Tag Archive | Palm Oil Plantation

Environment Ministry Targets Plantation Firms Accused of Sumatra Forest Clearing

The Jakarta Globe | Fidelis E. Satriastanti | July 23, 2012

Fires continued to be set in Tripa’s peat forestl, 13 June 2012, Aceh province, Sumatra, Indonesia. According to a field team from the coalition of NGO’s to protect Tripa, that visited the area. Fires are continuing to be lit in the highly threatened Tripa Peat Forest for palm oil plantations despite assurances from the Indonesian central government that ‘triple track’ legal action was underway and a small area of the Peat Forest had returned to the moratorium map central to the multibillion agreement between Indonesia and Norway to reduce carbon emission from burning the carbon dense Peat Forests. Photo: Paul Hilton/SOCP/YEL (HANDOUT PHOTO, EDITORIAL USE ONLY)

The Environment Ministry is investigating eight plantation companies in Sumatra for allegedly clearing nearly 4,000 hectares of forest using slash-and-burn methods.

Arief Yuwono, the minister’s deputy for environmental damage control and climate change, said on Sunday that the companies were believed to have burned down more than 3,800 hectares of forest.

“Two of the companies are in Riau, four are in South Sumatra and two are in Aceh,” he said.

He added that the ministry was also investigating some local officials involved in issuing permits to the companies.

The investigation comes as the Environment Ministry prioritizes measures to prevent haze as a result of forest fires on the island and particularly in Riau, which is set to host the 18th National Games in September.

Purwasto Saroprayogi, head of the ministry’s forest fire monitoring department, said the areas of top priority were Pelalawan and Rokan Hilir districts in Riau.

“We’re giving priority to these two regions because the number of forest fire hot spots detected there is quite high,” Purwasto said.

He added that there was a risk of more fires spreading in the province because of the hot spots.

He said that under the ministry’s Fire Danger Rating System, officials now had a better understanding of how the fires were spreading.

“Whereas before we could only monitor once every seven days, now we can do it once every three days,” Purwasto said.

As of July 15, there were 2,643 hot spots detected in Riau this year, or more than half of the 4,876 detected across Indonesia by a US satellite. South Sumatra accounted for 1,180 hot spots, while West Kalimantan had 1,053.

In Riau, most of the hot spots were concentrated in Pelalawan district, with 527, followed by Bengkalis and Rokan Hilir.

Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya warned that the number of fires would increase as the dry season continued, fanned in part by the “El Nino” phenomenon in October.

“Based on the information from the FDRS and predictions of decreased rainfall, there will be a high potential of forest fires in the eight most prone provinces of North and South Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, and [all of] Kalimantan,” he said as quoted by environmental website MongaBay.co.id.

Roasted in Tripa Peat Swamp | TEMPO Magazine

This article was published in TEMPO Magazine on July 17, 2012.
Free translation by Adji Darsoyo

Roasted In Tripa Peat Swamp

Not only orangutans are displaced through the burning of peatland. Community from the surrounding areas also became hostile towards the environment of Tripa Peat Swamp.

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta–The skull of the primate simply lied under a burnt trunk of a tree, measuring not more than 1 1/2 times of a tennis ball. Tempo took the opportunity to take picture of the also burnt skull from top to bottom. Until then, nobody commented.

But, we attempt to lift it, two guys who were in silece, firmly reminded. “Don’t remove it. It is evidence,” said Indriyanto, an activist from Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari, who has been accompanying Tempo exploring Tripa Peat Swamp of Nagan Raya, Aceh.

Indriyanto and Suratman, local community members guiding the path, were convinced that the skull belonged to burnt orangutan infant, since two weeks earlier they still saw two orangutans in that peat swamp area, that was about to be converted into oil palm plantation. At that particular time, trees were still stanging within the area occupied by PT. Kallista Alam and PT. Surya Panen Subur.

Within 2011-2012, Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari and the Agency for Natural Concervation – Aceh has evacuated 6 orangutans from Tripa Peat Swamp. Indriyanto, together with Suratman, have brought those scarce animas to an intact forest area in Aceh Tengah.

