Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Habitat Loss Threatens Kalimantan Orangutans

May 13, 2009

Ismira Lutfia The Jakarta Globe

The construction of a road connecting the towns of Sangatta and Bontang in East Kalimantan has caused massive deforestation of a nearby national park and left hundreds of orangutans homeless, a conservation group said on Wednesday.

The deforestation of Kutai National Park — a natural habitat for the orangutans — has reduced the primates’ population from 600 in 2004 to just 30 counted this year.

The 60-kilometer arterial road was even built straight through the protected forest, said Yon Thayrun, a campaign manager for the Jakarta-based conservation group, Center for Orangutan Protection.

Yon said that local authorities had compromised the park for short-term political gain in the wake of regional autonomy and the splitting up of Kutai district into three districts.

“The national park is quickly changing into a town with its own airport, gas station, market, base transceiver stations and even a red-light district,” Yon said, adding that the group’s investigation had found that the mass mobilization of people from the neighboring islands of Sulawesi, Java and Madura had caused the human settlement to spring up when vast tracts of land went on sale.

The settlement and neighboring palm oil plantations replaced the indigenous ironwood trees in which the pongo pygmaeus morio , a Kalimantan orangutan subspecies, built their nests.

The number of people living in the converted forest was estimated to be about 70,000, according to local NGOs Bebsic and Bikal, although the official population figures only showed 22,876, Yon said.

The national park was declared as a protected forest in 1982, covering a 198,600 hectare area. It is home to about 80 species of mammals and 958 different kinds of flora.

Yon said that both sides of the arterial road were now barren, with not a single tree in sight as they had all been cut
down to make way for further land development.

Hardi Baktiantoro, or Bakti, a campaigner for the group said that the deforestation violated the 1990 biodiversity and ecosystem conservation law.

“We need the central government’s commitment to enforce the law on conservation areas,” Bakti said, adding that the deforestation was a great loss for the country in terms of commercial and ecological value.

“Orangutans are a primate typical to Indonesia only,” Yon said, “surely we do not want it to become extinct in the next few years.”