Animal Lover
    Category: Indonesia 50 Richest By : Gloria Haraito Read : 76376 Date : Monday, December 02, 2013 - 09:34:49

    Munshi Ahmed

    Walking through his privately owned zoo in Kalimantan, billionaire Low Tuck Kwong stops by a cage containing a white cockatoo. “Assalamualaikum,” says Low to the bird, to which it gives a boisterous reply. Low then moves to other cages with turtle doves, pigeons, birds of paradise and cassowaries. In one cage 50 peacocks are showing off their shimmering blue-green wings. “These are my favorites,” says Low.

    In another part of the zoo there are a dozen orangutans enjoying some pineapple, watermelon and banana. Some baby orangutans are drinking milk while clinging to a tree. There is also a large cage for a Sumatra tiger that gave birth five months ago to a pair of cubs. Wearing large plastic gloves for protection, Low takes one of the cubs into his arms, while his daughter takes the other one.

    Low's Gunung Bayan Zoo is situated in Muara Tae, about 45 minutes by helicopter from Balikpapan, near Low's coal mining company, Bayan Resources, the main source of Low's wealth.

    Low has long loved animals. In the 1980s he went often to special markets in Jakarta that sell wildlife, looking for birds, fishes or other animals to buy. Then in 1996 Bayan had a problem—it started receiving wild animals caught near its mine, a common problem in Indonesia as logging, plantations, mining and expanding populations erode the forests, forcing the animals to developed areas, where often they are killed or sold to traders (see box).

    Low insisted on taking care of these outcasts, and a menagerie slowly grew into a full-blown zoo. Low also created an educational center to discourage the wildlife trade. Gunung Bayan opens its zoo to the public on holidays with no entrance fee. In peak periods it may have 6,000 visitors a day.

    When first started the zoo was criticized by animal activists. There are over 750 animals in the 15-hectare zoo. Most of them are not protected, but some are. These are registered with the government's Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA), which permits Low to keep them.

    While Low doesn't discuss his investment in the zoo, Forbes Indonesia estimates it may have cost over Rp 10 billion ($875,000). Besides the zoo, Low also has a fish farm, which he started in 2004. It is situated about ten minutes from the zoo by helicopter and has 40 ponds holding some 1,000 arowana, which are highly prized ornamental fish believed to bring good fortune to the owners (and are not endangered). “This fish farm is my idea,” says Low. The farm is strictly a for-profit business, with the fish being mostly exported for sale in Singapore.