Archive | August 2012

Fires to Clear Forests Still in Vogue in Indonesia

 

Fidelis E. Satriastanti | The Jakarta Globe

Residents and plantation companies continue to open plantation areas by burning forests because it is the easiest and cheapest method, the nation’s disaster-prevention agency says.

“The people and businesses burn [forests] because it is much cheaper,” Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), told BeritaSatu on Saturday.

“Besides, they normally burn peatland where the acid level of the land is unsuitable for plantation. [The area] will become fertile if it’s burned and the ashes can be used as fertilizer.”

Sutopo said that explained why people were still burning forests to open land despite many regulations to ban the practice.

The Environment Ministry is investigating eight companies in Sumatra — two in Riau, four in South Sumatra and two in Aceh — that allegedly burned a total of 3,814 hectares of forest land to open new plantation areas.

The government has also put eight provinces on its forest fire control priority list: North Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, East Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan.

Environmental law analyst Mas Achmad Santosa said that the lack of investigators to handle environmental cases slowed the Environment Ministry from enforcing the law. “The law offers a wide scope for law enforcement on environmental crimes,” Santosa said on Sunday.

The Law on Environmental Protection and Management enables civil servants tasked with investigating environmental cases to immediately start or halt an investigation without reporting it to the police. They are also authorized to arrest suspects through coordination with the police.

But many environmental crimes investigators no longer work in law enforcement. The ministry “just needs to call the civil servants who have shifted to other fields but still working in the ministry,” he said.

Previously, Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said the ministry had 1600 environmental crimes investigations to be distributed. Ministry data showed that 554 cases as of November 2010 but only 398 were active.

On Saturday morning, BNPB put out fires in an oil palm plantation area in Muarojambi district, Jambi.

“The fire on a 700-hectare plot of land in Muarojambi was contained this morning. It was an oil palm plantation area,” Sutopo said, adding that the fire-fighting effort involved artificial rain, water bombs and land-based attacks.

The agency is creating artificial rains in Riau and Central Kalimantan for 40 days because the dry season has just started.

“In Riau, the artificial rain will be created using two Cassa 212 aircraft and two helicopters for water bombs,” Sutopo said, adding that artificial rains would also be generated over Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan.

“Artificial rains were created on Aug. 12, and we will do it again on Aug. 28 in both provinces. The process will be carried out for 40 consecutive days,” he said.

Water bombing is one method of containing forest fires, however, it has limited coverage and cannot be done over wide areas. “With artificial rains, it depends on the clouds. There are not enough clouds in mountainous areas during the dry season. … It’s possible to be carried out on peatlands by soaking them with water so that it doesn’t burn easily, but given the condition of rivers in Indonesia, this also poses a problem,” Sutopo said.

BNPB has allocated Rp 12 billion ($1.26 million) to contain forest fires but will increase it to Rp 30 billion if conditions worsen. BNPB has also prepared three additional helicopters and two aircraft to create artificial rains.

 

The orangutan population is on the brink

 

John Blackstone | CBS News

watch the video here

(CBS News) The natural home of the orangutan is the leafy rain forests on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, but development has devastated their numbers. There are less than 30,000 of the species left today.

Orangutans can fill us with wonder partly because they are so much like us.

But two of the orangutans at the Oregon zoo, 52-year old Inji and 18-year-old Kutai, are part of a species fast disappearing.

“All of the apes are endangered but orangutans, I think, are at a critical point right now,” said Jennifer Davis, who runs the Oregon zoo’s primate program.

She recently wanted to see their plight first-hand in their most important habitat.

“So I flew to Sumatra,” Davis said. “I expected to see just lush tropical rainforests, and as far as I could see, it was just palm oil plantations.”

Huge plantations for producing palm oil are wiping out the rainforests in Sumatra where most orangutans live.

“It ‘s a very, very precarious situation,” said Ian Singleton, who heads the Orangutan Conservation Program in Sumatra.

Singleton said the biggest threat is the growing demand for palm oil.

“You’d be amazed just how many products it’s in. It’s in shampoos, it’s in soaps, it’s in your biscuits, in chocolates. It’s everywhere,” Singleton said.

So those working to save the animals are asking consumers to start looking for a label that says “orangutan friendly.

