Pressure mounting to save orangutan
The Jakarta Post – September 9, 2008. Benget Besalicto Tnb., Contributor, Palangka Raya
Pressures are mounting to save endangered orangutans in Central Kalimantan, where most of the world's only great ape lives under increasingly bleak conditions due to declining forests -- their habitat.
Aldrianto Priadjati of the Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation said the number of displaced orangutans due to forest conversion for timber estates and agriculture, including palm oil plantations, has increased.
"Currently, there are about 1,000 orangutans being rehabilitated in our orangutan rehabilitation center. Most of them were saved from palm oil plantations," he said.
BOS' Nyaru Menteng, the world's largest orangutan rehabilitation center, is about 30 kilometers south of Palangka Raya, the capital city of Central Kalimantan.
Many of the rehabilitated orangutans have been ready to be released to primary forests.
"But it is very difficult for us to find the primary forests for the orangutan to live securely," he said.
He was one of the speakers at an August workshop on the implementation of the strategic and action plans for orangutan conservation.
The workshop was jointly organized by the Forestry Ministry's Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA), BOS, World Wildlife Fund, oil palm company Agro Group, Orangutan Foundation International (OFI), Orangutan Conservation Services Program and the U.S. Agency for International Development. The event aimed to implement orangutan conservation action plans that were launched by the ministry of forestry in Jakarta late last year.
The workshop's participants said the forest's decline was due to rapid conversion of forests into industrial timber estates and agriculture (including palm oil plantations), nonsustainable logging, forest fires and illegal hunting and trading of the species.
According to data from BKSDA, forests have been declining annually between 1 and 1.5 percent in Sumatra and between 1.5 and 2 percent in Kalimantan.
The forests' decline was partly due to the implementation of regional autonomy in 2001, which has given regencies authority to issue any regulation they consider necessary for their respective regencies to attract new investments.
With such authority, many regencies have seen their forests decrease rapidly, bringing catastrophe to many species, including the orangutan.
The rapid conversion of forests, combined with weak enforcement of environmental laws, has also increased the human-orangutan conflicts as many orangutans start seeking food outside of their habitat.
Sanjay Upasena, director of sustainability of Agro Indomas, the subsidiary of Agro Group, said it was not fair to blame the palm oil companies alone for the loss of the orangutan's habitat.
"Not all of them (palm oil companies) ar to blame for the displaced orangutans. In our case, we only use degraded forests for our palm plantations, which formerly belonged to the forest concessionaires (HPH)," he said.
"Most of the orangutans we have were brought by the local people to us. The rest we found entering our palm oil plantations, and to save them we call people from the orangutan rehabilitation center."
Separately, the Indonesian palm oil producers are back in the spotlight this week, with the association rejecting a moratorium call from Greenpeace on land clearing which is threatening to wipe out more than 8,000 orangutans in the next three years, news agency AFP reported last Thursday.
Novi Hardianto of the Center for Orangutan Protection (COP) told AFP the decision to reject the call by Greenpeace means there is no effective mechanism for protecting thousands of orangutans living outside conservation areas.
In rejecting the moratorium, the Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association argued the standards developed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) were enough to protect the species.
However, Novi said land clearing by the companies showed the voluntary standards would do little to arrest the rapid decline of the number of orangutans living outside Central Kalimantan's conservation areas.
"If it keeps up at this rate, we'll see orangutans in this environment wiped out within three years," he was quoted by AFP as saying.
COP estimates 20,032 orangutans live in the wild in Central Kalimantan province and that close to 3,000 of them die every year.
A spokeswoman for the RSPO said the environmental group was entitled to raise any accusations against the companies under its grievance procedures.
"If it is true they (the companies) need to make corrections in the field," Desi Kusmadewi said. "Before they are kicked out as RSPO members, usually the RSPO gives them a chance to correct themselves."
In the workshop, Birute Mary Galdikas, chairwoman of OFI, said the orangutans were facing a bleak future.
"But I'm not saying they cannot be saved. This is possible if all the necessary steps to save the endangered species are taken seriously," Gladikas said, who has been working in Kalimantan for 37 years to conserve the orangutan.
OFI manages the Tanjung Puting protected forests for orangutan in Tanjung Putting, Central Kalimantan.
"Orangutans mean people of the forests. If the forests are gone, then the orangutans will also be gone as the forests are their habitat."