In the middle of a Borneo rainforest a band of near-naked Penan, encouraged by an equally clothes-challenged renegade Swiss shepherd, hesitantly blockade a logging truck, testing their commitment to protect their forest home.
Nearby, an orangutan researcher is threatened with being thrown out of her study site unless she can reach a compromise with the powerful minister of the environment.
How can the world's oldest forest be saved? Who has the answer? The scientist who studies orangutans? The marketing experts of the world's largest nature conservation group? The earnest monkey-wrenchers? Or are they all just kidding themselves that they can make a difference?
At the heart of Redheads fictional action lies the very real problem of rainforest destruction and the philosophical question of where the real boundaries lie between apes and humans. Could sex be an effective instrument of communication between the two? And just what is it about red silk underwear, anyway?
Daniel Quinn, author of Ishmael, says that 'Redheads does for the struggle to save the rain forests of Borneo what Catch 22 did for the struggle to stay alive in World War II.'
James Clad, professor of Asian studies at Georgetown University and author of Behind the Myth: Business, Money and Power in Southeast Asia says 'Each page carries the scent, the musk even, of tropical Asia-whether enveloped in vanishing rainforests or in the drama of full-blooded characters whose courage, or cowardice, has become entwined in the greatest and most tragic story of our age--the catastrophic and irreplaceable loss of primeval forest.'
Thomas Bass, author of The Predictors and Camping with the Prince, says 'Redheads is a roaring tale of tropical suspense, an eco-thriller that is witty and smart and altogether a wonderful treat.'
Jeffrey McNeely, chief scientist at IUCN-World Conservation Union, describes Redheads as 'Carl Hiaasen goes to Borneo.'
Robert Bateman, perhaps the world's most famous living painter of wildlife and wilderness, says: 'I couldn't put it down. Redheads is a serious page turner. It gave me a bit of the same feeling as ®The Gods Must be Crazy' one of my favorite films.' Jim Thorsell, Senior Advisor to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention for IUCN, says: 'An absorbing story, reminiscent of the social commentary of Somerset Maugham and Evelyn Waugh. Everyone working in conservation should read it and heed it.'
Robert A. Pastor, Professor, Emory University and former National Security Council Staff: 'With the trained eyes and the sensitivity of someone who lived among the orangutans in the wilds of Borneo, Sochaczewski tells a captivating story of the struggle to save the rainforests. Redheads reads like a fast-paced, high-powered movie script that makes the issue of environmental devastation come alive and demand reforms.'
Maggie Boyle, (New Zealand) Northern Advocate: 'The action is fast and furious, the cat and mouse chases between the Penan and the timber workers are great, the blowpipes with poison darts are rife and the encounters with the orangutans are magnificent, funny and at times terribly sad. It's a thought-provoking read, enjoyable and absorbing.'
Michael Day, West Australian: 'A rollicking and often raunchy read.'
THE CONSERVATION SITUATION IN BORNEO:
Numerous news reports resonate with the fictional people and situations in Redheads, a comic eco-adventure novel by Paul Spencer Sochaczewski. Redheads is about a Swiss shepherd who encourages the tribal Penan of Borneo to rebel against timber companies that are destroying the Penan forest homeland, schizophrenic orangutans facing extinction in the wild, orangutan researchers who will do almost anything to keep their work permits, and corrupt government officials in the fictional Sultanate of Manusia. Redheads is fiction, but the conservation issues in Borneo are real.
BRUNO MANSER, SWISS ACTIVIST, FEARED DEAD IN SARAWAK
Swiss activist Bruno Manser has disappeared in Borneo as is feared dead, according to reports by Reuters and Newsweek.
Manser, 47, was last seen in May 2000 in the isolated village of Bareo in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, close to the border with Indonesia.
He achieved worldwide recognition from 1984-1990 when he lived with the semi-nomadic Penan of Sarawak. Malaysian officials saw him as a fugitive and a provocateur and called him an 'enemy of the state number one.' Manser avoided arrest with the panache of a Swiss Robin Hood. When he left Sarawak in 1990, through Brunei, he returned to Switzerland to create the non-profit Bruno Manser Fonds, which fights for tribal rights and an end to logging. In 1999 he returned to Sarawak and paraglided onto the front lawn of Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud. Manser offered Mahmud a truce in exchange for the government creating a biosphere reserve for the Penan. The Swiss man with the impish grin and John Lennon glasses was deported.
Reuters quoted Bruno Manser Fonds Secretary John Kuenzli: 'We are resigned that if Bruno Manser were still alive, he would have been found.'
ORANGUTANS MAY BE EXTINCT IN WILD IN FIVE-10 YEARS
'Unless the Indonesian government acts, it will soon be too late to save the orangutan in the wild,' according to Dr. David Chivers, a world expert on apes at Cambridge University, UK.
Experts predict that orangutans will be extinct in the wild in five to 10 years if rainforest destruction continues at its present levels.
Orangutans are found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and on the island of Borneo, which is shared by Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Most of the orangutans on Borneo live on the Indonesian side, called Kalimantan.
In the early 1990s there were about 30,000 of the red apes in Borneo. Today, authorities say, the orangutan population has dwindled to just 15,000. At the turn of the last century there were thought to be some 315,000 orangutans, with some 230,000 of them in Borneo and 85,000 in Sumatra.