It can be found on palm oil products produced in places that do not threaten crucial habitat.

“We want people to know there is still hope because there is, but it is at a critical turning point. It is at a point where we need to take focus on this or we could lose the species, and it’s a very real possibility,” said Jennifer Davis.

It’s a possibility zoo visitors like Cassie Deitz seem to grasp.

“That’s something I don’t want to even think about. It sounds awful to me. So I’m really concerned,” Deitz said.

The future of orangutans may depend, in more ways than one, on their close connection to us.

 

New role for drones – wildlife, eco conservation

 

Denis D Gray | Sydney Morning Herald

They’re better known as stealthy killing machines to take out suspected terrorists with pinpoint accuracy. But drones are also being put to more benign use in skies across several continents to track endangered wildlife, spot poachers and chart forest loss.

Although it’s still the “dawn of drone ecology,” as one innovator calls it, these unmanned aerial vehicles are already skimming over Indonesia’s jungle canopy to photograph orangutans, protecting rhinos in Nepal and studying invasive aquatic plants in Florida.

Activists launched a long-range drone in December to locate and photograph a Japanese whaling ship as the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society attempted to block Japan’s annual whale hunt in Antarctic waters.

Relatively cheap, portable and earth-hugging, they fill a gap between satellite and manned aircraft imagery and on-the-ground observations, says Percival Franklin at the University of Florida, which has been developing such drones for more than a decade.

“The potential uses are almost unlimited,” says Ian Singleton, director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, testing drones this year over Indonesia’s Tripa peat forest where fires set by palm oil growers are threatening the world’s highest density habitat of the great apes.

Conservation is one of the latest roles for these multi-taskers, either autonomously controlled by on-board computers or under remote guidance of a navigator. Ranging in size from less than half a kilogram (pound) to more than 18 metric tons (20 tons), drones have been used for firefighting, road patrols, hurricane tracking and other jobs too dull, dirty or dangerous for piloted craft.

Most prominently, they have been harnessed by the US military in recent years, often to detect and kill opponents in America’s “war on terror” in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere.

A conservation drone pioneer, Lian Pin Koh of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, says the idea came to him after another sweaty, jungle slog in Sabah, Malaysia, hauling heavy equipment for his field work.

“I told my assistant, who happened to be my wife, `How wonderful it would be if we could fly over that area rather than walk there again tomorrow,'” recalled the Singaporean expert on tropical deforestation, and a model plane hobbyist.

Unlike eco-drones in the United States, mostly custom-built or commercial models, Koh last year cobbled together a far cheaper, off-the-shelf version that poorer organizations and governments in the developing world can better afford.

He and partner Serge Wich bought a model plane _ some are available in China for as little as $100 _ added an autopilot system, open source software to program missions, and still and video cameras. All for less than $2,000, or ten times cheaper than some commercial vehicles with similar capabilities.

This year, they have flown more than 200 mostly test runs in Asia using an improved version with a 2-meter (6.5 foot) wing span, air time of 45 minutes and a 25-kilometer (15.5-mile) range.

The drones were flown over rough terrain in Malaysia where GPS-collared elephants are difficult to monitor from the ground. In Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Nepal Army conducted trials on detecting rhino and elephant poachers. The duo also assisted the Ugalla Primate Project to head count chimpanzees in western Tanzania.

“Counting orangutan nests is the main way of surveying orangutan populations,” says Graham Usher of the Sumatran project, which captured one of the apes atop a palm tree feeding on palm heart in a sharp photograph. From higher altitudes the drones, he said, also provide high-resolution, real-time images showing where forests are being cleared and set ablaze.

By contrast ground expeditions are time-consuming, logistically cumbersome and expensive. A conventional orangutan census in Sumatra, which may also involve helicopters and aircraft, costs some $250,000. Surveying land use by satellite is likewise costly and hampered by frequent cloud cover over tropical areas.

But there are drawbacks with drones, including landing them in often thickly vegetated areas since they need clear touch-down zones of about 100 by 100 meters (yards). Koh said he was working to rig the vehicle with a parachute to allow landing in confined space.

Franklin says the hardware and image interpretation are still being developed as more missions are planned in the United States, ranging from counting pygmy rabbit burrows in Idaho to monitoring salmon-eating seabirds off the Oregon coast.

