Tag Archives: sumatran orangutan

Orangutans back to Borneo

Press Release

Wednesday 21st September 211

 Back to Borneo

 Endangered Bornean orangutans return home from Sumatra.

Two orangutans, which started their life in the wilds of Borneo, but ended up as pets in Sumatra have returned home.

Kevin and Bobby, are male Bornean orangutans. Their mothers were almost certainly killed at the time of their capture in Borneo (probably whilst their habitat was being clear-felled) and their previous “owners” obtained them in Borneo before returning home to the island of Sumatra. Fortunately for both Kevin and Bobby, they were subsequently rescued by the Indonesian government’s local Nature Conservation department (PHKA) and staff of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (implemented by the Swiss based PanEco Foundation and the Indonesian Yayasan Ecosystem Lestari and PHKA). Under Indonesian law it is illegal to keep orangutans as pets and to trade, harm or kill them. Kevin was rescued in 2006, aged a little over 2 years and Bobby in 2009 aged around 3 or 4 years old.

Bobby

Bobby above and below – male Bornean orangutan

Bobby 3

Under the care of SOCP at the Batu Mbelin Orangutan Quarantine Centre near Medan, North Sumatra, both orangutans grew, gained weight and had excellent health. They were therefore very much ready for a return to a life in the wild. To do this, however, they had to be returned to the island of their birth. Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) and Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) are nowadays recognized by scientists as being two distinct and separate species. As such, Bornean orangutans must only be released on Borneo, and Sumatrans on Sumatra. Mixing the species on the two islands would be detrimental to the genetic viability of both species’ wild populations.

Kevin

Kevin –  male Bornean orangutan

The Sumatran orangutan is already listed as Critically Endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and the Bornean as Endangered. In fact there are estimated to be only around 50,000 Bornean orangutans left in the wild and as few as only 6,600 or so Sumatrans. The future for both is therefore already precarious enough.

For the above reasons, Dr Ian Singleton, Director of Conservation for the PanEco Foundation and head of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, approached the Orangutan Foundation, a UK registered charity, to help get the two young orangutans back to where they belonged thus contributing to the long term conservation of the Bornean orangutans, “Kevin and Bobby deserve the chance to be wild orangutans once again and we have done everything we can to make sure it happens. If we can at the same time highlight the plight of orangutans on both islands and remind people that it is illegal in Indonesia to keep them as pets then that would be an added bonus.” said the British born expert.

The Orangutan Foundation’s work is focused towards Central Kalimantan, in the Indonesia part of Borneo. In collaboration with the Indonesian government’s local Nature Conservation department (PHKA), the Orangutan Foundation runs a release site for rehabilitated and trans-located wild orangutans in the Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve.

On Saturday 17 September, the Orangutan Foundation team including their vet, Dr Fikri, flew to Medan, where the two orangutans were being kept together.  On Monday, after final checks, Kevin and Bobby began their journey home. First they flew to Jakarta, on the island of Java. Both orangutans seemed fine and not too stressed after the first flight and the Orangutan Foundation’s vet gave them some fruit. They then flew onto Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo.   On arrival, back home in Borneo, both orangutans looked out curiously from their cargo crate. The Australian Orangutan Project, partners of both organisations, kindly agreed to help fund the cost of bringing the two orangutans home. 

Kevin and Bobby are currently resting and then they will undergo some additional final pre-release medical checks at a local government facility. They will then complete the final leg of their journey, by river on a longboat, to the 76,000 hectare.

Once at the reserve they will again be housed for a few more weeks in a large cage, but this time deep in the forest that they will soon be free to explore. This is to allow them to really rest up after all the travelling and to acclimatize to their new surroundings, the swamp forests of Borneo.

Their health and behaviour will continue to be closely monitored by Orangutan Foundation’s vet and once given the all clear and when the time is right, they will finally be freed and get their chance to live as wild orangutans once again. Even then, the OF team will continue to follow them and monitor their behaviour and health until such time they are confident they will survive with little or no more intervention.

The principle threat to wild orangutans on both islands is habitat loss, mostly as forests are cleared for conversion to agriculture, especially vast, monoculture oil palm plantations. Many of the orangutans in these forests die or are killed in the process. Some of the lucky ones manage to survive and end up as illegal pets. The luckiest of them all survive long enough to be confiscated and placed in a rescue centre, and are eventually returned to a life in the wild.

The general public can help support the Orangutan Foundation’s work in the Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve at http://www.orangutan.org.ukor 020 7724 2912.

For more information, high resolution images, or to arrange an interview,

call Cathy Smith on +44 (0)20 7724 2912 or email [email protected]

Notes to editors:

Orangutans are only found on two islands, Borneo and Sumatra and they are classified as two distinct species reflecting this geographic distribution.

Sumatran orangutans are critically endangered with only about 6,600 in the wild. Bornean orangutans are endangered with only about 50,000 remaining. 

