GRASP Patrons Ask Indonesian President to Intervene

GRASP Patrons Ask Indonesian President to Intervene

16 April 2012

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Indonesia — Characterizing Indonesia’s biodiversity as under “extreme threat,” the patrons of the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) – Jane Goodall, Richard Leakey, Richard Wrangham and Russell Mittermeier – today sent a letter to the President of Indonesia asking him to halt the destruction currently underway in Sumatra and enforce laws that protect orangutans and their habitat.

The letter was sent to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in response to man-made fires in the Leuser Ecosystem that were set to clear rainforest for oil palm plantations through allegedly illegal permits.

To read the letter, see below

Experts fear that as many as 300 orangutans could perish in the fires. The Sumatran orangutan is classified as critically endangered, and no more than 6,300 are believed to exist in the wild.

The fires have also damaged the region’s ecosystem. A 2011 report issued by GRASP and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) called the Leuser Ecosystem as an “incredibly important area for conservation.”

The GRASP patrons, widely recognized as leaders in great ape conservation and research, have asked that President Yudhoyono suspend all agricultural activity in the region, enforce laws protecting orangutans and their habitat, and uphold commitments made through the Kinshasa Declaration on Great Apes.

GRASP, a unique alliance comprised of member nations, conservation organizations, United Nations agencies, and private supporters, was created in 2001 to protect great apes and their habitat in Africa and Asia.

13 April 2012

His Excellency
Dr. H. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
Republic of Indonesia
Istana Merdeka
Jakarta Pusat 10110 Indonesia

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned, have devoted much of the past half-century to the study of great apes and the advocacy for their protection. That is why we are gravely concerned about the ecological damage caused by man-made fires in Sumatra, and why we write to you today as Patrons of the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) to ask you to halt this destruction.

The fires set to clear forest land in the Province of Aceh for oil palm plantations currently threaten the Leuser Ecosystem, which includes some of the most important great ape habitat in the world. Experts believe that as many as 300 critically endangered Sumatran orangutans may perish in the fires, pushing the species even closer to extinction.

In 2005, the Government of Indonesia signed the Kinshasa Declaration on Great Apes, which articulated the need to “ensure the effective enforcement of legislation protecting great apes.”

The Leuser Ecosystem is classified as National Strategic Area for Environmental Protection under Indonesia’s National Spatial Plan, and is an important part of the country’s REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) programme. The Leuser Ecosystem constitutes the buffer zone for the Leuser Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site, as designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The Leuser Ecosystem is protected under Indonesian law, and was declared off-limits to agricultural development through a Presidential moratorium on new plantations in primary forests and peatlands that was announced in 2011 as part of Indonesia’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions, with support from the Government of Norway.

In 2011, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and GRASP published Orangutans and the Economics of Sustainable Forest Management in Sumatra, a report that called the region an “incredibly important area for conservation.” That same report indicated that the Leuser Ecosystem rose in value by 71 percent if economic benefits derived through conservation were adopted in favor of agricultural conversion.

As such, we respectfully ask that the Government of Indonesia:

  • Enforce the laws that protect the orangutans and habitat of the Leuser Ecosystem
  • Suspend all activities by oil palm companies on recently cleared and burned lands in the Leuser Ecosystem
  • Ban further land drainage and forest clearing in the Tripa peat swamps
  • Honor commitments made through the 2005 Kinshasa Declaration on Great Apes
  • Honor commitments made through the 1972 World Heritage Convention

Indonesia contains some of the world’s most spectacular biodiversity, but that same biodiversity is under extreme threat, affecting issues such as the continued supply of clean water, clean air, local and regional climate stability, and other threats to life on earth.

Given the intense popular interest in the great apes and their precarious future, we believe that positive action by you and your government will be widely appreciated and warmly welcomed throughout the world. With that in mind, we therefore call on the Government of Indonesia to protect the country’s ecological heritage and halt the current destructive activities in Sumatra.


Jane Goodall, PhD., DBE                                           Dr. Richard Leakey
Founder, Jane Goodall Institute                                    Professor of Anthropology
U.N. Messenger of Peace                                             Stonybrook University

Richard Wrangham, PhD.                                          Russell Mittermeier, PhD.
Professor of Anthropology                                            President, Conservation International
Harvard University                                                        Chair, IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group

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