The University of Florida is testing another “war on terror” weapon, thermal imaging, to hunt for Burmese pythons invading the state’s Everglades, having found the snakes regulate temperatures of their nests in a way that makes them visible through such technology.

Other eyes-in-the-sky increasingly used for conservation tasks are ultralights, birdlike craft with a major advantage over drones _ the human touch.

“It’s the closest thing we have come to flying like birds 30,000 years after coming out of caves,” says Mark Silverberg, preparing to take a reporter up in a para-motor ultralight, one earlier hired by conservation groups to photograph and video Mekong River dolphins, tiger habitat in Myanmar and denuded hills in northern Thailand.

Taking off from a fallow rice field in Pranburi district, south of the Thai capital Bangkok, we nearly brush branches as our two-seater ultralight craft needles through stands of trees, follows a flock of water fowl just below us, then soars to 300 meters (980 feet) for an all-horizons view. Where humanity intersects with nature is clearly evident, and beyond loom limestone cliffs of a national park invaded by polluting shrimp farms.

“I can really craft a shoot, a sequence, show scenes better than drones because there is a human being who can take in and react to the whole environment more immediately and make adjustments,” says Silverberg, an American who runs Paramotor Thailand.

The ultralight, he explains, has other advantages over most eco-drones: it can remain airborne for up to three hours, cover 70 kilometers and carry heavier payloads. But ultralights are rather noisy and pilots are reluctant to fly over water or thick vegetation in event of an emergency landing.

“All in all, there’s really no competition with drones,” says Silverberg after the flight over south of Bangkok. “Both are really great tools for conservation.”

AP Digital

 

Kerri-Anne’s personal battle

 

Kerri-Anne Kennerley, Erin Reimer | Yahoo News

In this exhilarating report, Kerri-Anne Kennerley travelled to Kenya to see one of the rarest species on earth — the northern white rhino.

There are only eight of this particular species of rhino left in the world, and out of that, only four that can potentially breed. These four were brought to Ol Pejeta Conservancy from the Czech Republic two years ago, with the help of wildlife organisation Flora and Fauna International and the great generosity of an Australian banker, Alistair Lucas.

Kennerley visited these rhinos along with Lucas, who was seeing them for the first time since they took their first steps on African soil two years ago.

These, along with all the other black and white rhino on the conservancy, are heavily guarded — they live behind electric fences on the 40,000-hectare conservancy. Armed guards patrol night and day, so heavy is the threat of poaching. Poaching has spiked in recent years due to the increased popularity of the use of ground rhino horn in traditional medicine in Vietnam and China.

“We have lost I think about nine rhinos, nine rhinos in the last fifteen years to poaching of which six have been lost in the last two years. So that gives you an indication of how the pressure from poaching has increased so dramatically in recent times,” said Ol Pejeta CEO Richard Vigne.

“Right now, the only way to secure rhino populations is to have armed security with a high capacity to operate both in daylight and at night to deter poachers. If you left rhinos in an unprotected area now, I would give them no longer than a week or two before they would be killed.”

So extreme is the threat in South Africa, where nearly 300 rhinos have been poached this year alone, that radical steps are being taken. Kennerley travelled to a farm on the outskirts of Kruger National Park, where rancher John Hume has taken to dehorning his rhinos every year in a bid to make them less appealing to poachers — an act he was driven to do after losing some of his stock to poachers. And Hume doesn’t want to stop there: he wants to create a legal trade in rhino horn to cut the poachers out of the picture.

In the meantime, World Wildlife Fund South Africa have taken another approach to safeguard the species, flying rhinos by chopper to better ground in a bid to increase breeding. Led by vet Dr Jacques Flamand, the Black Rhino Range Expansion project aims to create new rhino populations. They’ve run the project for eight years, with over 40 calves born during that time.

Related News: 

Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Flora and Fauna International

WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project

 

Orangutan Pet Owners Need ‘Heavy Punishment’: Activists

Fidelis E. Satriastanti | The Jakarta Globe

In an effort to deter people from keeping orangutans in captivity, animal activists and researchers have demanded tough sanctions for anyone keeping the animals as their pets, even after turning them over to the authorities.

