals, and is listed on Appendix I of CITES. The total number of Bornean orangutans is estimated to be less than 14 percent of what it was in the recent past (from around 10,000 years ago until the middle of the twentieth century) and this sharp decline has occurred mostly over the past few decades due to human activities and development. Their habitat is so much reduced that they are now only to be found in pockets of remaining rainforest. The largest remaining population is found in the forest around the Sabangau River, but this environment too is at risk. According to the IUCN, it is expected that in 10 to 30 years orangutans will be extinct if there is no serious effort to overcome the threats that they are facing.
This view is also supported by the United Nations Environment Programme, which states in its report that due to deforestation by illegal logging, fire and the extensive development of oil palm plantations (see Social and environmental impact of palm oil), orangutans are endangered, and if the current trend continues, they will become extinct.
Nyaru Menteng is an orangutan rescue and rehabilitation centre 28 km from Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan. Lone Drøscher Nielsen sought the advice of Dr Smits about the possibility of creating a new project in Central Kalimantan to deal with the swelling numbers of orphaned orangutans. Dr Smits agreed to help and, with the financial backing of the Gibbon Foundation and BOS Indonesia, Drøscher Nielsen founded Nyaru Menteng in 1998. She was able to build the facility under an agreement with the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry, and Nyaru Menteng officially opened its doors to the first dozen orangutans in 1999.
The sanctuary was designed to hold up to 100 orphaned orangutans while they go through rehabilitation. In addition to quarantine cages, medical clinic, and nursery, the sanctuary had a large area of forest in which orangutans could learn the skills needed to live in the wild. Nyaru Menteng quickly became the largest primate rescue project in the world.
Many of these orangutans are only weeks old when they arrive, and all of them are psychologically traumatized. The sanctuary not only saves the mostly orphaned baby orangutans from the local farmers and illegal pet-traders, but has developed a process for their gradual re-introduction to the remaining Borneo rainforest.
With helicopters, mapping and other logistical support from the world's largest mining company BHP Billiton that operates a coal mining concession in Central Kalimantan, Nyaru Menteng released 36 adult orangutans in 2007, and 25 in 2008, filmed for Orangutan Diary. A planned airlift of 48 orangutans scheduled to take place in July 2009 was cancelled as BHP Billiton intended to withdraw from the area for strategic reasons.
Main article: Samboja Lestari
Samboja Lestari is a reforestation project on nearly 2,000 hectares (7.7 sq mi) of deforested, degraded and burnt land in East Kalimantan. In 2001, BOS started purchasing land near Wanariset. The area it acquired had been deforested by mechanical logging, drought and severe fires and was covered in alang-alang grass (Imperata cylindrica). The aim was to restore the rainforest and provide a safe haven for rehabilitated orangutans while at the same time providing a source of income for local people. The name Samboja Lestari roughly translates as the "everlasting conservation of Samboja". Reforestation and rehabilitation is the core of the project, with hundreds of indigenous species planted. By the middle of 2006 over 740 different tree species had been planted; by 2009 there were 1200 species of trees, 137 species of birds and nine species of primates.
The Orangutan Reintroduction Project at Wanariset was moved to Samboja Lestari. "Forest Schools" were established, areas that provide natural, educational playgrounds for the orangutans in which to learn forest skills. Here the orangutans roam freely but under supervision and are returned to sleeping cages for the night. "Orangutan islands" were created where the orangutans and other wildlife that cannot return to the wild are nevertheless able to live in almost completely natural conditions.
Alongside the orangutan reintroduction work, BOS has promoted forms of farming that do not involve burning and destroying forests, by switching to agriculture combining rattan, sugar palms and fruits and vegetables. A community has developed that can now support itself on the land. Smits believes that to develop the orangutan population, their forest habitat must first be built; also, to achieve sustainable solutions the root social problems must be addressed by empowering local communities to take up livelihood options that is more rewarding than logging.
In his 2009 TED talk Smits claimed there had been a substantial increase in cloud cover and 30% more rainfall due to the reforestation at Samboja Lestari.