Currently, Tripa Peat Swamp can hardly appear as home for orangutan. As far eyes can see, tree trunks and branches are scattered, turned into charcoal. Smoke was still rising in many places. To avoid sinking into collapsed peat caused by burning, one had to step on the remaining trunks and roots. In the middle of this ocean of charcoal, GPS was very useful to determine the direction. “In the past, I used to put bamboo fish trap under these trunks and roots to catch catfish,” recalled Suratman.

After crossing a drainage canal of 5m wide seperating the area of  PT Kallista and PT Surya, Suratman stood on the pile of roots of a fallen tree. He pulled out a binoculars and observed the far lying obserrvation tower. “Empty,” he said. this means that we were saved to enter the hundreds hectares area that is divided into blocks through the drainage canals. In certain blocks, palm oil seedlings are seen growing up to 50 cm height.

***

Since last May, dozens of invesigators from the Central Police and from the Ministry of Environment continued to interrogate the management of  PT Kallista Alam and PT Surya Panen Subur. They are in terms of investigating two cases of legal violation: clearing by burning and planting in more than 3 m deep peat.

Oil palm plantations are the source of the peat destruction in Tripa and in other sites within Aceh. Before encroachment and transformation into oil palm plantation, in the 80s, this peatland in the west coast of Aceh has been preserving and regulating water, just like sponges. It absorbs water during rainy season to prevent from flood. Then, it releases the water bit by bit during dry season to prevent from drought.

Not less important, Tripa Peat Swamp forest was a comfortable living space for Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii). Most of the Sumatran orangutans’ population live in this particular coastal peat swamp of Aceh full of palms and rattans. The rest are distributed within the hinterland forest of Leuser Ecosystem and North Sumatra Province.

Until the beginning of the 90′s, the number of orangutans in this 62,000 ha of Tripa Peat Swamp reached up tp 1,000. Disaster occurred as the Indonesian Government of New Order era issued land concessions (HGU) to a number of private companies in 1991. Those companies cleared the peat forest and transformed it in oil palm plantations.

Now, 7 companies are in the possession of concession within Tripa Peat Swamp. Each occupies between 3,000 to 13,000 ha. Hence, the remaining peatland are around 17,000 ha. Orangutan experts considered that the remaining area is too small for around 280 orangutan estimated to surive in Tripa Peat Swamp.

According to Ian Singleton, the Conservation Director of Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, most of the burning parts of Tripa Peat Swamp forest are orangutan habitat. “Before, we found many orangutans there,” he said. On the last June 10, Ian was taken by Suratman and Indriyanto to see the skull suspected to be of an orangutan. After showing its photo to a friend, a taxonomy, the skull was identified to be of a crab-eating macaque (Macaca fascicularis) or pig-tail macaque (Macaca nemestrina).

Tens of drainage canals constructed by oil palm plantations have absorbed the water from the peat. Even if it was not burnt, the trees producing fruits for the orangutan would die due to dryness. Refered to the last year’s research, Singleton estimated that the peat swamp forest and orangutan of Tripa will vanish in 2015.

***

Within the past recent years, Ali Basyiah always spent the day top-less. This villager of Kuala Seumayam in the Sub district of Darul Makmur, Nagan Raya, cannot stand the heat. Even at night, his wife and children sleeps with electric fan. “The temperature increased since oil palm companies operates here,” said Ali, whose village is situated on the edge of PT. Kalista Alam’s plantation areas.

According to temperature measurement of 14 November 2007, the temperature in the surrounding of Tripa Peat Swamp has increased drastically. At 9.30 am, the temperature is already 37 degree celcius. Within three hours, it increases to 43 degree. NOw, after 5 years, Ali feels that the temperature in his village became higher.

Ali did not only suffer because of the temperature alone. His income from fishing and from collecting sweet water shells is decreasing. As Tripa Peat Swamp forest was still intact, Ali only needed to install his bamboo fish trap under a tree within the forest. At that time, he could catch averagely 30 kg of catfish and 3 sacks of sweet water shells. Those times are now history. Now, Ali can only catch te maximum of 10 kg catfish in a day. And for that he had to search to the upstream.

