In Kalimantan, Airport, Brothels Take Over Orangutans’ Habitat, Say Activists

Part of a national park in Kalimantan that is home to hundreds of endangered orangutans has been turned into a development zone complete with an airport and brothels, activists said this week.

Almost 600 of the long-haired apes have disappeared from Kutai National Park, East Kalimantan province, over the past seven years of unchecked construction, the Centre for Orangutan Protection (COP) said in a statement.

“The number of orangutans in the area, which was 600 individuals in 2004, has fallen to only 30 to 60 individuals at present,” Hardi Baktiantoro from COP said.

The East Kalimantan administration had permission from the national Forestry Ministry to build a 60-kilometre road through the park in 2002, COP said.

But commercial and residential development covering 23,712 hectares of forest was also allowed to flourish alongside the road, with seven new villages springing up almost overnight.

“The Kutai National Park has been changing into a city, complete with an airport, gas stations, marketplace… a bus terminal and prostitution complex,” COP habitat campaign manager Yon Thayrun said in a press release.

The national government should investigate local authorities for corruption even though the development in the forest has been subsequently legalised, he said.

“The root of the problem with the Kutai National Park is a breach of duty committed by officials to get political and financial advantages,” Thayrun said.

“They gave away land spaces to people to win their votes in the local administration elections. They also mobilise people to seize the national park area.”

Forest Ministry spokesman Masyhud denied that the forest had been badly damaged and accused the conservationists of exaggerating the impact of the road on the orangutans.

“Its scale is not as dramatic as they have said. The road development has not sacrificed the national park. Like in many countries, a national park isn’t meant to be completely sterile of social and economic development,” he said.

“It’s true that this road development affected the orangutan habitat but it’s only temporary as they have adapted to it. We have also implemented some conservation programmes involving local communities.”

There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans left in the wild, 80 percent of which live in Indonesia and 20 percent in Malaysia, according to The Nature Conservancy.

Meanwhile, an Indonesian paper company is planning to log an area of unprotected jungle that is being used as a reintroduction site for about 100 critically endangered orangutans, according to activists.

A coalition of environmental groups said a joint venture between Asia Pulp & Paper and Sinar Mas Group had received a licence to clear the largest portion of natural forest remaining outside Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Sumatra.

The area is home to about 100 great apes that are part of the only successful reintroduction programme for Sumatran orangutans, the sub-species most at risk of extinction, the coalition said in a statement.

It is also a crucial habitat for the last remaining Sumatran tigers and elephants left in the wild, it said.

“It took scientists decades to discover how to successfully reintroduce critically endangered orangutans from captivity into the wild. It could take APP just months to destroy an important part of their new habitat,” said Peter Pratje of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, which is part of the coalition.

“These lowland forests are excellent habitat for orangutans, which is why we got government permission to release them here beginning in 2002. The apes are thriving now, breeding and establishing new family groups.”

The unprotected forest is also considered essential habitat for around 100 of the last 400 critically endangered wild Sumatran tigers, as well as around 40 to 60 endangered Sumatran elephants, the activists said.

“APP’s plan is devastating,” said Dolly Priatna of the Zoological Society of London.

“It will almost certainly lead to more fatalities since tigers and people will be forced into closer contact with each other as the tigers’ forest disappears.”

At least nine people have been killed by tigers on Sumatra this year, while villagers have killed four tigers.

The coalition, which includes the Sumatran Tiger Conservation and Protection Foundation and WWF, said almost half of Sumatra’s natural forest – or 12 million hectares – had been cleared from 1985 to 2007.

APP has said its plans to log forest areas around Bukit Tigapuluh would actually help the orangutans, not harm them.

“Well-managed pulpwood plantations act as buffer zones, which have been proven to deter illegal logging – this ensures that protected areas remain protected,” APP sustainability director Aida Greenbury said.

The government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has allowed 1.8 million hectares of forest to be cleared annually since 2004, according to environmental group Greenpeace.

Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions are the third-highest globally and deforestation is the largest contributor.

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