“It is most effective if there is an agreement that they [violators] will get a heavy punishment next time,” said Sri Suci Utami Atmoko, an orangutan researcher at the National University in Jakarta. “Otherwise, there will be no deterrent.”

Suci said that people who live in and around plantation and mining areas find the orangutans and keep them. The animals most likely wandered out of their habitats because of encroachment due to growing plantation and mining activities.

The researcher added that the process of releasing orangutans back into the wild takes a long time, costs a lot of money, and that steps must be taken to prevent their being recaptured or returned to captivity.

She added that it costs about $3,500 per year to care for an orangutan that has been in captivity, and prepare it for a life in the wild. That cost does not include health care.

“We are also very disappointed that while we are releasing orangutans back to nature, defendants in orangutan killings are only given sentences of between eight and 10 months,” Suci said. “Where is the deterrent effect?”

Experts say there are 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans remaining in the wild. Eighty percent of them are in Indonesia and the rest are in Malaysia.

Many conservationists have raised concerns that the country’s orangutans could become extinct.

A joint survey by 19 organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, WWF and the Association of Primate Experts, recently discovered that about 750 orangutans died in 2008 and 2009, mostly because of conflicts with human beings.

The Orangutan Reintroduction Center of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation in Nyaru Menteng, Central Kalimantan, has released 23 of the 40 orangutans scheduled to be released this year.

At the Reintroduction Center in Samboja Lestari, East Kalimantan, only six of the projected 30 primates have been released.

Jamartin Sihite, BOS chief executive, said recently that the problems and high cost of releasing back orangutans to the wild was due to a shortage of suitable land for a habitat.

“There isn’t enough land that’s suitable and free from disruption,” he said.

In trying to secure more land, the foundation had to obtain land concession rights from the Forestry Ministry.

It paid Rp 13 billion ($1.4 million) for the rights to 86,450 hectares of land for the next 60 years, Jamartin said.

Biggest Asian wildlife traffickers are untouchable

 

By DENIS D. GRAY 

The Associated Press

BANGKOK — Squealing tiger cubs stuffed into carry-on bags. Luggage packed with hundreds of squirming tortoises, elephant tusks, even water dragons and American paddlefish. Officials at Thailand’s gateway airport proudly tick off the illegally trafficked wildlife they have seized over the past two years.

In this photo taken June 2, 2011, a young Indian roofed turtle crawls on the fingers of a custom officer during a news conference on wildlife seized in Bangkok, Thailand. Officials at Thailand’s gateway airport proudly tick off the illegally trafficked wildlife they have seized over the past two years. But Thai and foreign law enforcement officers tell another story: officials working-hand-in-hand with the traffickers ensure that other shipments through Suvarnabhumi International Airport are whisked off before they even reach customs inspection. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

In this photo taken June 2, 2011, a Thai custom officer shows an Indian gharial, a type of crocodile native of India, with its mouth tied at a news conference on wildlife seized in Bangkok, Thailand. Officials at Thailand’s gateway airport proudly tick off the illegally trafficked wildlife they have seized over the past two years. But Thai and foreign law enforcement officers tell another story: officials working-hand-in-hand with the traffickers ensure that other shipments through Suvarnabhumi International Airport are whisked off before they even reach customs inspection. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

In this photo taken July 17, 2012, Thai custom officials stand next to a line of ivory that were confiscated and shown at a news conference in Bangkok, Thailand. Officials at Thailand’s gateway airport proudly tick off the illegally trafficked wildlife they have seized over the past two years. But Thai and foreign law enforcement officers tell another story: officials working-hand-in-hand with the traffickers ensure that other shipments through Suvarnabhumi International Airport are whisked off before they even reach customs inspection. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

But Thai and foreign law enforcement officers tell another story: Officials working-hand-in-hand with traffickers ensure that other shipments through Suvarnabhumi International Airport are whisked off before they even reach customs inspection.

It’s a murky mix. A 10-fold increase in wildlife law enforcement actions, including seizures, has been reported in the past six years in Southeast Asia. Yet, the trade’s Mr. Bigs, masterful in taking advantage of pervasive corruption, appear immune to arrest and continue to orchestrate the decimation of wildlife in Thailand, the region and beyond.

And Southeast Asia’s honest cops don’t have it easy.