Executive Director of WALHI Aceh, T.M. Zulfikar, said that the experience of the community in the surrounding of Tripa Peat Swamp in the past 5 years is the opposite to the Aceh Green programme launched by the former Governor Irwandi Yusuf after his inauguration i the beginning of 2007.

Zulfikar then revealed the data. Before 2007, forest distruction in Aceh was averagely 20,000 ha per year. After 2007, the forest destruction in Aceh increased between 23,000 and 40,000 ha per year. “The Government of Aceh appeared to have swallowed it own word,” said Adnan N.S. from the Supervisory Board of Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari.

UNTUNG WIDYANTO

Sumatran Orangutan Relocated as Forest Clearing Continues

Sumatran Orangutan Relocated as Forest Clearing Continues

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

David Gilbert – Environmental Anthropologist, Stanford University
Published June 4, 2012 08:45 AM
Environmental News Network

An imperiled orangutan was rescued from a small patch of the Tripa peat swamp rainforest in Sumatra last month, in an effort to save this large adult male from starvation. But experts fear he could be among the last of his kind in what was once prime habitat for these graceful, shy great apes.

The orangutan had become trapped in the area when the forest around him was cleared by developers to make way for the planting of palm oil. Yenny Saraswati, a veterinarian who specializes in the care of orangutans at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, was alerted of the orangutan by villagers in the Tripa rainforest, who sent him a text message: “Another orangutan needs help.”

Yenny dispatched a local member of her field staff to find and monitor the orangutan. They found the forest creature in a small oasis of surviving forest, created as palm oil companies cleared the surrounding forest for new plantations. The orangutan was running out of food, like wild fruits and insects, according to Dr Ian Singleton, the orangutan expert and Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program imperiled orangutan was rescued from a small patch of the Tripa peat swamp rainforest in Sumatra last month, in an effort to save this large adult male from starvation. But experts fear he could be among the last of his kind in what was once prime habitat for these graceful, shy great apes.gramme who oversaw the rescue.

Orangutans are highly intelligent animals. They make umbrellas using forest leaves to hold over their heads when it rains, they engineer complex and cozy sleeping nests capable of supporting their bulk high up in the canopy, and in Sumatra’s peat swamp forests, like Tripa, they fashion tools out of sticks to extract honey from bees nests and the seeds of hard Neesia fruits; Indonesians call them orang hutan, or “people of the forest.” And, just like most of us city dwellers, orangutans suffer when they are removed from their lifelong homes.

But Singleton, Yenny and their crew decided they had to move this starving orangutan, despite the trauma of relocation, after watching him lose thirty percent of his body weight over the last three 3 months.

The IUCN lists the Sumatran Orangutan as Critically Endangered — the highest threat level on this organization’s “Red List” of imperiled species. In 1950 the Sumatran orangutan population probably well over 30,000. Today, only around 6,000 remain. Every Sumatran orangutan counts in their efforts to save these great apes from extinction, Singleton says.

Cik Rini, a communications manager at World Wildlife Fund-Indonesia, says it is difficult to protect even the most important orangutan habitats from destruction. The relocated orangutan was found in a fragment of the Tripa forest once home to as many as 2,000 orangutans. These peat swamps contain the highest densities of orangutans in the world but, today, only about two hundred still live in the area, said Rini. Much of the forest has been heavily cleared to make way for the 5 palm oil plantations that operate there. Rini sees the plight of the relocated orangutan as representative of an ongoing trend in Indonesia, where the country’s last remaining rainforests are rapidly being replaced with big plantations to grow palm oil, almost exclusively for foreign markets. “If we cannot save a forest as unique and valuable as Tripa, what can we save?” Rini wondered.

Oil palm trees, originally from West Africa, are grown in Indonesia to produce palm fruits, harvested by workers and then pressed in large processing mills distributed throughout Sumatra and Borneo to create palm oil. Indonesian, Malaysian, American and European agribusiness companies like Sinar Mas, Wilmar, Cargill and London Sumatra are among the largest growers of palm oil in Indonesia – the world’s largest producer of the commodity, exporting about 45 percent of all palm oil sold worldwide to be consumed as cooking oil, processed foods, cosmetics and even biofuels.

