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 Henrietteas an unsalaried landscape architect
and botanistworked 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 orangutansliterally "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 Islandsappears 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
annuallymostly 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.