“It is very difficult for me. I have to sit among people who are both good and some who are corrupt, says Chanvut Vajrabukka, a retired police general. “If I say, ‘You have to go out and arrest that target,’ some in the room may well warn them,'” says Chanvut, who now advises ASEAN-WEN, the regional wildlife enforcement network.

Several kingpins, says wildlife activist Steven Galster, have recently been confronted by authorities, “but in the end, good uniforms are running into, and often stopped by bad uniforms. It’s like a bad Hollywood cop movie.

“Most high-level traffickers remain untouched and continue to replace arrested underlings with new ones,” says Galster, who works for the FREELAND Foundation, an anti-trafficking group.

Galster, who earlier worked undercover in Asia and elsewhere, heaps praise on the region’s dedicated, honest officers because they persevere knowing they could be sidelined for their efforts.

Recently, Lt. Col. Adtaphon Sudsai, a highly regarded, outspoken officer, was instructed to lay off what had seemed an open-and-shut case he cracked four years ago when he penetrated a gang along the Mekong River smuggling pangolin.

This led him to Mrs. Daoreung Chaimas, alleged by conservation groups to be one of Southeast Asia’s biggest tiger dealers. Despite being arrested twice, having her own assistants testify against her and DNA testing that showed two cubs were not offsprings from zoo-bred parents as she claimed, Daoreung remains free and the case may never go to the prosecutor’s office.

“Her husband has been exercising his influence,” says Adtaphon, referring to her police officer spouse. “It seems that no policeman wants to get involved with this case.” The day the officer went to arrest her the second time, his transfer to another post was announced.

“Maybe it was a coincidence,” the colonel says.

In another not uncommon case, a former Thai police officer who tried to crack down on traders at Bangkok’s vast Chatuchak Market got a visit from a senior police general who told him to “chill it or get removed.”

“I admit that in many cases, I cannot move against the big guys,” Chanvut, the retired general, notes. “The syndicates like all organized crime are built like a pyramid. We can capture the small guys but at the top they have money, the best lawyers, protection. What are we going to do?”

Chanvut’s problems are shared by others in Southeast Asia, the prime funnel for wildlife destined for the world’s No. 1 consumer — China — where many animal parts are consumed in the belief they have medicinal or aphrodisiacal properties.

Most recently, a torrent of rhino horn and elephant tusks has poured through it from Africa, which suffers the greatest slaughter of these two endangered animals in decades.

Vietnam was singled out last month by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) as the top destination country for the highly-prized rhino horn.

Tens of thousands of birds, mostly parrots and cockatoos plucked from the wild, are being imported from the Solomon Islands into Singapore, often touted as one of Asia’s least corrupt nations, in violation of CITES, the international convention on wildlife trade.

According to TRAFFIC, the international body monitoring wildlife trade, the imported birds are listed as captive-bred, even though it’s widely known that the Pacific Ocean islands have virtually no breeding facilities.

Communist Laos continues to harbor Vixay Keosavang, identified as one of the region’s half dozen Mr. Bigs, who has been linked by the South African press to a rhino smuggling ring. The 54-year-old former soldier and provincial official is reported to have close ties to senior government officials in Laos and Vietnam.

Thai and foreign enforcement agents, who insist on anonymity since most work undercover, say they have accumulated unprecedented details of the gangs, which are increasingly linked to drug and human trafficking syndicates.

They say a key Thai smuggler, who runs a shipping company, has a gamut of law enforcement officers in his pocket, allowing him to traffic rhino horns, ivory and tiger parts to China. He frequently entertains his facilitators at a restaurant in his office building.

According to the agents, Chinese buyers, informed of incoming shipments, fly to Bangkok, staying at hotels pinpointed by the agents around the Chatuchak Market, where endangered species are openly sold. There they seal deals with known middlemen and freight operators.

The sources say that when they report such investigations seizures are either made for “public relations,” sink into a “black hole” — or the information is leaked to the wrongdoers.

Such a tip-off from someone at Bangkok airport customs allowed a trafficker to stop shipment of a live giraffe with powdered rhino horn believed to be implanted in its vagina.

“The 100,000 passengers moving through this airport from around the world everyday are oblivious to the fact that they are standing in one of the world’s hottest wildlife trafficking zones,” says Galster.