In April I authored a report, Truth and Consequences: Palm Oil Plantations Push Unique Orangutan Population to the Brink of Extinction, released by the San Francisco-based environmental activist group Rainforest Action Network. As a political ecologist, I have lived in Indonesia’s forests since 2007, studying the environmental changes and community responses that result from palm oil expansion. Tripa is a particularly stark illustration of the dangers of palm oil plantations; working with Indonesian colleagues, I have watched the plantations grow as deforestation and fires lead to the death of hundreds of orangutans that can not be found and relocated before they starve, are killed by palm oil plantation employees, or are captured for the illegal pet trade in the remaining scattered forest patches.

For now, the starving orangutan has been successfully relocated to a conservation area some distance from Tripa — a location that holds enough food for him and that is safe from palm oil development, for the foreseeable future at least. But there’s a very real chance he will be among the last survivors from these once-teeming forests. According to Singleton, the pace of destruction in Tripa is so great that its orangutan population will be extinct by the end of 2012, if the current wave of business-as-usual palm oil development there is not halted immediately. “This is a tragedy on a global scale,” he said.

Press Release: Call for Enforcement of Law against illegal activity destroying Tripa’s Peat Swamps continues to escalate

24/04/12

JOINT PRESS RELEASE

 For Immediate Distribution

Call for Enforcement of Law against illegal activity destroying Tripa’s Peat Swamps continues to escalate

FROM: Alliance of Environmental and Human Rights NGOs

NGOs:

WALHI

Greenpeace

Sawit Watch

Wetlands International Indonesia Program

Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari

Yayasan Ekosistem Sigom Aceh

PanEco Foundation – Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme

Yayasan Orangutan Sumatera Lestari –OIC

The Nature Conservancy

Profauna Indonesia LASA

Orangutan Foundation International

Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation

Flora and Fauna International

FORINA

PERHAPPI

HUMA

Kehati

Centre for Orangutan Protection

Yayasan Palung

Burung Indonesia

OU-TROP

Yayasan IAR Indonesia

Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trusts

Forum Konservasi Orangutan Sumatera

VESSWIC

WWF

 

Academic institutions:

Institute Pertanian Bogor (IPB)

Universitas Indonesia (UI)

RCCC-UI

Universitas Nasional (UNAS)

Environmental and Human Rights NGO’s are increasing their campaign to save the Tripa Peat Swamp Forest.

Human rights and Environmental NGOs, Academic and other Civil Society groups met today at a meeting hosted by the Research Centre for Climate Change, University of Indonesia, in the campaign to save Rawa Tripa, following reports of increased intimidation of local villagers by palm oil companies and of health problems associated with smoke from fires illegally set to clear peat lands, with some villagers from communities surrounding Tripa requiring medical treatment. Local people have already lost their livelihoods due to the massive clearance of this unique wetland forest for oil palm, which is now threatening its total destruction. Numerous huge fires were reported by ground and aerial observers at the end of March, and over 100 fire hotspots were recorded by satellite in a period of only 10 days, the highest frequency of hotspots recorded in Tripa since records began in 2001. The head of the President’s Satgas REDD+ team, Ir. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, in a press release of 13 April reported that his investigation team found fires had been deliberately set in the concessions of PT Kallista Alam and PT Surya Panen Subur 2, breaking several laws and regulations and causing negative environmental impacts. These fires caught the world’s attention when Sumatran orangutan experts warned of the imminent extinction of the species in Tripa, a UNEP/UNESCO GRASP global priority site for the species, before the end of 2012.

Pak Ibduh a village head representing the local communities of Tripa added, “The communities are living in fear of the companies. They use brimob (Indonesia’s mobile police brigade) as a private security force, evicting people from their land, preventing access across plantations and clearing local landowners farms for palm oil. The palm oil companies seem to operate as if they are above the law and we see the results every day. Clean water supplies are vanishing and it is increasingly difficult to catch fish and obtain other natural resources as the forests are cleared and drained by the many canals. Our people are suffering and we want immediate action to stop this and restore Tripa’s forests”.

