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"Seeing an animal freed touches something so deep inside."
Interview with Lone Dröscher Nielsen, Daily Mail, Sat, 28th September 2013


Lone's background:

  • Born in 1963 in Aabybro, Jutland, Denmark
  • Beside her training as air hostess, Lone has studied two years of biology in England.
  • Worked for four years as a volunteer in Tanjung  Puting National Park in Borneo, before she opened her own rehabilitation centre,  Nyaru  Menteng, in 1999. Today the biggest rehabilitation centre in the world.
  • Today Lone Dröscher Nielsen is settled in Southern England, where she is working as a Senior Expert Advisor for Save the Orangutan

Meeting Harrison Ford

In september 2013 Nyaru Menteng was honoured by actor and environmentalist Harrison Ford. Read more...

Harrison Ford and Lone Drscher Nielsen at orangutan center Nyaru Menteng

Lone Dröscher Nielsen, the woman and her apes

Lone Dröscher Nielsen is the woman behind the world's largest orangutan rehabilitation centre. Her work to save and rehabilitate Borneo's red ape has been featured on the BBC and Animal Planet.

Sixteen years ago, Lone Dröscher Nielsen made an unusual decision when she quit her job, said goodbye to family and friends and left her home in Northern Jutland in Denmark to travel to a new continent. Her goal was to establish a rehabilitation centre for those Orangutans who had lost their mother and home in the rainforest of the central Borneo. Today, Nyaru Menteng is the biggest rehabilitation centre in the world with more than 600 Orangutans.

The voice of the orangutans
The basis of Lone Dröscher Nielsens decision started when she worked as a volunteer for the Primatologist Birute Galdikas in the beginning of the 90's. Here Lone fell in love with the rainforest and later the orangutans. Professor Galdikas was running a smaller rehabilitation centre, and Lone took care of the young distressed orangutan orphans whose home was destroyed from felling. "The first time I looked into the eyes of a motherless young Orangutan, I noticed the complete lack of zest for life. At the same time, I witnessed a massive destruction of the rainforest which make the orangutans extremely vulnerable to humans. I decided that I should be the voice of the orangutans and fight for them in a world where they apparently seem to be forgotten." Lone says, when telling her story.

A mother of one thousand
During the 1990's, Lone spent all her money and all her holidays to save the orangutans in Borneo. When the decision was made she left her job as an air hostess at the airline SAS and moved permanently to Borneo. In 1999 she managed to establish her own rehabilitation centre, Nuary Menteng, in the central Indonesian part of Borneo. Since then, the centre has taken care of orangutans who suffers from the increasing felling due to the palm oil plantations and Lone has been like a mother to more than a thousand orangutans.

A bittersweet success
With its 200 local staff members and cooperation with local suppliers, Nyaru Menteng is the biggest workplace in that area. More than 600 orangutans need to be fed, nursed, stimulated through play and inspected by vets. It is a fact that the centre has grown extremely fast, which makes Lone Dröscher Nielsen proud; "All the orangutans who live here in the centre are lucky because we found them before it was too late and they still have a future ahead of them. But we still have to get to the root of the problem and stop the clearing of the rainforest, as it makes the orangutans vulnerable to us people. Best-case scenario would be if there was no need for Nyaru Menteng to exist."

Wild adults and defenceless young ones
Lone's centre evacuates adult orangutans from wooded land before clearing it and save the young ones found alone in the plantations. If orangutans enter the plantation area they are often killed, as they are considered pests because they eat the growing shoot of the palm trees.

Often, the defenceless young orangutans are left alone or sold as pets on the illegal market. The rescue team confiscates the orangutans that live in cages and give them a new life in the rehabilitation centre. The adult orangutans must have as little contact with humans as possible in order to stay wild, while the young ones only will be able to survive with help from a foster mother. 

Anthropoid apes with human babysitters
Orangutans and humans share 97% of their DNA, and like human babies, young orangutans can die of grief if they are not petted and nursed. In the nature they stay with their mothers for up to six or eight years. At the centre, the babysitters are local women who teach the orangutans what their mother is supposed to do in nature: how to climb trees, find food, to recognise danger and build a nest. They all go to school in the woods in classes according to age and skills. When they are ready, they are relocated to one of the five protected islands where they live a semi-wild life and learn how to survive on their own. "When I started my work with the orangutans I used my intuition which made me realise that orangutans are exactly like children, they become stronger and more independent the more love they receive early in life," Lone says about her methods at the rehabilitation centre.

Turn off the water tap
The purpose of the forest school system is to reestablish the orangutans in the part of the rain forest that is safe from felling. It takes a lot of resources to establish them deep inside the rain forest and it is very difficult to find proper rain forest suitable for orangutans to survive and even harder to convince the government to give the project permission and the right to use the rain forest. Therefore, much of Lone's work has been focusing on lobbying, which still today is an ongoing necessity.  When Lone realized that the felling of the rain forest was not the primary threat, but that the palm oil industry also heavily influenced the wildlife of Borneo, she took action and got engaged in Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, and began negotiating with both the industry as well as the government. "I was tired of just cleaning up the mess, now I wanted to find the source and stop it myself," she says.

New destination, new chapter
Living in Borneo has not been without sacrifices, and after 15 years in the rain forest Lone has, for health reasons, decided to move back to Europe. However, her ambition of being the voice of the orangutans is still intact. Today, her work of saving the orangutans is done via Save the Orangutan from her base in England, where she also functions as a consultant for Nyaru Menteng. In November 2012, Lone Dröscher Nielsen came closer to fulfilling her dream when the first eight orangutans were ready to be released into an area of the rain forest they had preserved. "This has been my great exam," Lone narrates, referring to the release of her first eight forest school students. "So far they manage on their own much better than we expected, in their original surroundings where they belong." Her hope is to release yet another 600 semi-wild and rehabilitated orangutans within the next ten years. This ambition requires more resources from Red Orangutanen, resources the organisation does not yet possess but is working hard to find.

"Seeing an animal freed touches something so deep inside."
Interview with Lone Dröscher Nielsen, Daily Mail, Sat, 28. September, 2013

 

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