Monday, 5 November 2007

Deforestation Hitting Orangutans Hard

Deforestation Hitting Orangutans Hard By Wani Abdul Gapar

Balikpapan, Indonesia - The deforestation in East Kalimantan is gradually taking its toll on the local flora and fauna in the region.

During a trip to the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS) in Samboja recently, The Brunei Times witnessed firsthand the extent of forest destruction and how it has affected the local plant and animal species.

An hour's bus ride and 35km north from Balikpapan, the BOS centre is located in Samboja, a small district with some 10,000 residents.

The landscape has become a patchwork of regenerating secondary forests and barren fields after years of illegal logging activities. BOS bought the barren grassland in 2001 and has since been committed to bringing the forest back to the area.

While reforestation is the core project of BOS, other activities such as rehabilitation for wildlife plays an integral role in the sanctuary.

The BOS rehabilitation centre provides animals such as orangutans and sun bears a safe place with abundant natural food from rainforest trees.

Almost all the orangutans in the sanctuary have either been confiscated or handed over voluntarily to the BOS by people who kept them as pets.

The animals must undergo several procedures such as quarantine and socialisation before they can be released into their natural habitat i.e. the tropical rainforest, where there are no wild orangutans.

The vision of the foundation is "to save orangutan Borneo and their habitat together with people", according to a BOS staff.

Mitikauji Yuniar, or Ika, said that the foundation is currently negotiating with the Heart of Borneo initiative to find a release site. "It's our biggest homework," said the BOS worker, adding that the foundation's main goal is to eventually release the orangutan into the wild, not keeping them at the rehabilitation centre indefinitely.

There are presently 233 orangutans at the center. According to Ika, there is a huge underground market, both regional and international, for orangutans as pets as some people consider them as status symbols of wealth and prestige.

Moreover, the orangutans' situation is increasingly worrying as combined with their lifespan of less than 45 years in the world; BOS also has to factor in that their natural habitat is threatened by deforestation as a result of illegal logging, forest conversion to oil palm estates and mining.

The BOS worker mentioned that more often than not, the orangutans that arrive at the centre come in orphaned and stressed from losing their mothers.

It takes $400 million rupiah a month just to fund the orangutan programme, according to Annaliza Chaniago, a communications coordinator at BOS.

She added that the amount goes to medical expenses and food for the animals.
Until 2006, the BOS has been sponsored by the Gibbon Foundation. These days, other NGOs and corporations contribute to the fund.

What most people only realise too late is that animals such as orangutans and sun bears are not meant to be kept as domestic pets, Chaniago added.

"Most of them are confiscated pets. They come in with behaviour problems," she said. "Some people realise that sun bears get bigger and then cannot control them, so they give them away."
The bears have a more difficult time adjusting to the wild compared to the orangutans as they do not adapt as quickly.

"They are very fat when they come in because their owners used to feed them with milk and mineral water," she said.

Another problem is the dearth of research on sun bears. "There is still no success story of releasing sun bears into the forest," Chaniago said.

"That's why we prepare 58 hectares of enclosure. They are very active; they need small, medium height and tall trees. They need the forest because they're very active, they break branches. The possibility of returning the bears to forest (here) is very slim," Chaniago pointed out optimistically.-- Courtesy of The Brunei Times