To finance the nature reserve, BOS created a system of "land-purchasing", a "Create Rainforest" initiative where donors can symbolically adopt square metres of rainforest and are able to view and follow the progress of their "purchase" in the project area with Google Earth satellite images from 2002 and 2007 with additional information overlaid.
The Samboja Lodge was established to provide accommodation for visitors and volunteers at Samboja. Its design was based upon local architecture and its interior and exterior walls are made of recycled materials.
The SarVision Satellite Natural Resources Monitoring Centre was established to monitor deforestation and illegal logging and the relentless growth of palm oil in unsuitable locations. A study commissioned by WWF Netherlands with SarVision showed that almost half of present oil palm plantations are not located on suitable land. The use of satellite technology and GIS has enabled Sarvison to monitor forests down to the individual tree level, to develop accountability in the management of the forest and identify where palm oil plantations are destroying areas of forest illegally.
The main aim of the project is to protect the fast-disappearing peat lands through collaboration with the Central and Local Governments and the local communities. The Mawas area is home to one of the last tracts of forest supporting wild orangutans. An estimated 3,000 wild orangutans are found in this area. Mawas is also important for its biodiversity and the geological conditions of Mawas make it a storage house of giga-tonnes of sequestered carbon. Over a period of 8,000 years, decaying plant matter from the swamp forests has built up 13 – 15 metre high domes of peat.
In September 2003, the provincial parliament in Central Kalimantan approved a new land use plan that designates 500,000 hectares (1,900 sq mi) in the Mawas area to be managed by BOS for conservation. BOS is currently working in an area of about 280,000 hectares (1,100 sq mi) within the ex-Mega Rice Project area.
BOS has initiated a forest conservation project with the objectives of:
The area is important for research activities, with BOS operating the Tuanan Research Station in Kapaus. The Station has been established through extensive consultation with all local people and institutions and the use of local labour. Its purpose is to provide a year-round base for scientists tracking and observing the wild orangutan population. BOS is involved in patrolling and monitoring the area for illegal activities via air and land and supporting law enforcement by providing guidance and legal awareness programs to the community and government.
On 15 July 2010 at an international meeting on orangutan conservation in Bali the Indonesian forestry ministry secretary general Boen Purnama announced that the Indonesian government will grant a permit to BOS to reserve thousands of hectares of forest formerly used for logging for the release of around 200 orangutans in the Kutai area in East Kalimantan. The forest will need to be restored before it can be used for conservation. In response, BOS set up a company, PT Orangutan Habitat Restoration Indonesia (ROI), to restore 86,450 hectares of former timber concession area in the East Kutai district, to be the new home for rehabilitated orangutans. The then BOS chairman Togu Manurung announced the start of gradual release as April 2011 at the latest.
BOS also runs the Primate Conservation Education Program in the privately funded Primate Centre at the Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta. The centre was designed by Willie Smits so that orangutans would be able to live in as natural surroundings as possible. Visitors view the orangutans through thick darkened glass so that the orangutans are not disturbed by their presence.
The work of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation has appeared in a number of documentaries. The orangutans of Nyaru Menteng were the followed in the two series of Orangutan Diary produced by the BBC and also, as they were reintroduced to a semi-wild habitat, in the 23 programmes of the Orangutan Island series, produced by NHNZ. The Disenchanted Forest was an award-winning 1999 film that follows orphan orangutans as they are rehabilitated and returned to their rainforest home. It centres on three BOS projects – Wanariset, Nyaru Menteng and Mawas. The Burning Season is a 2008 documentary about the burning of rainforests in Indonesia which featured Lone Drøscher Nielsen. Willie Smits appeared in Dying for a Biscuit, a 2010 BBC Panorama investigation which looked into the causes of deforestation, focusing particularly on illegal logging and the palm oil industry. In 2013, Australian Current Affairs Program 60 Minutes (Australian TV program) featured a special Jungle Orphans showing the work of BOS and Borneo Orangutan Survival Australia President Tony Gilding and Vice President Louise Grossfeldt