Saving trees from palm oil logging at Center Parcs
Jean Henkens rescues trees from felling and replants them to create little jungles in the subtropical swimming paradise
"Does a tree feel cold in winter? Does he know he has to wait for the spring?" wonders Jean Henkens. Working as a biologist for Center Parcs for the past 30 years, saving plants and trees from all over the world for their jungle-like indoor swimming pool complexes, he knows the answers are yes, and yes.
From Sumatra to Peru, Henkens travels the world to save trees earmarked for destruction as virgin tropical rainforest is burned to make way for lucrative but environmentally costly palm oil plantations. "I am one of the fighters against the green oil mafia in Indonesia and Africa. I am very against that because it's slavery for the people – they are promised a lot before and the concessions that go to people who are incredibly rich already. They are making the people poor and they are making the soil poor."
Henkens cultivates contacts with local people, governments and the WWF, who tell him which areas are being targeted – then he arranges for suitable trees to be rescued – dug out by hand, taken to a nursery he sets up in preparation for the new arrivals and cared for until they are ready for transportation and replanting at one of Center Parcs' European locations.
Opposing the companies profiting from palm oil is a risky business. "They shoot at us sometimes. The last trip was very dangerous. We had to escape. A Chinese company hired some security people who were very against me. I escaped from Sumatra into Malaysia, but even there I was not safe. I had to leave Malaysia in 24 hours because they were looking for me, and even in Europe in some places I am not safe." Why bother, then? "I have to do it, it's my job." But it's more than his job, it's Henkens' life. "I don't have a family. I always have the feeling it is my company. I act always as if it is mine."