Orangutans Flee Illegal Loggers in Indonesian Parks

Orangutans Flee Illegal Loggers inIndonesian Parks

19 June 2007

published by www.thejakartapost.com


Jakarta, Indonesia — Indonesia’s efforts to crack down on illegallogging are holding out some
hope for endangered oranguntans, the red-haired apes that inhabit the
Indonesian rainforest, the UN Environment Programme says. But hundreds of
orangutans have fled their homes and ended up in “refugee” camps asillegal
logging rapidly destroys the last remaining rainforests of Southeast Asia.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner says, “Indonesia cannot and should
not have to deal with this issue alone.” International support and regional
cooperation, especially from timber importing countries, is essential to
preserve the remaining orangutans, the rainforests of Southeast Asia, and
the people whose livelihoods rely on these ecosystems, he says.

In recent weeks, Indonesian authorities have stepped up action against the
illegal timber trade, arresting six people and seizing 30,000 cubic meters
of processed wood in Nunukan, East Kalimantan province on the island of
Borneo. Another 40,000 cubic meters of processed wood was confiscated in
Kutai, East Kalimantan and several more arrests were made.

The seizure of 70,000 cubic meters of illegal wood represents around 3,000
truck loads of timber, but Steiner points out that by some estimates
illegal logging is clearing 2.1 million hectares of forest in Indonesia
worth an estimated $4 billion every year.

“This may equate to several hundred thousand truckloads – corresponding to
a continuous line of trucks from Paris to Bangkok,” said Steiner, speaking
at the conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species, CITES, that concluded Friday in The Netherlands. More
wardens on the ground as well as improved policing and customs operations
are needed, he said.

Investigations by the UN’s Great Apes Survival Project, GRASP, its network
of nongovernmental partner organizations, and CITES have found that
hundreds of orangutans are being rescued and kept in “rescue” or
“rehabilitation” camps as the forest is cut or burned, straining the
resources of many NGOs.

A UNEP Rapid Response report released in February, “The Last Stand of the
Orangutan” presents evidence that logging companies, employing heavy
machinery and armed personnel, are operating in Indonesia’s national parks
in defiance of the law. While the Indonesian government has stopped illegal
logging in some parks by the use of police and military force, the
companies, prompted by the growing demand from importing countries,
continue their illegal operations in others.

Satellite images, together with data from the Indonesian government,
indicates that illegal logging is now taking place in 37 out of 41 national
parks and that suitable orangutan forest habitat may be gone in a little as
a decade.

The rate of loss of these forests outstrips a previous UNEP report released
in 2002 at the World Summit for Sustainable Development. Experts then
estimated that most of the suitable orangutan habitat would be lost by
2032. New satellite imagery reveals that the illegal logging is now
entering a new critical phase with the rainforests of south East Asia
disappearing 30 percent faster than previously thought.

The burning and clearing of rainforests for palm oil plantations to produce
biofuels is a new source of pressure on orangutan habitat. The greenhouse
gas emissions generated from the damage to forests may entirely off-set the
gains in emission reductions when the biodiesel produced from palms planted
there is substituted for petroleum as a transport fuel, UNEP warns.

Melanie Virtue, who leads the GRASP project at UNEP, said, “We are
observing illegal trade in live orangutans as a bi-product of the illegal
logging. When the forests are burnt or cut down, mothers are often killed,
while the juveniles are caught to be used as pets, or sold on to zoos or
safari parks.”

Female orangutans only give birth every six to eight years. Often, their
mothers are shot and juvenile apes then captured, said Virtue. In some
cases, orangutans are sold for as little as $100 and locally even cheaper.
As the forest is cut down, more orangutans move into farmlands in search
for food and are then either shot or captured.

CITES Secretary General Willem Wijnstekers said, “It is very clear from
what is jointly conducted by CITES and GRASP, that there is a highly
organized structure of illegal trade in orangutans. Consequently, there
needs to be much higher law enforcement priority allocated to combating
this destructive criminality.”

“Such priority needs to come not only from Indonesia, but from the
countries importing illegal timber and orangutans,” Wijnstekers said.

The number of orangutans sold and exported is unknown but is believed to be
in the hundreds. Rescue or rehabilitation centers in Borneo contain around
1,000 orangutans and one has over 400 individuals. Recently, illegally
obtained young Bornean orangutans have been found in zoos in Thailand and
Cambodia.

Christian Nellemann, a lead author on the UNEP Rapid Response report, said,
“The rate of decline of the forests is the most alarming we have seen yet
anywhere in the World. The real blame lies on the countries buying the
timber and wood products from illegal sources.”

“The stepping up of law enforcement in Indonesia is a very encouraging step
indeed,” said Nellemann, “but governments in importing countries beara
direct responsibility for the crisis.” UNEP says consumers can help by
choosing wood products that are certified and labeled as being sustainably
harvested.

Orangutans are intelligent and have the ability to reason and think. They
closely related to humans, sharing 97 percent of the same DNA. The
orangutan is the only strictly arboreal ape and is the largest tree living
mammal in the world.  Indigenous peoples of Indonesia and Malaysia call
these ape Orang Hutan, or “People of the Forest.” In the past, theywould
not kill orangutans, which they viewed as persons hiding in the trees,
trying to avoid having to go to work or become slaves.


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