Peter O'Brien visits the orangutan sanctuary in Borneo
Article from WOMAN' S DAY Magazine 6th December 2004
Story: SARAH MARINOS Pictures: MICHAEL SIMMONS
Peter, 44, who most recently played Det Joe Hill in White Collar Blue, and has an acting career stretching back 25 years to early appearances in Neighbours, The Flying Doctors and The Bill, travelled to Indonesia to raise awareness of the work of the Humane Society International, which is trying to save orang-utans from extinction. HSI is supporting programs in national parks in Indonesian Borneo to rehabilitate and protect these human-like creatures.
In the past 10 years the orangutan population in some parts of the world has fallen by half due to poaching, loss of their rainforest habitat and fatal diseases, such as hepatitis C and tuberculosis, being passed on by humans.
'Some species are considered to have aphrodisiac or medicinal qualities and some orangutans are killed as trophies. Others are poached for pets or to be kept in illegal zoos,' says Peter, who once considered becoming a vet and completed four years of a Bachelor of Science degree.
' What' s the point of having an orangutan in a cage [at home]?' .
About 70% of the Indonesian rainforest where orangutans live has been felled by the local logging industry. The HSI is working with villagers to provide them with alternative ways of earning a living, such as producing and selling traditional batik art and preserving the rainforests and wildlife for eco-tourism. A school' s been established in a village in Tanjung Puting National Park in Borneo to teach children about the importance of protecting their natural environment.
Adung, the orangutan Peter met in the Borneo jungle, is one of the success stories of the rehabilitation program run by the Friends of the National Park Foundation in Tanjung Puting.
'He was poached as a baby,' Peter explains. 'Often these very young orang-utans are given to kids for Christmas, but two years later they' re too big and strong, so they' re locked up in a cage. Adung has no parents to teach him how to live in the wild, so when he was rescued he didn' t know how to survive.'
The policy at the Tanjung Puting sanctuary is to prevent human contact, so the orang-utans will be wary of poachers on their return to the wild. But Adung seemed fascinated by Peter.
"He' d only had contact with one female handler while he was 're-wilded' and he was scared of men nobody knows why. Eventually he' ll fend for himself completely. It' s a very slow and painstaking process to rehabilitate orang-utans. It can take up to seven years."
Peter travelled to the heart of the Borneo jungle to see the orangutans in their natural environment, making the final part of the journey by boat.
'As we travelled up river, it became densely forested, there were mangroves on either side, and I saw crocodiles and monkeys. I sat back and soaked up as much of the atmosphere as I could.'
The actor also visited the areas where sick orangutans are treated, and the sanctuary where they' re taught to fend for themselves before their release.
In the jungle, Peter bumped into a group of conservationists saving orangutans up river.
"One guy was Australian and he looked at me and said, ' ˜I know you,' " says Peter, laughing. 'Then he added, ' ˜Aren' t you Hugh Jackman?'