Pak Ibduh joined lawyer, Kamaruddin, and former senator of Aceh, Adnan NS, in Jakarta in late November last year to file a report of a criminal offence with the National Police. “The central police then issued a letter to the police of Aceh to investigate the case, in which they confirmed that it does meet the criteria for a criminal investigation, but as of now, nearly 5 months later, we have not seen any attempt at an investigation from the Aceh Provincial Police” stated Kamaruddin

In the press release of April 13, Ir. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, also announced that his investigation team reported indications of several other violations such as the converting of peat swamp forests inside the Leuser Ecosystem, converting peat swamp forest on deep peat, and converting forest before a permit had been issued. He has formally requested an immediate investigation by the Ministry of the Environment and the National Police. Four days later, on April 17th, the Jakarta Globe newspaper reported that the Environment Ministry said it will launch an investigation into the issuance of a plantation concession inside the Tripa peat swamp forest in Aceh province.

We the NGO’s gathered here today at the Research Center for Climate Change, University of Indonesia, fully support the call of the Satgas REDD+ for an immediate investigation into the crimes committed in Tripa, including the criminal case filed with the National Police by Pak Ibduh in November last year and request an explanation of why it has not yet been properly followed up. We also express our full support to WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) in their legal challenge against the concession issued to PT Kallista Alam by the former Governor of Aceh in their appeal at the high court in Medan, North Sumatra.

We request that the responsible National Ministries, namely the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of the Environment, and the Ministry of Forestry order an immediate halt to all deforestation and land degradation in the Tripa peat swamps. We request that these Ministries assist the National Police to quickly implement a thorough investigation of all illegal activities and dealings that have been perpetrated in the Tripa peat swamps, including the illegal PT. Kallista Alam concession permit and land use practices that contravene laws on National Spatial Planning, and those protecting the Leuser Ecosystem, the environment, peatlands, endangered species, and that forbid the burning of land.

In the face of such blatant and widely publicized law-breaking it is imperative that the laws of Indonesia be upheld openly and transparently, and that guilty parties be held accountable to the full extent of the law. Failure to do so will further damage the credibility of Indonesia’s law enforcement and legal system, its commitment to GHG emissions reduction, and its attempt to develop sustainable palm oil,and without urgent and immediate action, if current destruction is allowed by President SBY and the Indonesian Government, then the critically endangered Sumatran Orangutan population is likely to become extinct this year.

We simply want to see Indonesia’s laws enforced. We support and encourage the forthcoming International Day of Action on April 26th, where supporters and partners from around the world will be taking action calling on Indonesian President SBY to publicly state his support to enforce Indonesian laws, protecting Tripa, the community of the region, and its Sumatran Orangutan population. Without immediate action, then Tripa’s unique population of the Critically Endangered Sumatran orangutan, at this continued rate of destruction, will be gone by the end of this year.

Notes for Editors:

The press release following the report delivered by REDD+ Taskforce is

available for download, with contact details here:

http://endoftheicons.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/press-release-investigation-result-from-redd-task-force-in-tripa/

For further comment or contact,

Teguh Surya: Walhi / Friends of the Earth Indonesia; Mobile: +62-8118204362 Email: teguh.surya@gmail.com

Yuyun Indradi, Greenpeace / Forest Political Campaigner; Mobile: +62-812 2616 1759 Email: yuyun.indradi@greenpeace.org

Dr Ian Singleton, Director of Conservation / Sumatran Orangutan Conservation programme. Mobile: +62-811650491 Email mokko123@gmail.com

Final Press Release NGO Summit in Jakarta (English Version)

Rilis Pers NGO Summit (Bahasa Indonesia)

Media Alert

For immediate distribution

Media Alert

02/04/2012

The much anticipated verdict in the case of PT. Kallista Alam & Former Aceh Governor vsWalhi Aceh (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) will be heard in the Aceh Administration Court tomorrow (03/04/2012).

 

The case has become subject to international scrutiny over the last week as illegally lit fires blazed a trail of destruction through Orangutan habitat in the Tripa Peat Swamp Forest.

