Monday, 18 May 2009

Indonesia to turn ape rescue forest to pulp

Indonesia to turn ape rescue forest to pulp

JAKARTA (AFP) — An Indonesian paper company is planning to log an area of unprotected jungle which is being used as a reintroduction site for about 100 critically endangered orangutans, activists said Tuesday.

A coalition of environmental groups said a joint venture between Asia Pulp & Paper and Sinar Mas Group had received a licence to clear the largest portion of natural forest remaining outside Bukit Tigapuluh national park on Sumatra.

The area is home to about 100 great apes that are part of the only successful reintroduction programme for Sumatran orangutans, the sub-species most at risk of extinction, the coalition said in a statement.

It is also a crucial habitat for the last remaining Sumatran tigers and elephants left in the wild, it said.

"It took scientists decades to discover how to successfully reintroduce critically endangered orangutans from captivity into the wild. It could take APP just months to destroy an important part of their new habitat," said Peter Pratje of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, which is part of the coalition.

"These lowland forests are excellent habitat for orangutans, which is why we got government permission to release them here beginning in 2002. The apes are thriving now, breeding and establishing new family groups."

The unprotected forest is also considered essential habitat for around 100 of the last 400 critically endangered wild Sumatran tigers, as well as around 40 to 60 endangered Sumatran elephants, the activists said.

"APP?s plan is devastating," said Dolly Priatna of the Zoological Society of London.

"It will almost certainly lead to more fatalities since tigers and people will be forced into closer contact with each other as the tigers? forest disappears."

At least nine people have been killed by tigers on Sumatra this year, while villagers have killed four tigers.

The coalition, which includes the Sumatran Tiger Conservation and Protection Foundation and WWF, said almost half of Sumatra's natural forest -- or 12 million hectares (29.65 million acres) -- had been cleared from 1985 to 2007.

APP has said its plans to log forest areas around Bukit Tigapuluh would actually help the orangutans, not harm them.

"Well managed pulpwood plantations act as buffer zones, which have been proven to deter illegal logging -- this ensures that protected areas remain protected," APP sustainability director Aida Greenbury said.

The government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has allowed 1.8 million hectares of forest to be cleared annually since 2004, according to environmental group Greenpeace.

Indonesia?s greenhouse gas emissions are the third highest globally and deforestation is the largest contributor.