The Sumatra Orangutan Conservation Programme is a collaborative programme implemented by the Swiss based PanEco Foundation, Indonesia’s Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari (Foundation for a Sustainable Ecosystem) the Indonesian Government’s Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature

The Orangutan Foundation works in collaboration with The Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation of the Ministry of Forestry of the Republic of Indonesia (Ditjen PHKA).

The Orangutan Foundation is the UK representative of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme.

Sumatran Orangutan Footage

Please follow this link to view a short piece on the Sumatran orangutans, with a focus on the Tripa Swamps, Aceh, Sumatra that appeared in Times.com.

http://www.time.com/time/audioslide/0,32187,1926657,00.html

Oil boom threatens the last orang-utans

This article was published in the Independent newspaper today and covers the urgent situation in the Tripa Swamps, Aceh Sumatra. Read the full article with photos ‘Oil boom threatens the last orang-utans’.

‘A famous British company, Jardines, is profiting as the lowland forest – which shelters the few remaining orang-utans – is razed to make way for massive palm oil plantations, reports Kathy Marks in Tripa, Indonesia.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Perched halfway up a tree near a bend in the Seumayan River, a young orang-utan lounges on a branch, eating fruit. In the distance, smoke rises from an illegal fire, one of dozens lit to wipe out the virgin rainforest and replace it with oil palm plantations.

It’s burning season on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, where vast tracts of vegetation are being torched and clear-felled to meet the soaring global demand for palm oil. The pace is especially frenzied in the peat swamp forests of the Tripa region, one of the final refuges of the critically endangered orang-utan – and a company owned by one of Britain’s most venerable trading groups is among those leading the destructive charge.

Prized for its productiveness and versatility, palm oil is used in everything from lipstick and detergent to chocolate, crisps and biofuels. Indonesia and Malaysia are the world’s biggest palm oil producers – but they also shelter the last remaining orang-utans, found only on Sumatra and Borneo islands in the same lowland forests that are being razed to make way for massive plantations.

In Indonesia, one of the largest palm oil companies is Astra Agro Lestari, a subsidiary of Astra International, a Jakarta-based conglomerate which is itself part of Jardine Matheson, a 177-year-old group that made a fortune from the Chinese opium trade and is still controlled by a Scottish family, the Keswicks, descendants of the original founders.

Conservation groups are targeting supermarkets in Britain to alert consumers to the effects of the palm oil explosion. But The Independent can reveal that Jardines, registered in Bermuda and listed on the London Stock Exchange, is implicated through Astra Agro in ripping out the final vestiges of orang-utan habitat.

Environmentalists are dismayed by the activities of Astra Agro, one of the main companies operating in Tripa under permits that were awarded during the 1990s by the notoriously corrupt Suharto government. They point out that Tripa belongs to the nominally protected Leuser Eco-System, renowned for its exceptional biodiversity, and claim that the plantation businesses are contravening a logging moratorium as well as engaging in illegal practices including burning land.

Greenpeace UK says: “It’s scandalous that a British company is bankrolling the destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests and peatlands. We need to see big firms like Jardines withdrawing investment from companies involved in rainforest clearance.”

Orang-utans are vanishing at an alarming rate in Borneo but in Sumatra their situation is even more precarious. The Sumatran orang-utan – more intelligent and sociable than its Borneo cousin and with a unique culture of tool use – is likely to be the first great ape species to go extinct.

There are believed to be just 6,600 individuals left, mostly living in unprotected areas of Aceh province. Their lowland forests remained relatively undisturbed during the long-running separatist war in Aceh, but since a peace agreement was signed in 2005, it has been open season.

The primates are now splintered across 11 pockets of jungle, with only three populations considered viable. Another three, including Tripa, are borderline viable. Elsewhere, the orang-utans – which use sticks to extract insects from trees and seeds from fruit – are effectively extinct. As their territory shrinks, along with their food supplies, the apes are increasingly coming into conflict with humans. Farmers shoot those caught raiding crops; babies are captured and sold as pets. Adults discovered in oil palm plantations may be hacked to death with machetes.

In Tripa, more than half of the 62,000 hectares of ancient forest has gone. As well as being home to endangered species including the sun bear and clouded leopard, the peat swamps acted as a protective buffer during the 2004 tsunami. They also hold gigantic carbon stocks which are now being released, exacerbating climate change. “If you can’t save Tripa, what can you save?” asks Denis Ruysschaert, forest co-ordinator for PanEco, a Swiss environmental organisation.

Sumatra is a beautiful island, with jungle-clad mountains and picturesque villages where long-horned water buffalo wander. But it is difficult not to be shocked by the colonisation of the landscape by one short, stumpy tree: oil palm. The monoculture is a desolate sight, stretching for miles, relieved only by charred hillsides dotted with tree stumps – cleared land awaiting yet more oil palms. Trucks rattle past, laden with the prickly red fruit from which oil is extracted. In Aceh, they call it the “golden plant” – the cash crop that is lifting the province out of poverty and helping it rebuild after the tsunami. “Recently there’s a frenzy to plant oil palm,” says Fransisca Ariantiningsih, who works for Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari (Yel), an Indonesian conservation group.

