Steve Irwin Inspires Rainforest Conservation
Thanks to some marvelous charities around the world, several children who face disabilities and terminal illnesses are granted a wish every year. One young man from Australia gave his wish to endangered orangutans and the world.
Daniel Clarke and his family had a deep respect for fellow Australian Steve Irwin—the crocodile hunter. They were greatly saddened when Irwin died from a stingray barb in September 2006. Shortly thereafter, 10-year-old Daniel watched Irwin’s production about orangutan conservation, which sparked a passion, vision and mission within the young man.
Clarke has cerebral palsy and has spent most of his life in a wheelchair. His condition never kept him from thinking big and thinking positive.
“Steve Irwin was my inspiration,” Daniel said. “I was devastated when he died.”
In 2007, the Starlight Foundation granted Daniel a wish. Everyone expected him to ask for a trip to Disneyland or a new car to carry his wheelchair.
“I want to save the orangutan in Borneo and Sumatra,” Daniel said.
The Starlight Foundation met to discuss the impact of Daniel’s wish. After several days, The Foundation called to explain that they never had a child who wanted such a selfless wish.
The Starlight Foundation tried to accommodate Daniel’s wish, but saving an endangered species that lives in the jungles of Indonesia and Malaysia is not a simple task for a young man or a million men, especially when the species in question is in the crosshairs of agricultural expansion, logging and corruption. Given the complexity of the challenge, Daniel compromised and took a trip with his family to the Australia Zoo, which ignited Daniel’s passion for orangutan conservation even more.
Daniel’s family found The Orangutan Project (TOP), which “adopts” orangutans for $55 per year. Daniel adopted an orangutan and encouraged others to do the same. He then decided to raise $10,000 to help save orangutans and their habitat. He spoke with his school principal and developed an event where students recruited sponsors to pay them for every lap completed around the sports field (on foot or on bike). Daniels’s first event raised $5,500 for TOP, while generating more orangutan adoptions. TOP named Daniel as the National Children’s Ambassador. Daniel wore that title like a crown as he kept generating news and support across Australia and around the world.
In 2008, The Starlight Foundation invited Daniel and his family to see a Rugby Union Football match between the Wallabies and Wales. He met the team in the dressing room after the match and he also met former Prime Minister John Howard. Mr. Howard knelt down beside Daniel’s wheelchair as he explained his quest to save the orangutan and its habitat. Six weeks later, Daniel received a letter from the Prime Minister. He pledged $500,000 over four years to an American Non-Government Organization to help save the orangutan.
Later in 2008, thanks to an anonymous sponsor, Daniel and William made their first of two trips to Borneo to see orangutans in the wild and in rehabilitation. They wrote a book about the experience that empowers children and adults to make a difference.
Tears In The Jungle: A Children’s Adventure to Save the Orangutan is recognized in Australia as a valuable teaching resource for primary, secondary and even in universities. The book is an educational way for readers to learn about the environment and understand how they can make a difference in their world. Readers will be inspired at Daniel and William’s passion to save the orangutans and will love finding the ‘Fun Facts’ throughout the book. Faced with their own challenges, these brothers tell the story of their trek through the jungles of Borneo to see orangutans and the people on the front lines who are defending their future in the wild.
Their second book, Fight For Survival, takes readers on a new journey with the addition of QR Codes that link to videos of their latest trek to Borneo. The photos in both books are breathtaking and inspiring for all ages (no graphic images).
The Clarke brothers have raised close to $1 million for orangutan conservation. They have sponsored more than 111,000 acres of orangutan habitat and they have helped adopt more than 100 orangutans. Money raised through book sales supports The Orangutan Project, Borneo Orangutan Survival Australia, and Orangutan Foundation International. These organizations focus on orangutan rescue, rehabilitation and release programs as well as habitat protection.
The highly endangered orangutan lives in the vanishing rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. It’s estimated that only about 50,000 of the great apes remain in the wild after their habitat has been slashed and burned for agribusinesses, especially palm oil, across Southeast Asia. Without aggressive rainforest conservation, orangutans will be essentially extinct in the wild within a few decades. Saving the orangutan can help save Sumatran tigers, elephants and many other endangered species.
“Our dream is that all orangutans will live peacefully in the jungle, with no threat to their future,” said Daniel Clarke. “We can save the orangutans from extinction. If we all pursue our passions, we can all make a difference in the world.”
Between 1990 and 2000, 20 percent of the forest area in Indonesia had been lost to deforestation (24 million hectares). From 2001 to 2020, Indonesia lost another 27.7 million hectares of tree cover. The impact on wildlife has been devastating. The impact on the planet is still unfolding.
The Australia Day Council recently recognized Daniel and William as the 2021 Queensland Young Australians of the Year. Since 2006, the Clarkes have journeyed to the jungles of Borneo twice, written two best-selling books, had their literary work incorporated into the NSW Department of Education curriculum, been recognized by heads of state, royalty and other leaders, including Dame Jane Goodall and Sir David Attenborough.
“Palm oil plantations are the greatest threat to the orangutan. They are causing deforestation at a rapid rate,” Daniel said. “We encourage people to choose products that do not contain palm oil to reduce demand on global palm oil production.”
Daniel recently earned a degree in political science. He plans to make changes at the upper level of government in Australia and beyond.
“My wish for myself was to support Daniel,” William said on KarlBeeTV, a popular podcast based in Australia. “We paired up to do much more together than we could do alone. Daniel has an analytical brain and I have the creative spark.”
For more information about the Clarke family and their quest to save the last orangutans, please visit https://tearsinthejungle.com/about-us/how-we-got-started-saving-orangutans/ The Clarke brothers are available for presentations.