Saving Orangutans

Alain Schroeder, Belgium

Alain Schroeder, Belgium

Alain Schroeder, born in Belgium in 1955, has had a very successful career as a photographer. He has repeatedly been honoured with a World Press Photo Award and other major prizes. His reports have been celebrated in National Geographic, Paris Match and GEO magazine and published in more than 30 books.

But Alain Schroeder does not lean back. Like other committed photographers he faces a crisis of print media, who put out fewer and fewer commissions – and pay less and less. They even expect to be offered the work of photographers for free. Alain Schroeder has sold his share in the Reporters agency, which he founded all these years ago, in order to be able to create the stories that matter to him. He lives out of a suitcase, has become a nomad. He has photographed child jockeys in Indonesia, coal mines in Eastern Europe, the misery of the Rohingya refugees – and the jungle clinics for orangutans. There he has seen and documented what he calls „friendship“.

Some of you might remember pictures of the martyr Saint Christopher, who, according to Christian legend, once carried the child Jesus on his shoulders through the floods. One could be reminded of it when looking at this photograph from the Sumatran rainforest: A member of an organization for the protection of endangered orangutans carries an orphaned orangutan across a river.

Only this man, unlike Christopher in the legend, is no giant. But at least he is a fighter, just like the other helpers from the teams of the Orangutan Information Center, Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit and Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme.

Their mission: to make peace with nature. Peace with those creatures of the forest who share 97 percent of their genetic material with us humans. Peace with those great apes of whom there are probably just 15000 left in the wild in Indonesia.

Barely 15 000, because their habitat is being cleared for palm oil and rubber plantations. It is being destroyed by logging, road construction and mining. And because they are being hunted and killed.

In his very touching images Alain Schroeder shows what it means to save what can still be saved. He pictures dramatic emergency actions on injured and sick animals, operations, infusions, care, mercy with the tortured creatures. He shows the gratitude and intimacy that great apes are capable of. He shows how much the animals depend on some humans who are moved by peace in a very specific sense. He shows death and small hopes for a happy end, training for life in the wild in the remaining forests. (Text by Peter-Matthias Gaede)

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