ILLEGAL ORANGUTAN TRADE CONTINUES
Despite Indonesian's ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and despite having enacted numerous other laws that prohibit trade in endangered species, the illegal trade in orangutans continues. While a few arrests have been made in recent months, activists note that not one trader or buyer of orangutans has landed behind bars yet, according to the Inter-Press Service. A young orangutan can be purchased for approximately US$300.
INDONESIAN FOREST DESTRUCTION CONTINUES
Experts note that in just 15 years, Indonesia's primary forests may be gone forever.
The Melbourne (Australia) Age notes that the Indonesian Government estimates that 1.8 million hectares of its forests have been destroyed every year over the last 12 years; the government admits this amounts to an 'ecological disaster'.
Indonesian Borneo data: Data from IFFM-GTZ, a joint German-Indonesian body that handles forest fires in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), shows that 5.2 million hectares of forestland in the region has been destroyed.
Suherty Reddy, chief of Tanjung Putting National Park (the park is primary orangutan habitat and site of a famous orangutan rehabilitation center) says that 'If [illegal logging] continues, in five years the forest and habitat of the orangutan will be destroyed.' ____
ILLEGAL LOGGING RAMPANT IN INDONESIA
With ten percent of the world's forest cover, Indonesia's tropical forests are ranked third in terms of size after those in Brazil and Zaire, but they may soon slip down that list because of rampant illegal logging backed by rogue military elements.
Nowadays, illegal logging in Indonesia outstrips legal timber production.
According to a recent report by the Indonesia-UK Tropical Forest Management Program, illegal-logging accounts for 32 million cubic meters of timber every year, compared with an official production of 29.5 million cubic meters. This is equivalent to 800,000 hectares of forest being illegally logged each year.
Alarmed foreign countries, led by the European Union, have put the government in Jakarta on notice that it must take drastic urgent action to stop the destruction. They warned at a donors' conference in Tokyo in 2000 that almost $US5 billion in international support for the bankrupt country would be in jeopardy unless it carries out earlier promises to crack down on illegal logging protected by corrupt security forces, local administrators and politicians.
The forest at Kutai National Park (in Indonesian Borneo, the park is a primary habitat for orangutans) is shrinking by 10 hectares per month due to illegal logging, according to the Indonesian Observer.
LEGISLATOR ALLEGEDLY INVOLVED IN ILLEGAL LOGGING IN NATIONAL PARK; ACTIVISTS FOIL LOG SMUGGLING OPERATION
The multi-billion dollar illegal logging business in Indonesian forests involves not only local businessmen but also government officials, according to the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and Plantations.
An alleged major player is federal legislator Abdul Rasyid, owner of the Tanjung Lingga Group logging company in Central Kalimantan (Borneo), according to the Jakarta Post and the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency. Suripto, secretary general of the Forestry Ministry, said: 'Rasyid has been accused of purchasing logs stolen from Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo, the park is a primary habitat for orangutans and site of a famous orangutan rehabilitation center). The legislator is also suspected of playing a significant role in the abduction and assault of activists from several non-governmental organizations, Suripto said. Rasyid, however, has strongly denied the accusation and has instead accused the two environmentalists of trespassing on his property. On May 5, 2000, activists from the local branch of the Indonesian Students Front and a number of other NGOs in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, foiled a smuggling attempt involving 35 containers of logs without legal documents which were on board a vessel heading for Singapore. The first ever success story in foiling timber smuggling in the province was made after the activists had taken top local officials hostage, including staff from the Customs and Excise Office, provincial forestry office, and the port administration.
The World Bank accuses Indonesian public officials of being involved in a flourishing illegal logging trade that costs an estimated US$650 million in lost revenues to the state each year.
The following websites provide various perspectives about Borneo-related nature conservation, status of orangutans, status of indigenous people and related issues.
http://www.bart.nl/~edcolijn Nature Conservation Indonesia, lists dozens of related conservation sites, news updates
http://eia-international.org EIA is an independent, international campaigning organisation committed to investigating and exposing illegal wildlife trade and environmental crime.
www.ksbk.co.id KSBK- an Indonesian animal conservation group active in orangutan issues in Kalimantan
www.earthisland.org/borneo The Borneo Project started ten years ago as a sister-city project linking Berkeley, CA and Uma Bawang, a remote Kayan longhouse on the Baram River in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. Their work has expanded to promote local initiatives for human rights, environmental justice and small-scale economic development. Interesting news links, as well.
www.wwf.org World Wide Fund for Nature
www.iucn.org IUCN-The World Conservation Union
www.plant-talk.org Botanical facts
http://www.pbs.org/edens/borneo/ Background related to the PBS documentary on Borneo: Island in the Clouds, part of The Living Edens series
www.globalforestwatch.org Global Forest Watch, related to World Resources Institute
www.conservation.org Conservation International
www.wcmc.org.uk World Conservation Monitoring Unit
www.bmf.ch Association for the People of the Rain Forest-Bruno Manser Fonds
www.orangutan.org Orangutan Foundation International
www.survival-international.org Survival International
www.tnc.org The Nature Conservancy
http://www.riet.org/ebs/envjournal/journalist_on_environment.htm Links, postings, services for journalists writing about environment in Asia Regional Institute of Environmental Technology
www.about.com Type in search: 'nature conservation in Malaysia' and 'nature conservation in Indonesia' for good links
www.ippl.org IPPL- International Primate Protection League News