Police Officer Taken by Crocodile While Defending Tanjung Puting National Park in Indonesian Borneo.

Pangkalan Bun, Kalimantan Tengah, Indonesia – (July 31, 2000) – Police Sergeant Ali Maryanto, 37 year-old father of two boys, aged 7 and 9 years, died defending Tanjung Puting National Park’s Sekonyer Kanan River. Sergeant Ali Maryanto was stationed as one of ten police officers on a chartered boat protecting the mouth of the Sekonyer Kanan River. This tributary of the Sekonyer River which leads to Camp Leakey remains the last pristine blackwater river system in the Park. This river forms one boundary of the 50 square kilometer Camp Leakey study area made famous by the long-term orangutan research of Dr. Biruté Galdikas, one of the three eminent primatologists, along with Jane Goodall and the late Dian Fossey, encouraged by the late Dr. Louis Leakey to study great apes.

OFI Police patrol on the Sekonyer Kanan River
©Sharon Gekoski-Kimmel OFI Police patrol on the Sekonyer Kanan River

Sergeant Maryanto had volunteered to be one of the members of the police patrol sponsored by the Orangutan Foundation International (OFI). After returning from a patrol of the Park in the late afternoon of June 1, 2000, Sergeant Maryanto decided to bathe in the cool waters of the Sekonyer Kanan River. After the other officers returned to the boat, Sergeant Maryanto continued to swim at a leisurely pace. A few minutes after 5:00 P.M. a witness saw Sergeant Maryanto being slowly pulled under the water. Sergeant Maryanto’s arm and hand protruded out of the water for at least five seconds before they, too, vanished into the depths of the blackwater. A search for Sergeant Maryanto began an hour after his disappearance and continued for over two weeks. The Indonesian police brought in expert SCUBA divers and equipment while local people and police dove repeatedly in search of the vanished police officer.

The Sekonyer River contains a major population of the false ghavial, a crocodile species known primarily for eating fish and monkeys. Occasionally, salt-water crocodiles make their appearance on the river. According to Dr. Gary Shapiro who studied the river for six months in 1986, these crocodiles are found in the area of Sergeant Maryanto’s disappearance and are known to eat humans. One such crocodile probably dragged Sergeant Maryanto to his death. These crocodiles cache their prey under logs and vegetation, frequently underwater, until the carcass decomposes. The prey is then eaten at the crocodile’s leisure.

Sergeant Maryanto was participating on an OFI sponsored police patrol of the Sekonyer River which had been invaded by hundreds of illegal loggers and gold miners. He was one of two police officers who faced down a mob of over 200 armed illegal loggers in May 2000. The two police officers persuaded the mob not to burn down Camp Leakey as was their intention. Dr. Biruté Galdikas, President of OFI said recently, that Sergeant Maryanto’s courage and dedication were exemplary. At the end of his 10 day patrol shift, he had requested permission to stay for another shift. It was on the first day of his new shift that he disappeared into the water.

Sergeant Maryanto loved nature and voiced his concern and displeasure at the destruction of the forest which he witnessed first-hand in the Park. Originally from Java, he had married a local Dayak woman 11 years ago and came to consider Kalimantan his new home.

In accordance with the practices of Kalimantan and at the request of “shamans” from the area, the police and OFI personnel released two dolls into the river to appease the crocodile so that he/she would not take any more victims during the search period which involved intense diving by dozens of people, including the police chief of Kotawaringin Barat. Unfortunately, Sergeant Maryanto’s body was never recovered.

The only consolation to the people who knew him is that he died in Kalimantan and the forest – a place he defended with his life and a place he wanted to be. To those who knew him, Sergeant Ali Maryanto was a true Indonesian hero who gave his life for the environment.

The Orangutan Foundation International has established a memorial fund for Sergeant Maryanto’s family and the education of his children. Dr. Galdikas presented the first distribution of funds to his wife and children on June 8, 2000. Contributions can be sent to OFI c/o the Sergeant Ali Maryanto Fund (click here for contact details).

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