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Just below the equator, on the island of Borneo, a tropical rain forest is rising out of a logged, charred wasteland. Dawn mists cling to the leaves of ginger and mango trees erupting out of a tangle of ferns, rattan and yam vines. A sparse canopy of white-barked acacias shelters them in filtered shade as the sun burns through the haze. From deep in the distance a tuneless chorus of gibbons booms over the clamor of cicadas, while a white-bellied sea eagle soars silently above.
For Willie Smits, this is a miracle in a moonscape. Emerging from what was a biological desert, it contradicts everything most forestry experts have long believed about rain forests. Smits has named it Samboja Lestari, “Everlasting Forest.” It gives hope to this ravaged landscape and the thousands of species that depend on it. Most important for Smits, the forest growing before his very eyes is the promise of a future for the world’s few surviving orangutans.