Officials interviewed at the airport, one of Asia’s busiest, acknowledge corruption exists, but downplay its extent and say measures are being taken to root it out.

Chanvut says corruption is not the sole culprit, pointing out the multiple agencies which often don’t cooperate or share information. Each with a role at Bangkok’s airport, are the police, national parks department, customs, immigration, the military and CITES, which regulates international trade in endangered species.

With poor communication between police and immigration, for example, a trader whose passport has been seized at the airport can obtain a forged one and slip across a land border a few days later.

Those arrested frequently abscond by paying bribes or are fined and the case closed without further investigation. “Controlled delivery” — effectively penetrating networks by allowing illicit cargo to pass through to its destination — is rare.

Thailand’s decades-old wildlife law also awaits revision and the closing of loopholes, such as the lack of protection for African elephants, and far stiffer penalties.

“The bottom line is that if wildlife traffickers are not treated as serious criminals in Southeast Asia we are just going to lose more wildlife,” says Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC’s Southeast Asia deputy director. “How often is anyone arrested? They just run off, they must be the fastest people on Earth.”

Chalida Phungravee, who heads the cargo customs bureau at Suvarnabhumi, says just the sheer scale makes her job difficult. The airport each year handles 45 million passengers and 3 million tons of cargo, only some 3 percent of which is X-rayed on arrival. The main customs warehouse is the size of 27 football fields.

But seizures are made, she said, including boxes of tusks — the remnants of some 50 felled elephants — aboard a recent Kenya Airlines flight declared as handicrafts and addressed to a nonexistent company.

“We have cut down a lot on corruption. It still exists but remains minimal,” she said, citing recent computerization which has created a space — dubbed “the Green Line” — between customs officials, cargo and traffickers.

Galster says unlike the past, traffickers are no longer guaranteed safe passage, describing a daily battle at Suvarnabhumi with “undercover officers monitoring corrupt ones and smugglers trying to outwit them all.”

Such increased enforcement efforts in the region have slowed decimation of endangered species, he says, “but there is still a crash going on. If corruption is not tackled soon, you can say goodbye to Asia’s tigers, elephants and a whole host of other animals.”

 

The Head of Aceh Police about Tripa Peat Swamp: Not Only Former Governor

TAUFAN MUSTAFA for AtjehPost

BANDA ACEH – Head of the Aceh Police, Inspector General Iskandar Hasan said that his office will summon everyone involved in the case of Tripa Peat Swamp.

“We will see, if involved, anyone, not only the former Governor, will be summoned,” he said to The Atjeh Post after an event Saweu Keude Kupi at Bay Café, Ulee Lheu, Banda Aceh on Friday, May 11, 2012.

Shortly before, Akhiruddin Mahjuddin, Coordinator of Indonesian Anti-Corruption Movement (GeRAK), has been questioning, why the Aceh Police has not been examining the former Governor of Aceh, Irwandi Yusuf, who has been issuing the permit to PT Kalista Alam.

 

“Before the concession permit for PT Kalista Alam was issued by the Governor of Aceh, at that time Irwandi Yusuf, on August 25, 2011, the Aceh Police sent a letter with the number B/173/VIII/2001/Dit Reskrimsus to the Head of BP2T Aceh on August 11, 2011,” said Akhiruddin.

He said that the content of the letter legalised PT Kalista Alam to utilise the particular area, although it is situated within Leuser Ecosystem and without any Plantation Permit. The permit was in the process of accomplishment and for PT Kalista Alam the plantation permit was exceptionally issued by BP2T Aceh.

According to the Inspector General, the problem is not about the land clearing for oil palm plantation, but the clearing by burning.

“The problem is the burning (of the land). The permit was complete. How the process of the permit, this could be investigated at the related office,” he said.

In conjunction with the case, the Directorate of Special Crime of the Aceh Police has been accompanying the joint team of the Ministry of Environment, who conducted field visit to Tripa Peat Swamp several days before.

“The occurring peat fires are now processed by the National Police together with related department. Then they will follow up on this, also for the legal process,” said Iskandar.

The Inspector General hoped that the environmental sustainability of Tripa Peat Swamp will not be distracted in the future.

