Willie Smits: How We Re-grew a Rainforest
“By piecing together a complex ecological puzzle, biologist Willie Smits has found a way to re-grow clearcut rainforest in Borneo, saving local orangutans — and creating a thrilling blueprint for restoring fragile ecosystems.“
Smits, trained as a forester, has also founded a university in Indonesia; trained hundreds of forestry PhD students; and runs a forestry research center and remote sensing field station, Samboja Lestari, where he and his colleagues have been working since 2002—restoring a tropical rain forest from a parched grassland area using an integrated agroforestry and native plant development strategy.
Willie Smits is a respected conservationist and educator devoted to preserving habitat for orangutans. His dedication to the primates led Smits to establish Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS). This remarkable group has international chapters and operates the largest “shelters” and orangutan rehabilitation areas in the world. In addition, he has focused on addressing the root social causes of orangutan habitat loss, giving local workers alternatives to short-term forest exploitation. To learn more about Smits’ orangutan conservation efforts, visit Orangutan Outreach and TED.
In 2007, his Masarang Foundation opened a palm-sugar factory that uses geo-thermal energy to process the daily tapped sugar palm juice of thousands of traditional palm tappers into sugar and ethanol, providing cash and power to the community—moving toward a better future for the people, forest, and native orangutans, while saving 200,000 trees per year from being cut down as fuel wood.
“My lifelong goal is to save as much as possible from our global environment for future generations by providing real-life examples of harmonious living in balance with nature. I also believe that we cannot save the environment if we do not simultaneously take care of the people’s needs.”