Orang­utans threat­ened by steady de­for­esta­tion

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - KIT YIN BOEY

CAMP LEAKEY, Bor­neo, In­done­sia: The bushes shook vi­o­lently and the fe­male orang­utan froze. Her baby clutched her tightly be­fore the two quickly dis­ap­peared into the Bor­neo un­der­growth. As the bushes parted, a broad-shoul­dered male orang­utan strut­ted to the feed­ing plat­form.

Dom­i­nat­ing the fruit on of­fer, the male great ape dared the other orang­utan in the trees to chal­lenge him for the food.

The en­dan­gered orang­utan is a soli­tary an­i­mal and it is rare to sight th­ese great apes in groups, but this is Camp Leakey in the Tan­jung Put­ing Na­tional Park in In­done­sia and home to around 6 000 res­cued orang­utans.

The park in Bor­neo’s cen­tral Kal­i­man­tan has been pro­tect­ing great apes for 38 years but its suc­cess is now a prob­lem as the re­serve does not have suf­fi­cient space and resources to sus­tain more.

Yet Dr Birute Galdikas, 69, who heads Orang­utan Foundation In­ter­na­tional (OFI), has some 300 more res­cued orang­utans in her care wait­ing for re­lease back into the wild.

Galdikas’s OFI is des­per­ately try­ing to buy 6 367ha of land op­po­site the Tan­jung park, which in­cludes a vi­tal stretch of land along the Sekonyer River, to ac­com­mo­date the ex­tra apes – price tag $2.5 mil­lion.

But the OFI, which re­lies on do­na­tions and money from eco­tourism, has only been able to raise a third. “We have to pro­tect this stretch of land,” Galdikas told Reuters fol­low­ing an eco-trip to Camp Leakey to visit some of the re­ha­bil­i­tated great apes re­turned to the wild.

“If we lose this river edge, where are all the pro­boscis mon­keys go­ing to go? Where are all the (300) orang­utans go­ing to go?”

Pro­tect­ing the for­est habi­tat of the orang­utan has be­come as im­por­tant as res­cu­ing the great apes if the species is to sur­vive, said Galdikas, who came to the Tan­jung for­est when she was 25 years old and has spent 44 years trekking through forests and wad­ing up to her armpits in swamps to pro­tect orang­utans.

Global de­mand for palm oil, which is found in su­per­mar­ket prod­ucts from mar­garine to lip­stick and sham­poo, and also used as a bio­fuel, has helped drive de­for­esta­tion.

Palm oil plan­ta­tions now sur­round Tan­jung Put­ing Na­tional For­est, cut­ting cor­ri­dors through which orang­utans and other wildlife used to cross from one large for­est to an­other.

In­done­sia, which is ranked fifth in coun­tries with the most an­nual tree cover loss, im­posed a 2011 mora­to­rium on clear­ing pri­mary nat­u­ral forests and peat land.

Pres­i­dent Joko Wi­dodo in April ex­tended the mora­to­rium for two years and ex­panded it to cover one mil­lion hectares. The gov­ern­ment also in­creased penal­ties for il­le­gal log­ging.

But the mora­to­rium ap­plies only to new ar­eas of for­est. Forests in ex­ist­ing com­mer­cial con­ces­sions are not pro­tected and as a re­sult palm oil plan­ta­tions have ex­panded.

Palm oil pro­duc­tion in In­done­sia rose from 10.5 mil­lion hectares in 2013 to an es­ti­mated 11.44 mil­lion hectares this year, ac­cord­ing to the Agri­cul­tural Min­istry.

Togar Si­tang­gang, sec­re­tary gen­eral of the In­done­sian Palm Oil As­so­ci­a­tion, put ex­pan­sion this year at about 300 000 hectares and said it was lim­ited to ar­eas al­ready given per­mits a few years ago. He said a pledge on sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment, new for­est laws and a soft mar­ket were slow­ing ex­pan­sion.

In­done­sia says palm oil is im­por­tant for de­vel­op­ment be­cause it re­duces poverty by bring­ing roads, schools and other in­fras­truc­ture to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties and gen­er­ates five mil­lion jobs that ben­e­fit 15 mil­lion peo­ple.

And a gov­ern­ment bio­fu­els pol­icy, which aims to cut fos­sil fuel im­ports and save $1.3 bil­lion, is en­cour­ag­ing small land­hold­ers to turn to palm oil pro­duc­tion. Un­der the pol­icy each litre of diesel must con­tain 15 per­cent bio­fuel.

“The prob­lem is al­low­ing land­hold­ers in In­done­sia tak­ing part of the for­est for palm oil plan­ta­tions – what is good for the econ­omy may not ul­ti­mately be good for the forests,” said Galdikas. – Reuters

PIC­TURE: AP

GIVE BACK MY LAND: An es­ti­mated 1-year-old Su­ma­tran orang­utan looks out from in­side a cage upon ar­rival at Kuala Namu In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Deli Ser­dang, North Su­ma­tra, In­done­sia. Two in­fant orang­utans con­fis­cated from smug­glers by Malaysian author­i­ties in July were re­turned to Su­ma­tra this week to un­dergo a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gramme which will pre­pare them for re­lease into the wild.

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