Experts warn Tripa orangutan extinction imminent
Friends of the Earth Indonesia (Walhi) and other civil society groups have called on the Indonesian courts urgently address the spate of recent fire burning throughout the protected Tripa peat swamps, an area hosting one of the highest densities of orangutans anywhere in the world.
At a press conference Dr Ian Singleton of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme warned that the population of Sumatran orangutans in the Tripa peat swamps, a UNEP/UNESCO Great Ape Survival Partnership priority site for Great Ape Conservation, is in immediate jeopardy, and unless the current wave of destruction can be halted is likely to be exterminated before the end of the year.
“The population in Tripa is considered to have been around 3,000 orangutans in the early 90’s but there are probably less than 200 today, of a global population of just 6,600. Many orangutans are already fleeing the fires, along with many other wildlife species.
"At this rate Tripa’s orangutan population will be locally extinct by the end of 2012”, said Dr. Singleton. “It is no longer several years away, but just a few months or even weeks before this iconic creature disappears from the Tripa swamps forever” he continued.
Ironically, any orangutans that are captured and kept illegally as pets during this process will be the ‘lucky’ ones, the survivors, but they will be refugees from a forest that no longer exists. The other’s will simply die, either directly in the fires, killed by people, or of gradual starvation and malnutrition as their food resources disappear. We are currently watching a global tragedy.
The audience was shown satellite imagery of the firestorm that is sweeping across Tripa’s protected forests. Local sources have also spoken to some of the plantation workers contracted to clear the forests where most of the fires are occurring. According to them they were instructed not to do such a thorough job of clearing the vegetation as it was all going to be burned anyway, strongly suggesting a premeditated and very deliberate contravention of laws that forbid the use of fires for land clearance in peatlands.
Teguh Surya, climate justice specialist with Walhi (Friends of the Earth Indonesia), stated that it is imperative that the judges in the above legal case reach a fair and just decision and that the Kallista Alam permit be immediately cancelled. He also expressed that the Norwegian government must have the courage to insist that an independent and transparent team is established to monitor the implementation of the Government’s letter of intent and investigate the suspicious amendments to the moratorium map that removed the Kallista Alam concession from the area ‘off limits’. He also proposed that the existing moratorium on new permits should not be for a limited period only, and should include provisions for much improved governance of the palm oil industry, leading to more transparency, enhanced law enforcement and social accountability.
The general consensus was that the situation of the Tripa Peat Swamps and their orangutan population is now so critical that only immediate action will save them. The presenters stressed that there is still hope if only Indonesia would enforce its own laws, and issued a strong list of demands to this end (see following).