Orangutans’ Habitat Being Obliterated by Logging: UN

NAIROBI, Kenya ~ Illegal logging by international companies could lead to a 98-percent loss of Southeast Asia’s tropical rainforests by 2022, threatening the habitat of tens of thousands of endangered orangutans, the United Nations warned this week.

To supply a growing global demand for timber and biofuels like palm oil, illegal loggers have begun to raid Indonesia’s national parks, resulting in a devastating loss of biodiversity for both local and animal populations, a report by the Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme (UNEP) found.

“This is a stark reminder of what we’re talking about when we’re looking at the degradation of natural resources in the context of globalization,” UNEP chief Achim Steiner told reporters on the sidelines of a UN environment meeting in the Kenyan capital.

“The pressure from the global market base is leading the illegal logging industry into national parks,” he said.

The report, titled The last stand of the orangutan: State of emergency, found that more than 73 percent of all logging in Indonesia is illegal and traces of the illicit timber trade have been found in 37 of the country’s 41 national parks, the last remaining habitats of Bornean and Sumatran orangutans.

Up to 98 percent of the country’s tropical rainforests could be destroyed by 2022 if the appetite for timber continues unabated, the report said.

Urgent action is needed to counter the effects of illegal logging, which the report found to be the work of large multinational corporations as opposed to impoverished local populations, or the results could be felt soon.

“At the current rate of intrusion, some of these parks may be severely degraded in three to five years,” Christian Nelleman, lead author of the report, told journalists.

Current estimates put the number of Bornean orangutans between 45,000 to 69,000 while only 7,300 Sumatran orangutans remain in the wild, signifying a marked 91-percent decrease in population since the beginning of the 20th century, the report said.

“Orangutan populations are seriously affected when their forest is destroyed or logged, not least because they are often killed for meat or to protect newly planted crops,” it said.

Other orangutans are often swiped from their habitats while logging occurs and smuggled illegally out of the country – often on the same boats that are transporting illicit timber.

“The trade in orangutans is largely a by-product of the timber trade … Orangutans have nowhere else to go and only a fraction, around a thousand, end up in rescue and rehabilitation centers,” Melanie Virtue of the Great Apes Survival Project told the AFP newswire.

Although efforts are in place to monitor the illegal logging trade in Indonesia, such as the formation of specially trained ranger units and military operations, the government has few resources to work with as they attempt to cover vast areas.

“The challenge of policing and enforcing Indonesia’s vast parks is immense and rangers have currently little access to ground vehicles, boats, arms, communications or aerial surveillance such as planes or helicopters,” said Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar.

Environmentalists are therefore calling for change to start at consumer level and are encouraging governments to introduce certification programs ensuring that timber is logged in an environmentally sustainable way.

“We are very, very serious (in our efforts to reduce illegal logging) but I don’t think we can do anymore than we have done,” Witoelar said.

“But we can appeal to the conscience of the whole world … to stop buying uncertified wood,” he added.

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