Willie Smits has devoted his life to saving the forest habitat of orangutans, the "thinkers of the jungle." As towns, farms and wars encroach on native forests, Smits works to save what is left.

Why you should listen

Willie Smits works at the complicated intersection of humankind, the animal world and our green planet. In his early work as a forester in Indonesia, he came to a deep understanding of that triple relationship, as he watched the growing population of Sulawesi move into (or burn for fuel) forests that are home to the orangutan. These intelligent animals were being killed for food, traded as pets or simply failing to thrive as their forest home degraded.

Smits believes that to rebuild orangutan populations, we must first rebuild their forest habitat -- which means helping local people find options other than the short-term fix of harvesting forests to survive. His Masarang Foundation raises money and awareness to restore habitat forests around the world -- and to empower local people. In 2007, Masarang opened a palm-sugar factory that uses thermal energy to turn sugar palms (fast-growing trees that thrive in degraded soils) into sugar and even ethanol, returning cash and power to the community and, with luck, starting the cycle toward a better future for people, trees and orangs.

What others say

“This man has dedicated his life to saving the world, and for this he earns our deepest respect.” — Jean Kern, Ode

Willie Smits’ TED talk

Willie Smits on the TED Blog
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Orangutans and palm oil: What's the connection?

March 5, 2009

In Willie Smits’ powerful TEDTalk, he describes his work to re-grow the rainforest in Indonesia — a triple-bottom-line effort that can benefit the local economy, the local orangutans and the green heart of the forest. The TED Blog asked Smits’ associate Richard Zimmerman, the director of Orangutan Outreach, to expand on the orangutan story: In […]

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Biology

Read all about Willie Smits' 20-year tale of hope

March 3, 2009

Willie Smits works at the complicated intersection of humankind, the animal world and our green planet. In his early work as a forester in Indonesia, he came to a deep understanding of that triple relationship, as he watched the growing population of Sulawesi move into (or burn for fuel) forests that are home to the […]

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A 20-year tale of hope: How we re-grew a rainforest: Willie Smits on TED.com

March 3, 2009

By piecing together a complex ecological puzzle, biologist Willie Smits has found a way to re-grow clearcut rainforest in Borneo, saving local orangutans — and creating a thrilling blueprint for restoring fragile ecosystems. This bold plan drew a standing ovation at TED2009. (Recorded in February 2009 in Long Beach, California. Duration: 20:42.) Get involved with […]

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Quotes from Willie Smits

A natural forest is multilayered. Both in the ground and above the ground it can make better use of the available light, it can store more carbon in the system, it can provide more functions.
Willie Smits
TED2009 • 568K views Mar 2009
Inspiring, Jaw-dropping