Sunday, May 24, 2009

Asian Pulp & Paper - 1; Orangutans - 0

Photo: James Gagen via flickr.

It has been a case of one step forward, two steps back for the orangutans of Sumatra. The first orangutans to be reintroduced to the wild were released in 2002. Since that time, they have established themselves in the area, breeding and forming new family groups. They have been an environmentalist’s dream – thriving, breeding, increasing in numbers – and blissfully unaware of Asian Pulp and Paper (APP) and the Sinar Mas Group (SMG).

Enter Asian Pulp & Paper and the Sinar Mas Group. They are planning to log the only area in which orangutans have been so successfully reintroduced. The area in question is the forest surrounding the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park. Unfortunately, not only the orangutans are being threatened.

Map courtesy of WWF (World Wildlife Fund)

The Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in addition to orangutans contains about one quarter of the world's remaining Sumatran tigers, and a significant population of Sumatran elephants. Also in danger are the Talang Mamak and Orang Rimba forest-dwelling indigenous people along with the traditional Malay peasants who inhabit the forest edges. Both the Malay and the tribal people represent a living tradition of interaction with the rainforest and the use of its resources in harmony with. The rapid deforestation of this area is quickly increasing the marginalization of these peoples.

The park also provides vital catchment protection for several large rivers that sustain downstream agricultural communities. Without this system intact, there is a very real danger that food crops downstream from the Park will be affected with possible food shortages in those areas.

The Bukit Tigapuluh area was surveyed by NORINDRA (Norwegian-Indonesian Rainforest and Resource Management Project). Researchers observed and recorded 660 plant species (including 246 medicinal plants used by the local population) preserving 550 of the species found. Many rare and threatened non-utilized plant species were also recorded.

Many rare and threatened non-utilized plant species were also recorded. One example is the locally named Cendawan muka rimau ("Tiger-face mushroom"), which is none other than Rafflesia hasseltii previously observed in only two locations (West Sumatra and Pulau Tioman, Malaysia). Photo courtesy Kki-WARSI website.

Also discovered were 192 species of birds, almost 1/3 of all bird species known from Sumatra. Breeding was confirmed of 18 species of birds not previously known to breed on Sumatra, including the Garnet pitta (Pitta granatina) which had not been recorded for this island for more than 70 years. At least 10 of the bird species recorded are globally threatened.

Some 59 species of mammals were recorded, 5 of which are globally threatened, including the Oriental small-clawed otter (Aonyx cincerea), Clouded leopard (Neofelic nebulosa), Tiger (Panthera tigris), Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus), and Elephant (Elephas maximus).

Of the 98 species of fish collected and preserved, one of these, a Glass-perch, turned out to be a previously undiscovered species. It has been given the name Gymnochanda limi.

Here’s the situation as WWF sees it.
APP/SMG pushed a legally questionable logging road through both areas last year, opening up access for rampant illegal logging and clearing linked with increased fatalities as tigers are driven into closer contact with humans.

With the latest acquisition, APP/SMG now holds the majority of the buffer areas to the national park, including large areas the Forestry Service of Jambi and the National Park management authority agreed in 2008 to designate as the Bukit Tigapuluh Ecosystem which would be sustainably managed as natural forest.

Less than one third of the 2007 forest cover is within the National Park, with the areas most preferred by animals and indigenous peoples lying in the surrounding lowland forests now vulnerable to clearing.

Peter Pratje of the Frankfurt Zoological Society has this to say: “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.”

He continues, “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.”

Things we can do to help preserve one of Indonesia’s key areas of biodiversity:

1. Send an email to Asian Pulp & Paper explaining your boycott of their products -
2. Visit the website and leave a comment on their "Ethics" section.
3. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper drawing attention to this environmental disaster in the making.
4. If one of their products is stocked locally, let the store owner what AP&P is planning.
5. If anyone you know and/or your company use these products, let them know what AP& P is planning and request their assistance in your boycott of their products.


kathi said...

Of all the things there are to care about now, I have to say this is one close to my heart. A friend and former professor, here in Chattanooga, enculturated an orangutan, Chantek, she raised as a son. She taught him sign language and much more. Seeing them together and getting to know him informed me. The indigenous people call orangutans the 'old people of the forest.' "People" - they are part of us.

Pippa said...

I absolutely agree! They are a marvelous creature and deserve to be left in peace!