Galstaun, Benjamin

Indonesia’s outstanding nature advocate, who as commissioner of Jakarta’s zoological center designed a sanctuary to help educate people about the value of the unique wildlife of the country
  • In 1946, GALSTAUN accepted the challenge to head the rebuilding of the war-wrecked zoo of Jakarta. Relocation was the first challenge as the fast growing city necessitated the transfer of the zoo from its home of 100 years. The new location was an abandoned agricultural school, the 200-hectare Taman Margasatwa, or “Garden of Wild Animals,” at Ragunan.
  • GALSTAUN and his wife, Henriette who was a landscape architect and botanist, designed the zoo to approximate nature, a lake nearly a kilometer in length holds five islands sheltering wildlife. Orangutans, elephants, pythons and rare species like the dragon lizard and the Sumatran tapir found their habitats in the new park.
  • The zoo and botanical garden attract some 1,500,000 visitors annually. Admission fees and other income make the park self-supporting.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes his guiding a new generation of Indonesians toward understanding and valuing animals and nature in Asia’s moist tropics.”

The fragility of nature is frequently forgotten in the furious quest for development. As a growing population presses upon the landscape, once verdant hinterlands are denuded. Deprived of their natural habitat, wild birds, animals, fish and reptiles are hunted, netted, trapped in the fires of slash and burn cultivators, killed by insecticides or frightened from reproducing by the noise modern civilization brings.

In the fertile lands of Southeast Asia, this destruction accelerated only recently, and will leave the next generation scant knowledge of a vanishing wilderness. Particularly for urbanites, smog, traffic-packed highways and senses dulled to the dimensions of the natural world, will minimize that opportunity. Without occasional awareness of nature, all humans, in time, will be poorer, narrower persons.

BENJAMIN GALSTAUN came to his zoological calling early. In East Java, Indonesia, where he was born in 1913, this son of an Armenian father and Javanese mother became acquainted as a child with the wildlife of his country. He observed fauna in the lush countryside surrounding the family coffee, tobacco and pineapple estate as well as in the Surabaya zoo which his father helped support. His life-long interest aroused then was sustained during his years working in trading and banking and as a prisoner of war in Japan. In 1946 when the opportunity came to rebuild the war-wrecked zoo of Jakarta, he gladly accepted the difficult job as its Commissioner.

Founded in 1864 by the Flora and Fauna of Batavia Society in the garden of the great painter Raden Saleh, the 10-hectare zoo was crowded by a city that in a century grew from 300,000 to nearly 4,000,000 inhabitants. When the site was selected in 1964 for a new cultural center, GALSTAUN and his wife Henriette—as an unsalaried landscape architect and botanist—worked with municipal authorities to secure for a new zoo an abandoned agricultural school some 20 kilometers southeast of Jakarta. This became the 200-hectare Taman Margasatwa, or “Garden of Wild Animals,” at Ragunan.

Among the zoos of Asia the GALSTAUNs and their associates have made this one unique. Designed to approximate nature, a lake nearly a kilometer in length holds five islands sheltering wildlife. Three pairs of orangutans—literally “men of the forest”—contented in their 6,000 square meter park, have produced 12 offspring; Elephants have a 200 meter long natural promenade. An eight-meter long python loafs in a jungle setting, as do fellow snakes. Even the Giant Komodo—”dragon” lizard from the eastern Sunda Islands—appears at home, as does the black and white long-snouted Sumatran tapir. Sadly missing is the Bali tiger, now extinct.

To this splendid zoo and botanical garden come some 1,500,000 visitors annually—mostly young. Admission fees and other income make the park self-supporting; it has accumulated a 14 million rupiah reserve, though municipal funds are used for capital expansion. While the 245 person staff of Taman Margasatwa care for several thousand species of birds and animals, they also study the unique flora and fauna of Indonesia which, lying on both sides of the Wallace Line, has species characteristic of both the Asian and Australian biogeographic regions.

In electing BENJAMIN GALSTAUN to receive the 1977 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his guiding a new generation of Indonesians toward understanding and valuing animals and nature in Asia’s moist tropics.

In receiving this Award I would like to make the following report on the Zoo and Botanical Garden of Jakarta:

In 1976 over 1,500,000 people visited the Jakarta Zoo; this is up from 300,000 five years ago. For the most part these visitors come from Jakarta, but more and more people from other parts of Indonesia are coming to see our collections of plants and animals. Our visitors are mostly from urban areas. The Zoo and Botanical Garden offer them their only contact with “nature.” One of the basic objectives of our zoo program is to give visitors as much insight into the natural world as possible while they are with us.

We attempt to do this in a number of ways. We have available guides that take visitors through the zoo in groups and explain to them about the animals and plants they see along the way. We have provided identification labels for the animals and now we have them for the majority of trees and shrubs. We try to display our animals in ways that show affiliation by taxonomic group and in some cases by community. On our large monkey islands for example, the visitor can see primates living together and moving about in semi-natural situations.

All our staff are involved in local conservation efforts; they are always ready to give talks when asked. In Jakarta there is a growing interest among young people to leave the city and to camp in the country on their holidays. They go as school groups and with organizations such as the Boy Scouts. We try hard to reach these groups and to increase their appreciation of the natural world.

The Zoo’s senior staff contribute to newspapers through articles they have written or by talking with reporters about Zoo matters. We have found these articles to be a major source of information for the public about animals in Indonesia.

We conduct our education program for the Zoo staff on both a formal and informal basis. Informally our curators work with the keepers to increase their working knowledge about the animals in their care. We actively try to involve keepers in the data gathering process, especially in regard to the breeding program and, of course, in matters of animal health.

Our formal program for the staff includes the use of films and lectures by the senior staff and by outside experts. When showing films we include staff and their families so that interest is maintained on that important front.

In summary, we recognize the vital role that zoos play in conservation education in urban areas. We are attempting to meet this obligation with the resources we have available.

In closing, may I extend an invitation to all of you when you visit Jakarta to drop in at the Zoo and Botanical Garden and see the beautiful world of nature. My colleagues over the years, my helpers in the Zoo and Garden, and principally my wife and I would like to convey our appreciation and thanks for the honor that is given us this afternoon. It is a precious moment in our lives to be associated with the name of your great President Ramon Magsaysay.