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Richard Kyle: On His Freedom Mission with Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation

“Most people don’t realise that if we save orangutans, we save our own lives as well. They are the key species in the food chain,” actor and presenter Richard Kyle tells Handayani Tanuwijaya

One day in April, actor, model and presenter Richard Kyle went on an adventure deep into the Central Kalimantan forests. The 15-hour journey involved an eight-hour drive on muddy roads, up hills and across rivers. You might think he was making an action movie project or perhaps filming an episode of My Trip My Adventure – the TV travel programme that was his ticket to celebrity.

In fact, Kyle was on a freedom mission. He was on his way to release some of the orangutans that had been saved by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. Established in 1991, BOS is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of the Bornean orangutan and its habitat. The foundation cooperates with local communities and it enjoys the support of the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry, several international partner organisations and concerned individuals like Richard Kyle.

Shirt and jeans by Valentino

Prestige met up with Kyle one sunny afternoon after he had agreed to take part in an exclusive fashion shoot to help spread awareness of the movement to preserve the orangutans from extinction. As he donned the latest collections of Hermès, Lanvin and Valentino, Kyle showed that he is more than just a handsome face in the fashion industry. He shared his knowledge and opinions on a range of environmental issues and gave us the lowdown on his recent journey into the forests of Central Kalimantan to set free a young lady he cares much about – an orangutan named Hayley.

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At the moment, the nominee for a 2016 Best New Actor in the Maya Award for his role in Ini Kisah Tiga Dara is taking a break from acting. But that doesn’t stop him from being in front of the camera. “I’m doing a couple of documentary projects with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Indonesia. I’m looking forward to a few months of production work with my team. Other than that, I’m enjoying life,” he smiles. He is an ambassador for TNC in Indonesia. The Arlington, Virginia-based charitable environmental organisation has a mission to “conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends”.

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Today, 30-year old Kyle is excited to talk about his latest mission with BOS Foundation, and why he loves orangutans. “My interest towards this particular species came about because I believe they’re almost identical to us humans,” he starts. ”A couple of my best friends, Niniek Purnomo and Klaus Alexander Woizik, are animal activists. Being close to them when I first moved to Indonesia, I got the chance to work with the foundation. They’ve inspired me to become actively involved in this cause.”

The mission was to release four orangutans to the Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park. Also in the team with Kyle were actress and model Sophia Latjuba, Deputy of the Central Kalimantan Police Kaemita Boediono and Blue Bird Group’s Dedi Prasetyo. The four great apes –Nabima, Hayley, Tari and Meong –were from the Nyaru Menteng Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre. The number of orangutans that have been released to Bukit Baka totals 79. Since 2012, BOS Foundation has set free 334 orangutans across Central and East Kalimantan.

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“I learned about deforestation and its effects when I was in sixth grade (at The British International School in Jakarta),” says Kyle.  “That was when I introduced to the biggest of the tree-dwelling apes, the orangutans. Since I was a little boy, I’ve always been seeking adventures. Being an adrenaline junkie and having outdoor adventures is definitely my office. But as I’m getting older, I am realising the importance of not just enjoying yourself but helping others, and ultimately saving our only home, which is the Earth.

“Educating people about this challenge is the most important step. Most people don’t realise that if we save the orangutans, we save our own lives as well. Without the existence of the apes, the forest wouldn’t be fertile. Their fruit-eating and their seed-dispersing habits are of ecological significance. They help to shape and preserve the rainforests They are the key species in the food chain, and if you take them out of the chain – eventually it will break down.

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“By not protecting them and their home which is rainforest, we also ultimately kill off other species and eventually ourselves. We need the rainforest to produce oxygen. We need that area to eventually sustain ourselves as well. We have to make a change because if we don’t, I think we will fail the next generation. If we don’t make a move now, we’re going to lose everything that we love about the Earth.”

Since 2012, BOS Foundation has released more than 300 orangutans from areas where they were in danger of captivity or losing their habitat. “There are still about 600 orangutans on the waiting list to be releases,” Kyle points out.

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He talks about the opportunity he had to release 13-year old Hayley: “Most often, orangutans are taken at a very young age. Hayley was rescued from the citizens of Samuda Village, Central Kalimantan and taken to Nyaru Menteng in 2008. She had been orphaned when she was only two and a half years old.

“Once they have lost their freedom, it takes the apes seven to eight years to learn the skills they need to survive independently in the wild. In 2016, Hayley went on to her pre-release rehabilitation stage on Kaja Island. This year, she was ready to live freely in the forests of Bukit Baka, and I was lucky enough to see her obtain her freedom.

“We have to be extremely cautious when we release orangutans because there is a chance they won’t go out of the cage, or maybe they will chase you. When I lifted up her cage, Hayley quickly ran to a tree and stared back at me. At that point, I was a little bit scared, but I looked at her and kept calm. Then she climbed up the tree, and I was able to step back and celebrate her newfound freedom.”

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Through his Instagram posts, Kyle has expressed his gratitude at being part of this journey. He joined the post-release monitoring team in helping to collect data and in keeping an eye on Hayley. “This experience has given me a new perspective on life quality and how these great apes, the orang-utan, are essential for our ecosystem,” he says.

Why is the orang-utan population in decline? Kyle says commercial exploitation of the land and unsustainable farming methods and practices, such as turning huge areas of rainforest into palm oil plantations, are playing a big role.

“Since the 1950s, 60 percent of the orangutans in Indonesia have been lost,” says the star of The Professionals and Moammar Emka’s Jakarta Undercover. “They are an endangered species, and the main cause is unsustainable farming. This is also affecting human beings, because once the soil is ruined you can no longer grow anything at all. It ends up becoming dead land.

“More donations and programmes for saving and looking after orangutans are needed because releasing only one animal into the wild costs about US$4,000. There are hundreds of orangutans waiting to be released, but, to be honest, a lot of these animals are not suitable for the wild due to their disabilities and other reasons. But with the availability of additional funding, we can create a safe home for them.

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“Besides making donations, people can help by using fewer products of unsustainable farming and not contributing to the companies that support these products. Read the labels and see what’s in the products. You should always be aware of exactly what you’re buying at the supermarket.

“I think everyone should try to be more aware of the consequences of their actions, and be trying to do something to improve the environment. Whether it’s a big step or a small one, it doesn’t matter – every contribution helps. You’ll feel better because at least you’re doing something and making a difference.”


Photo credits: 

Photographed by Ronald Liem 

Styled by Peter Zewet 

Grooming by Arimbi 

Style Assistants, Devi Lesmana and Primawan Hakim 

Shot on location Borobudur Hotel 

Hermès is in Grand Hyatt and Pacific Place

Lanvin is in Plaza Indonesia

Valentino is in Plaza Indonesia 

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