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Willie Smits      

Conservationist & Animal Rights Activist

Willie Smits is a trained forester, a microbiologist, conservationist, animal rights activist, wilderness engineer and social entrepreneur.

Smits began his career as a forester in Borneo. From 1985 Smits worked on the Wanariset Tropical Forest Research Station near Balikpapan in the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan. In the early 1990s, he was a team leader of the Tropenbos Kalimantan Project Indonesia, an international partnership between the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and Tropenbos Foundation.

In 1991, Smits founded The Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation. The Foundation is an Indonesian non-profit NGO dedicated to the conservation of the endangered Bornean orangutan and its habitat.

Smits has worked for the survival of this threatened species of ape, during which time his work has also broadened out into the related areas of sustainable farming, reforestation and remote monitoring of forests. He travels widely, raising awareness of the issues surrounding deforestation in Borneo and the plight of the orangutan, also showing how it has been possible on a relatively small scale to reverse the great damage that is being done to the orangutan and its environment. He became a senior advisor to the Ministry of Forests in Indonesia.

Smits also founded a nature reserve called Samboja Lestari in 2001 and co-founded the Masarang Foundation, which raises money and awareness to restore habitat forests around the world and to empower local people.

Smits received the first non-Indonesian Satya Lencana Pembangunan Award (1998). He has the equivalent of a knighthood from the Netherlands for his conservation work. As well, was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship and became a featured TED speaker, both in 2009.

In 2012, Smits published his book Thinkers of the Jungle - The Orangutan Report: Pictures, Facts, Background.

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