Paper plan threatens orangutan survival

Paper plan threatens orang-utan survival

Sydney Morning Herald: Ben Cubby: July 4, 2009

ENDANGERED orang-utans being raised in Australian zoos for return to Indonesia are about to have their rainforests razed to supply the global market for toilet and photocopy paper.

One of the world’s largest pulp and paper company plans to log sensitive tracts of forest in Sumatra in a move expected to undermine the survival prospects of many of the 6000 orang-utans still clinging on there.

Australian zoos are part of a breeding program to keep the primates from extinction, but Australians are still buying toilet paper, napkins, envelopes and copy paper derived from Asia Pulp & Paper, a division of the Sinar Mas group.

“We are asking that when this company looks for raw materials in Indonesia that it balances resources and natural forests,” said Didy Wurjanto, an Indonesian Forestry Ministry official visiting Australia. “The role of the Australian Government is very important in communicating this to Jakarta.”

Asia Pulp & Paper plans to log about 180,000 hectares of forest around Bukit Tigapuluh National Park on Sumatra, the sole haven of the orang-utan breeding program.

“We are not against plantations in general as it is a good source of income for the people in the province,” Mr Wurjanto said. “But in this case APP is going to destroy forests which are of great benefit to animals and people.”

The company meets much of the global demand for pulp from its eucalyptus and acacia plantations. Many Australian companies are involved in importing and distributing items that use products based on timber from APP and its subsidiaries.

Woolworths removed some APP tissues and toilet paper from its shelves in 2007 after a campaign by unions and green groups showed that packaging on its Select and Homebrand products carried a bogus forest sustainability symbol. Woolworths has since reviewed its paper supply chain. APP maintains that it is a sustainable producer of timber and pulp.

But Sinar Mas still holds a slice of the generic, unbranded copy paper market in Australia, and a range of paper cups and tissues that can be bought here contain fibres from APP plantations.

Michael Kennedy, of the Australian branch of Humane Society International, said organising a boycott of products was difficult because of the maze of suppliers and the difficulty of verifying claims. “It does undermine the orang-utan project in a sense because people are inadvertently supporting products that are destroying their habitat. We’ve spent a lot of money, and so have others, on the project and all that will go to naught if APP’s proposal goes ahead.”

The president of the orang-utan project, Leif Cocks, the curator of Perth Zoo, said he believed the Sumatran orang-utans would be extinct in the wild within a decade, so maintaining a habitat for protected breeding stock was extremely important.


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