On Sumatra’s west coast, a small-time farmer, Raluwan, is nursing his seedlings. Ten families, he explains, have logged and burnt 100 hectares of land. Each hectare will yield four tonnes of fruit, fetching 800 Rupiah (47 pence) a kilo.”I used to grow chilli, but palm oil is a very economical crop,” he declares. “You don’t need much pesticide or fertiliser.” Raluwan knows orang-utans live in the nearby forests. “I don’t care,” he says. “I’ve got to feed my family.”

However, many are missing out as the industry grows to meet demand from Europe, the US, China and India. Most plantation workers are migrants from Java and in Tripa, communities that depend on the swamps for water, fish and medicinal plants are suffering.

Kuala Seumayan is hemmed in by plantations. Villagers say they no longer have space even to bury their dead. “Since the forest has been chopped down, it’s difficult to get food,” says one elder, Darmizi. In the Seumayan River, youngsters dive for freshwater clams while children squeal and splash in the placid brown waters. It’s an idyllic scene, but something is missing: the sights and sounds of the forest. The only wildlife consists of a hornbill and two long-tailed macaques. Indrianto, a forestry manager, says: “This used to be all peat swamp, with many trees and animals. Now it’s all oil palm. Before, I heard animal calls. Now I hear only chainsaws.”

By chance, we spot an orang-utan in a solitary tree. Tripa has just 280 apes left. The young male, its fur glowing in the afternoon sun, curls one arm lazily over an upper branch.

A black slick floats on the water: sludge from one of many canals dug to drain the swamps. The arduous procedure is considered preferable to planting on fallow land, which would require negotiations with landowners. This way, the companies also get to sell the timber. As you fly over Tripa, the scale of destruction becomes clear. The green tangle of the forest, in all its riotous variety, abruptly gives way to giant rectangles, laid out with geometrical precision and studded with thousands of palms.

Riswan Zen, a spatial analyst for Yel, last flew over in 2007. “So much forest gone, and all in two years, my God,” he says, gesticulating at a satellite imaging map. “If nothing is done, there’ll be no forest left in one to two years.”

Tripa, designated a priority conservation site by the UN, could hold 1,500 orang-utans if the forest was allowed to regenerate. Prospects seem slim, although Indonesia – one of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, thanks to deforestation – claims to be committed both to saving the orang-utan and combating climate change.

Fewer than a quarter of Indonesian producers have joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a global organisation promoting sustainable practices. (Astra Agro is not among them.) Even in Aceh, where Governor Irwandi Yusuf, a former rebel leader, has proclaimed a “Green Vision”, authorities seem unwilling to crack down on the powerful oil palm companies.

So far, Jardines, whose colourful history inspired a series of novels by James Clavell, has resisted pressure to rein in its Indonesian subsidiary. In a statement to The Independent, Jardines – whose interests include the Mandarin Oriental hotels and Asian branches of Starbucks and IKEA – said Astra Agro’s plantations “function in full compliance with … environmental impact studies”.

Astra Agro says it plans to develop only half of its 13,000 hectares in Tripa because of conservation concerns, and it denies any illegal activity.

Ian Singleton, a Briton who heads PanEco’s Sumatran Orang-utan Conservation Programme, has no doubt that oil palm is the biggest threat to the orang-utan: “I see the orang-utan as a test case. Are we serious about trying to conserve the planet’s eco-systems? If we are, let’s prove it by saving a species like the orang-utan. We know where the orang-utans are; all we have to do is protect the forests. If we’re serious about conservation, this is where we start.”

At a glance: Jardine Matheson

*Founded by two Scottish traders in Canton, China in 1832, it was the first British trading company to smash the East India Company’s Asian monopoly.

*Founder William Jardine was known as “the iron-headed old rat” for his toughness and asperity.

*The company’s fortunes were founded on smuggling huge quantities of opium into China, creating millions of addicts.

*When the Chinese fought back, Jardine persuaded the British government to launch the First Opium War against China.

*Astra Agro, a subsidiary of the company, claims that “concern for the environment” is “an integral part of all the company’s activities”.

Destruction of the Tripa Peat Swamp Forest – Orangutan Habitat

At the beginning of the 1990’s the Tripa Swamp Forests, on the west coat of Aceh (island of Sumatra) had approximately 1,500 Sumatran orangutans. Sumatran orangutans are listed as critically endangered. Today, the remaining Tripa Swamps that are being converted to oil palm plantations contain only an estimated 250 orangutans. It is crucial for the future of the Sumatran orangutan species to save this population’s precious habitat.

Adult Male Sumatran Orangutan

Adult Male Sumatran Orangutan.

Please take some time to watch this video Destruction of the Tripa Peat Swamp Forest (Aceh) made by PanEco. It was filmed in the Tripa region of Aceh Sumatra. It features local people voicing their concern about the impact of the palm oil business on their daily lives.

Ian Singleton, Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme’s (SOCP) Director of Conservation, blogged about the situation in Tripa in November. Read his post Save The Tripa Swamps to find out more.

Thank you.