The case of Tripa Peat Swamp emerged after it was reported by the Community Concerned about Tripa on November 23, 2011 to the National Police. Based on that report, the National Police ordered the Aceh Police through a letter No. B/4472/Ops/XI/2011/Bareskrim dated on November 25, 2011 to conduct investigation.

It’s either orangutans or cheap palm oil

 

An adult male orangutan is captured for re-release after it’s home forest has quickly been cleared for palm oil plantations in Tripa, Aceh Province, 18 April 2012. The Tripa Peatswamp forest supports the highest density of Sumatran Orangutans anywhere on earth, but are still being cleared by palm oil companies who think they are beyond the reach of the law, the situation is urgent and requires action according to Dr Ian Singelton, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program. Photo: Paul Hilton

Free Malaysia Today By Kafil Yamin

JAKARTA: When four men were sentenced to eight months in jail in March for the ‘murder’ of orangutans, it was the first time that people associated with Indonesia’s booming palm oil industry were convicted for killing man’s close relations in the primate family.

Conservationists were not happy with the ‘light’ sentences handed down by the court in Kutai Kertanegara district, East Kalimantan, on March 18, to Imam Muktarom, Mujianto, Widiantoro and Malaysian national Phuah Cuan Pun.

“As expected, the sentences were light, much lighter than what the prosecutors demanded. Such punishments will not bring any change to the situation of orangutans,” Fian Khairunnissa, an activist of the Centre for Orangutan Protection, told IPS.

Indonesia’s courts have generally looked the other way as the palm oil industry relentlessly decimated orangutans by destroying vast swathes of Southeast Asia’s rainforests to convert them into oil palm plantations.

In April, a court in Banda Aceh, Sumatra, dismissed a case filed by the Indonesia Environmental Forum (WALHI) against PT Kallista Alam, one of five palm oil firms operating in Tripa, and Irwandi Yusuf, former governor of Aceh province, for the conversion of 1,600 hectares (3,950 acres) of carbon-rich peat forests into palm oil plantations.

The court admonished WALHI saying it should have sought an out-of-court settlement with PT Kallista Alam – which never paused clearing its 1,600-hectare concession, granted in August 2011.

Mysteriously, just before the WALHI case was to be heard in court, numerous fires broke out in the Tripa peat swamps, including in the concession granted to PT Kallista Alam.

Community leaders in Tripa point out that the concessions fly in the face of a presidential moratorium on new permits to clear primary forests, effective in Indonesia since last year as part of a billion dollar deal with Norway to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“The issuance of a license to Kallista is a crime, because it changes the Leuser ecosystem and peat land forests into business concessions,” Kamarudin, a Tripa community spokesman, told IPS.

The Leuser Ecosystem, in the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra, covers more than 2.6 million hectares of prime tropical rain forest and is the last place on earth where Sumatran sub-species of elephants, rhinoceros, tigers and orangutans coexist.

The survival of orangutans, a ‘keystone species’, is critical for the wellbeing of other animals and plants with which they coexist in a habitat.

Orangutan seen as encroachers

A statement released in June by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme estimated that there are now only 200 of the red-harired great apes left in Tripa compared to about 2,000 in 1990 and said their situation was now ‘desperate’ as result of the fires and clearing operations carried out by palm oil companies.

During the last five years, the oil palm business has emerged as a major force in the Indonesian economy, with an investment value of close five billion dollars on eight million hectares.

Indonesia plans to increase crude palm oil (CPO) production from the current 23.2 million tons this year to 28.4 million tons by 2014. This calls for an 18.7 percent increase in plantation area, according to Indonesia’s agriculture ministry.

But the price of the planned expansion would be further shrinkage of orangutan habitat by 1.6 million hectares because oil companies find it cheaper to burn forests and chase away or kill the orangutans.

“If you find orangutans in palm oil plantations, they are not coming there from somewhere else… they are in their own homes that have been changed into plantations,” said Linda Yuliani, a researcher at the Centre for International Forestry Research.

“But plantation company people see the orangutans as the encroachers,” she said. “Confused orangutans can often be seen wandering in plantations, and with their habitat gone, they forage on young palm trees,” she said.

A joint survey by 19 organisations, including The Nature Conservancy, WWF and the Association of Primate Experts, found that some 750 orangutans died during 2008-2009, mostly because of conflict with human beings.