 

~~oO0~~

In the case of:

Walhi Aceh (Friends of the Earth Indonesia)

Challenging the legality Oil Palm Plantation Permit No. 525/BB2T/5322/2011

Issued by Former Aceh Governor to PT Kallista Alam

 

The basis of the challenge:

The permit allows the destruction of Tripa’s natural deep peat swamp forests

that are inside the Protected Leuser Ecosystem

Judges verdict is expected 10:00am

Aceh Provincial Administrative Court

Banda Aceh

Jln. Mohd.Thaher No. 25

Lueng Bata

Banda Aceh

Indonesia

10:00am Tuesday April 3rd – 2012

Attendance is invited

~~oO0~~

Contact persons:

DeddyRatih, Walhi / Friends of the Earth Indonesia;

Mobile: +62-81250807757

Email: ube.hitar@gmail.com

 

YuyunIndradi, Greenpeace / Forest Political Campaigner;

Mobile:+62-812 2616 1759

Email: yuyun.indradi@greenpeace.org

 

Saving Leuser. Tripa. A film by Carlos Quilles

The video is a short story of a bigger documentary project Saving Leuser. We need the maximum support not just for Tripa but to save the Leuser ecosystem, the only place in the world that hosts four endangered mega fauna as tigers, rhinos, orangutans, and elephants.

For any kind of comments or ideas to include in the video contact carlosquiles@carlosquilesfoto.com or add in facebook by the same mail. Thanks

Are we witnessing the end of the icons?

Orangutans may be wiped out – warning

FROM CORRESPONDENTS IN JAKARTA. From:AFP. March 29, 2012 12:55AM

  • The Autralian. Breaking News

CRITICALLY-endangered orangutans in a protected area of Indonesia will be wiped out by the end of the year if land clearing is not stopped, a coalition of environmental groups warned today.

The government must immediately halt the clearance of forest in the 13,000-hectare peat swamps in Tripa, Aceh province, the groups including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth said.

They also called on the government to investigate the use of fire by palm oil companies for land clearing and reinforce existing laws protecting the ecosystem.

Ian Singleton, conservation director of Swiss-based PanEco, one of the groups making up the Coalition for Protection of Tripa Swamp, said the roughly 200 orangutans left in the peat swamps will be gone in months if the fires continue.

“The speed of destruction, fires, burning and everything has gone up dramatically in the last few weeks, let alone in the last year, and this is obviously a deliberate drive by these companies to clear all the remaining forests,” he said.

“If this is not stopped right now, then all those orangutans, all those forests, will be gone before the end of 2012.”

Experts believe there are about 50,000 to 60,000 of the two species of orangutans left in the wild, 80 per cent of them in Indonesia and the rest in Malaysia.

They are faced with extinction from poaching and the rapid destruction of their forest habitat, driven largely by palm oil and paper plantations.

Most of those left are the endangered Bornean orangutan species. And Singleton said that based on 2004 figures there are only 6600 of the critically-endangered Sumatran orangutans left in North Sumatra and Aceh provinces.

“We suspect that up to 100 orangutans may have perished in forest clearing and peat burning in the last few months in Tripa,” said Graham Usher of local group Foundation of a Sustainable Ecosystem.

Satellite monitoring found at least 87 fire hotspots between March 19 and 24 in three palm oil concessions.

Footage and images captured large clouds of white smoke and patches of burnt peat.

At least 2800 hectares of peat were destroyed in the latest fires, and the number of animals, including Sumatran orangutans, Malayan sun bears and Sumatran tigers that perished was “immeasurable”, the local group added.

Palm oil is a key ingredient in soap and everyday foods ranging from peanut butter to sweets but its cultivation is considered one of the biggest threats to the world’s dwindling rainforests.

Orangutans could perish in weeks

Forest fires and land clearing by palm oil firms could kill the 200 orangutans remaining in a western Indonesian forest.

Forest fires and land clearing by palm oil firms could kill the 200 orangutans remaining in a western Indonesian forest.

