Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Jakarta, Sept 30, 2015 (Antara)- The ongoing forest fires in Kalimantan not only threaten the inhabitants of the island but also the orangutans, which literally mean "person of forest," that live in the forests.   
    The fires, which worsen due to the El-Nino induced drought, have forced animals to flee to the remaining small forest areas located near villages.
         An orangutan (pongo pygmaeus morio) recently lost its way and entered a village as the endangered animal was trying to escape the forest fires in Sampit, East Kotawaringin District, Central Kalimantan Province.
        "It has been several days since this orangutan has been spotted roaming around in the forest here. It has been seen eating leaves on the trees as there is nothing else to eat. But, in the evening, it might come down to the settlement area in search of food. Therefore, we are afraid that it might attack us," Jitu, an inhabitant of Sampit, stated on Sept, 27.
        The male orangutan, believed to be 11 years old, lost its way in a forest near the construction site of a water boom recreational park in Baamang sub-district.

        On Sept. 29, the Sampit natural resources conservation office (BKSDA) finally managed to evacuate the lost orangutan to Pangkalan Bun orangutan conservation center, BKSDA Sampit Chief Muriansyah noted.
         In East Kalimantan Province, fires have razed up to 200 hectares of land in the 1.8 thousand-hectare Samboja Lestari forest, which is an orangutan habitat.
         "We are yet to calculate the material losses inflicted by this disaster," Nico Hermanu, the spokesman for the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) whose head office is located in the forest, remarked on Sept. 25.
         Since Sept. 23, parts of the Samboja Lestari forest area, 50 kilometers north of Balikpapan, have been gutted by fires, which have destroyed bushes and 15-year-old trees.
        Meanwhile, the BOSF had set up a 1,852-hectare facility near the forest to rehabilitate and introduce 209 orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) and 47 honey bears (Helarcto malayanus) into the wild.
         "We are worried that our staff members and orangutans might fall ill due to the haze," Hermanu affirmed.
        The prolonged drought could also easily trigger additional forest fires, he pointed out.
         Several military personnel, a team from the Kutai Kartanegara disaster mitigation office, and another team from Total Indonesie have been deployed to extinguish the fires.
         "On Friday morning, we were assisted by a Manggala Agni team from the Forestry Ministry," Nico noted.
         During the period between Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, some 30 hectares of Samboja Lestari area was gutted by the fires.
        "Fortunately, no staff member and orangutans have become victims of the forest fires so far," he remarked, adding that no evacuation of orangutans has yet been planned. 
   He pointed out that the Samboja Lestari team, assisted by members of the Cavalry Detachment VI Mulawarman and the Regional Military Command, was still battling to extinguish the fires.
          "This is not the first incident in Samboja Lestari. Within the past month, on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, an area belonging to Samboja Lestari was also engulfed by the raging fire," Hermanu noted in a statement.
        Last week, Samboja Lestari team and several volunteers replanted a small section of the damaged land that was previously covered with dark red meranti trees.
        "In connection with today's incident, we suspect that the fire was ignited in part due to the dry conditions and prolonged drought. So far, no one --- humans, orangutans, and other animals --- has fallen victim. However, in addition to the dense haze shrouding the entire island of Kalimantan that has not been dealt with properly, we are still facing the risks of serious health conditions as a result of this incident," he stated.
         The WWF reported that orangutan numbers and distribution have rapidly declined since the middle of the 20th century due to human activities including hunting, unsustainable and often illegal logging, mining, and conversion of forests to agricultural areas.
         One particular catastrophic event was the 1997-98 forest fires in Kalimantan, which claimed the lives of up to eight thousand orangutans.
          WWF studies have shown that fruit-eating birds and orangutans suffered greatly from the fires of 1982-1983 in Borneo since the trees on which they feed take several years to mature and fruit.
         In 2015, the Orangutan Conservancy believes there are only about 40 thousand orangutans remaining in Borneo and Sumatra. Shockingly, the number was about 60 thousand as recent as a decade ago.
        At this rate, several experts have warned that orangutans could become extinct in the wild in less than 25 years.
         According to, never before has their very existence been threatened so severely. Economic crisis coupled with natural disasters and human abuse of the forests is pushing one of humankind's closest cousins to extinction.
             Once this Great Ape species roamed over thousands of miles across the rainforests of Southeast Asia, but today, they survive only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo or Kalimantan, which are part of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei Darussalam.
         If poaching and the destruction of rain forests continue unabated, orangutans in the wild could disappear from Sumatra and Borneo in the near future, to be found only in zoos, scientists have cautioned.
          The alarm has been sounded in a joint study by Dr Carel van Schaik of the University of Zurich along with Kathryn Monk and Yarrow Robertson, who are in charge of the Leuser ecosystem management in the north of Sumatra, reported.
        The orangutan population has shrunk more than 50 percent in Sumatra since 1993, a study seen by AFP shows. At least one thousand of the great apes have disappeared in each of the last two years.
           Bornean orangutan populations have declined by more than 50 percent over the past 60 years, and the species' habitat has been reduced by at least 55 percent over the past 20 years.
         The Economy and Environment Programme for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA) has estimated that total losses during 1997 and 1998 could be US$5-6 billion after taking into account the loss of timber, biodiversity, and plantations, as well as the long-term health effects. 

(T.F001/A/BESSR/O. Tamindael) 30-09-2015 15:06:38

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