Mr. Heppy gives a very honest answer when I ask him about what he remembers from his first days working for Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) in Kalimantan Tengah, Indonesia (province of Central Indonesian Borneo):
“I felt like a man, you know. I had a job, I earned my own money and I was able to buy the things I wanted.”
Mr. Heppy initially worked at Camp Leakey but then moved to the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine in Pasir Panjang. It is an understandable attitude for a 15 year old kid who starts his first job, especially when it’s at a place where many of his friends and family work. (Mr. Heppy was born and raised in Pasir Panjang; he is a Dayak. Dayaks are the native people of Borneo).
Now 31, married, and a proud parent of two children, Mr. Heppy has been with OFI for 16 years. During his time with the foundation, he has worked everywhere OFI has a major facility. Enthusiastically, he shares memories about the days when he used to work at the small huts in the Pasir Panjang forest where orangutans were initially rehabilitated, and, more recently, at the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine which replaced the small huts, Camp Leakey, and the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve.
Currently, Mr. Heppy is again working at Camp Leakey, where he is now a community ranger. With the other OFI rangers, he is responsible for a wide variety of tasks including searching for orangutans, keeping track of the fruiting patterns of the trees in the study area, providing supplementary feeding for the rehabilitated orangutans, and maintaining the camp.
About being a ranger, Mr. Heppy says: “I like working in Camp Leakey. Searching for wild orangutans is my favorite job. We walk through the beautiful forest, we breathe the fresh forest air and we listen to the sound of birds, deer, monkeys and orangutans. When we find an orangutan, we sleep in our hammocks under the tree where he/she goes to sleep. The next day we will follow him/her to see where he/she goes. I like to be outside and work in nature very much.”
The downsides of working in Camp Leakey, according to Mr. Heppy, are that he misses his family when he is not home and that he absolutely does not like to get up too early. (We are talking 3:30-4:30 am here!) After having said this, a short but passionate conversation about our mutual love for snoozing past our alarm clocks ensues. Aside from his dislike for getting up too early, Mr. Heppy loves to work with orangutans.
He shares a funny story with me about how he and a friend went to rescue a wild orangutan from a palm oil plantation. However, in order to reach the orangutan, they first had to cross a river. In order to avoid getting their clothes wet, Mr. Heppy and his friend decided to both strip naked and cross the river with their clothes in one hand above their heads. On the other side, while scanning the vegetation, a huge male orangutan suddenly appeared just meters in front of them. Scared and shocked, Mr. Heppy and his friend ran away as quickly as they could. After telling me this, Mr. Heppy laughs long and loud. How the story with the orangutan ended never really becomes clear.
Mr. Heppy is a very friendly and easy-going guy, but when he talks about the importance of his job, he says quite seriously: “All the orangutans are afraid of me. I’m never afraid of them and when they are naughty and want to bite, I show my dominance. One of my jobs is to protect facilities and equipment from orangutan damage. Adult orangutans are very curious and very strong. They like to investigate things by ripping them up and examining them.”
Because of this, one of his favorite activities is guarding Dr. Galdikas’ house in Camp Leakey. The orangutans love to break into Dr. Galdikas’ house, especially when she is there. Here he “scares” the orangutans away by simply: “looking very angry at them”. I guess it must be an effective technique, since Dr. Galdikas’ house is still standing.
About the future Mr. Heppy tells me: “I don’t think too far ahead. I want to keep working for OFI. I love my job, Camp Leakey, and the orangutans. I want to do this for a long time.”
Besides work, he would love to go to North America to visit his friends: Dr. Galdikas’s sons, Fred and Binti, and daughter, Jane as well as people who became his friends while visiting Camp Leakey or the OCCQ. I can only wish Mr. Heppy the best and hope that he one day makes it there.