Photograph by: Roni Bintang, Reuters Files , Reuters

Forest fires and land clearing by palm oil firms could kill off within weeks about 200 orangutans in a forest in western Indonesia, an environmental group said on Wednesday.

The orangutans, part of a population of around 6,600 on Sumatra island, used to live in a lush forest and peatland region called Rawa Tripa on the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh province. But more than two-thirds of the area has been divided up into palm oil concessions, said the Coalition to Save Tripa.

Graham Usher, a member of the coalition and a landscape protection specialist, said satellite images showed forest fires had been burning in Tripa since last week, and if allowed to continue they could wipe out orangutans already forced onto the edge of remaining forests.

“If there is any prolonged dry spell, which is quite likely, there’s a very good chance that the whole piece of forest and everything in it, so that’s orang-utans, sun bears, tigers, and all the other protected species in it, will disappear in a few weeks and will be gone permanently,” he told a news conference.

The palm oil industry has expanded to make Indonesia the world’s top producer and exporter of the edible oil, used to make goods ranging from cooking oil and biodiesel to biscuits and soap to feed growing Asian consumer demand.

Deforestation has threatened animals like the Sumatran tiger and Javan rhino and pushed up carbon dioxide emissions. The Bali tiger and the Java tiger have disappeared in the last 70 years. A two-year moratorium on new permits to clear primary forests came into effect in Indonesia last year, part of a $1-billion deal with Norway to cut emissions and slow expansion of plantations. But the moratorium was breached in Aceh on its first days, an environmental group has said.

The last Aceh permit for palm oil was issued by former Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf in August last year to PT Kallista Alam, prompting environmental group WALHI to file a legal suit against Yusuf. A court verdict is expected next week.

“If Kallista Alam win the case they will burn it and that whole bit of forest will disappear and we can say goodbye to the orangutan of Tripa peat swamps,” Usher said.

Kallista Alam could not be reached for comment.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Indonesian fires threaten Sumatran orangutan

By ALI KOTARUMALOS, Associated Press – 2 hours ago  JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) —

Hundreds of critically endangered orangutans in western Indonesia could be wiped out by the year’s end if palm oil companies keep setting land-clearing fires in their peat swamp forests, conservationists warned Thursday.

“They are just barely hanging on,” Ian Singleton, conservation director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, said of the Sumatran orangutans who live in the Tripa forest on the coast of Aceh province. “It is no longer several years away, but just a few months or even weeks before this iconic creature disappears.”

The forest — though officially protected — is hemmed in by palm oil plantations, including one that was granted a permit just last year

Land clearing fires, several set inside the perimeters, have sent orangutans fleeing. Some risk being captured or killed by residents, Singleton said. Others will simply die, either directly in the fires or of gradual starvation and malnutrition as their food resources disappear.

“We are currently watching a global tragedy,” he said.

There are only 6,600 Sumatran orangutans left in the wild.

The Tripa forest — which in the early ’90s was home to around 3,000 of them — today has just 200. But with eight individuals every square kilometer, its the densest population in the world.

Cloud-free images from December show only 12,267 hectares (30,311 acres) of Tripa’s original 60,000 hectares (148,260 acres) of forest remains, said Graham Usher of the Foundation of a Sustainable Ecosystem.

The rest has been broken up and degraded as palm oil companies drain the swamp, he said, adding a total of 92 fire hotspots were recorded between March 19 and 25 in several of the surrounding plantations.

A half-century ago, more than three-quarters of Indonesia was blanketed in plush tropical rain forest. But half those trees have been cleared in the rush to supply the world with pulp, paper and, more recently, palm oil — used to make everything from lipstick and soap to “clean-burning” fuel.

Governments are now trying to find ways to convince the sprawling archipelagic nation to keep trees standing.

As part of a $1 billion deal with Norway, Indonesia recently put in place a two-year moratorium on issuing new permits to clear primary forests.

But conservationists say that deal was violated when the government gave a license to PT Kallista Alam last year to convert 4,000 acres of the Tripa peat swamp. Three other companies are already operating in the area.

An environmental group has filed both a criminal complaint and a lawsuit against the government. The Aceh Administrative Court is expected to hand down a verdict on the lawsuit next week.

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