It has not mattered that Indonesia is one of the signatories to the Convention on Illegal Trade and Endangered Species, which classifies orangutans under Appendix I which lists species identified as currently endangered, or in danger of extinction.

“Clearing peat land also releases huge volumes of carbon dioxide, similar to amounts released during volcanic eruptions,” Willie Smits, a Dutch conservationist who works on orangutan protection, tells IPS.

Enforcement needed

Reckless clearing of peat swamp forests has already turned Indonesia into the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, after the United States and China.

“The government may earn some money from oil palm investment, but there are far bigger losses from environmental destruction,” says Elfian Effendi, director of Greenomics Indonesia. “There is a multiplied effect on the local economy and loss of biodiversity.”

But, even to some conservationists, stopping the oil palm business in Indonesia – which feeds a vast range of industries from fast food and cosmetics to biodiesel – is impractical.

“What is needed is enforcement of schemes that allow the palm oil business and orangutans to co-exist,” Resit Rozer, a Dutch conservationist who runs a sanctuary for rescued orangutans, told IPS.

Palm oil companies that are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a convention to encourage importers to buy only RSPO-certified CPO, see no advantage in the scheme that requires them to set aside a forest block for orangutans within plantations and provide safe corridors for the apes to move from one spot to another.

“US and several European countries still buy non-certified CPO as the RSPO certificate does not gurantee purchase,” Rozer told IPS. “The West told us to practice environmentally-sound business, but they do not buy RSPO-certified CPO because implementation has been delayed till 2015,” Rozer said.

“For companies that have invested in RSPO certification, the delay has been a heavy blow. They feel cheated,” said Rozer who helps palm oil companies in creating orangutan refuges and corridors.

IPS

 

7 endangered Sumatran rhinos photographed in Indonesian park for first time in decades

 

JAKARTA, Indonesia — A conservationist says seven of the world’s rarest rhinoceroses were photographed at a national park in Indonesia. It is the first sighting there in 26 years.

Tarmizi, from the Leuser International Foundation, said Thursday that pictures from movement-triggered cameras identified a male and six female Sumatran rhinos in Aceh province’s Leuser National Park as of April.

 

Placing Ad for Rhino Horn, 3 years jail sentence

Three years for placing rhino horn ad

A Durban fruit and vegetable vendor’s botched attempt to sell a rhino horn has resulted in a three-year jail term.

Rajen Moodley yesterday pleaded guilty to dealing in rhino horn in the Durban Regional Court.

He escaped the prescribed five-year sentence and, under Correctional Services legislation, might serve only six months of his three-year sentence.

In his plea explanation, Moodley claimed that his co-accused, Sithembiso Luthuli and Samkelo Sibiya, approached him on March16 with the offer of earning 10% from the sale of a rhino horn.

According to Moodley, the two men said they needed his help to find a buyer willing to pay R1.5-million for the 6.5kg horn.

Moodley advertised the horn in the local fruit and vegetable market. A day later an interested buyer contacted him.

Moodley claimed that, together with his co-accused, he met the prospective buyer at the Elangeni Hotel.

They then drove to another location to show the man the horn.

“Suddenly we were surrounded by police,” he said.

Moodley then learned that his “buyer” was a policeman.

Defence advocate Jay Naidoo yesterday told the court that Moodley was not involved in planning the sale of the horn and that his involvement had lasted no more than two days.

“It is clear that he was lured by the proverbial quick buck. He first became familiar with what a rhino horn looks like moments [before his arrest]. Though this case has attracted media and public interest, the court must take his minor role into account.

“He did not harvest the horn or kill the animal,” he argued.

Prosecutor Yuri Gangai said rhino poaching was a serious issue.

“I am not suggesting that the accused should be punished for every person who is dealing in rhino horn but the court must send out a message that this is just not on,” he said.

Nearly 300 rhino have been killed by poachers this year.

Magistrate Fariedha Mohamed took into account Moodley’s “amateurish” act of advertising a rhino horn at a market.

But she said the seriousness of the offence demanded a prison sentence.

“It is a huge problem as the white rhino is on the brink of extinction and their survival is jeopardised by acts like this.

“The court has to send out a message to prevent the trade in rhino horn from becoming more lucrative,” Mohamed said.

Luthuli and Sibiya will appear in court next week.

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