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Indonesian radio issues guerrilla playlists for endangered primates

Awareness is not all the radio station strives for. Kalaweit — meaning “gibbon” in the local dialect — is also about what it sees as justice in shaming those who disregard laws against keeping gibbons as pets.

“We broadcast the names of anyone found to be holding a gibbon in a cage, even if it turns out to (be someone) as high ranking as the police chief or governor. Most times you get the animal two to three months later,” Chanee explained.

The “kalaweit” sanctuary is home to more than 130 gibbons and also other animals including birds and crocodiles.

More than 60 percent of the animals who have been freed and now live there came as a result of “people who listened to the radio,” Chanee said.

But to publicly pillory powerful Indonesian bureaucrats carries high risks. In 2006, police raided the station's office in a modest neighbourhood of Palangkaraya, the capital of Central Kalimantan province.

“They wanted to confiscate the transmitter,” recalled Chanee. “But the DJs locked themselves in the building and they broadcast the raid on air. Five, then 10, and then 15 villagers arrived and the situation was defused.”

As he speaks, French-Indonesian singer Anggun, who recently represented France at this year's Eurovision Song Contest in Azerbaijan, can be heard imploring on the airwaves: “Gibbons are not pets.”

With the help of what he calls “sexy packaging,” Chanee said Radio Kalaweit targets the 15-22 age group — “an age when it is not yet too late to change attitudes.”

Broadcasting over the Palangkaraya area, the station's audience varies “from 10,000-15,000 listeners a day” and commercial advertising ensures it is self-financing, according to Chanee.

“Kalaweit? It's cool,” said Rabyatul Adawiyah who goes by the name “Zebi,” a 17-year-old schoolgirl who comes from time to time after school to do some volunteer work in the tiny, barely air-conditioned station.

“Many people at school listen to it,” she said, adding: “Even if it's the music that gets your attention, the environmental message is not far behind.”

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This photograph taken on June 6 shows a rescued gibbon monkey confined at the rehabilitation center run by French environmentalist Aurelien Brule, right, popularly known by his adopted nickname Chanee, meaning Gibbon in Thai, in Barito Utarra district in Central Kalimantan province on Indonesia's Borneo island. (AFP)

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