Tireless watchdogs for the environment, Bali band Navicula turn their attention to orangutan conservation with the release of their latest single.

The artists behind Bali-based grunge/psychedelic rock outfit Navicula are no novices when it comes to environmental activism. In their 15-year history the group has penned a number of songs addressing specific environmental concerns, in Indonesia and worldwide. Navicula’s sixth studio album Salto was largely dedicated to environmental awareness. Songs like “Over Konsumsi” (Over-consumption) implicate consumerism for current global environmental crises. “Kill the Fireflies” deplores the decline of these luminescent insects in Bali as a result of the use of pesticides in rice fields. “Pantai Mimpi” was written in response to the privatization and destruction of Bali’s beaches and was the anthem for Navicula’s campaign to boycott the infamous Pecatu Resort and Dreamland in Bukit. Finally, their 2010 single “Metropolutan,” is a response to the pollution crisis in Jakarta.

As they entered the studio earlier this year to begin work on their seventh album, scheduled for release in 2012, the “Green Grunge Gentlemen” turned their attention to Indonesian wildlife. Indonesia is famous for its biodiversity; it is home to more than 12% of the planet’s plant and animal species. But habitat loss and poaching are pervasive and increasingly catastrophic realities that have led to the extinction of a number of Indonesia’s majestic animals, including both the Java and Bali Tiger. Experts predict species like the Javan rhinoceros, Sumatran tiger, and Sumatran orangutan will soon follow.

Throughout Navicula’s anticipated album runs a decidedly animalistic thread: Recording just wrapped for their song “Harimau! Harimau!” (Tiger), and now Navicula prepares to launch the single “Orangutan.” The song tells the story of a young orangutan which, following the slaughter of his parents, is kidnapped and brought to the city. The orangutan, maddened by his new environment and longing for his jungle home, turns the tables on his human captors, wreaking havoc in the city.

Navicula vocalist Gede Roby Supriyanto explains why the band chose the orangutan as the focus for its latest single: “Orangutans are one of the many animals that are threatened due to the transfer of the functions of forests in Indonesia. Orangutans will become a legend.”

As of 2008, there were less than 6,600 Sumatran orangutans remaining, down from 7,300 in 2004. According to the Sumatran Orangutan Society, “The decline of the orangutan in Borneo and Sumatra in recent years symbolizes the devastation of one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots—the lowland rainforests of Southeast Asia.”

In other words, the declining orangutan population corresponds to the loss of their habitat, a result of logging and the conversion of rainforests to palm oil plantations. In the last decade more than 9% of Kalimantan and Sumatra’s forest cover was lost.

Erik Meijaard, an ecologist who has worked in Indonesia since 1993, warns that hunting, which has largely gone unchecked by both conservationists and the government, is also a major cause for the endangerment of Indonesian animal species. Additionally, orangutan populations are threatened by the illegal pet trade and conflicts between humans and orangutans, two problems Navicula addresses in the lyrics for “Orangutan.”

Navicula joins other artists who are using the stage and media channels to advocate for orangutan conservation. In 2010 Shaggydog and Superman Is Dead performed together for a benefit concert in Yogyakarta, Konser Amal Peduli Orangutan (Charity Concert for the Care of Orangutans). Seringai frontman Arian13 has actively advocated for orangutan conservation, most frequently through his Twitter account with nearly 19,000 followers.

Upon hearing “Orangutan” for the first time this week, Arian13 responded in email correspondence, “Not many local bands are actually voicing concerns for the environment, but Navicula is a band that is active with environmental issues. This includs orangutans, which are endangered or extinction if we do not prevent it. The song also voices anger against the conditions for the orangutan, now increasingly sad: murdered by man, a case of genocide.”

Roby hopes the song will help raise awareness for the current plight of one of Indonesia’s unique species, as well as encourage the government to take action: “Our hope is for improvements in policy, power, and government control over the palm oil industry, because right now the palm oil industry has a “law” itself outside the law of the state of Indonesia. We also need tighter control to support the preservation of the environment and local economy, so that they become healthier for more local communities, the forest, and so that they are more sustainable.”

Navicula will launch “Orangutan” during the second installment of Suara Untuk Alam (Voice for the Environment), an initiative of Walhi Bali (the Bali division of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment). Suara Untuk Alam II, scheduled for 17 December at Bali Seamans’ Club in Sanur, will feature an art auction, woodcutting workshop, and performances by bands Nosstress, Geekssmile, and Navicula. Proceeds will benefit Walhi and Akarumput’s Sumatran Forest Initiative, a campaign to combat deforestation and orangutan slaughter.

For one week following Suara Untuk Alam II, “Orangutan” can be downloaded for free exclusively on Akarumput.com.

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