Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Indonesian Orangutan habitat wiped out: activists

JAKARTA (AFP) — Part of a national park on Borneo island home to hundreds of endangered orangutans has been turned into a development zone complete with an airport and brothels, Indonesian activists said.

Almost 600 of the long-haired apes have disappeared from Kutai National Park, East Kalimantan province, over the past seven years of unchecked construction, the Centre for Orangutan Protection (COP) said in a statement.

"The number of orangutans in the area, which was 600 individuals in 2004, has fallen to only 30 to 60 individuals at present," Hardi Baktiantoro from the Centre for Orangutan Protection (COP) told AFP.

The East Kalimantan administration had permission from the national Forestry Ministry to build a 60-kilometre (37.2-mile) road through the park in 2002, the COP said.

But commercial and residential development covering 23,712 hectares (58,569 acres) of forest was also allowed to flourish alongside the road, with seven new villages springing up almost overnight.

"The Kutai National Park has been changing into a city, complete with an airport, gas stations, marketplace... a bus terminal and prostitution complex," COP habitat campaign manager Yon Thayrun said in a press release.

The national government should investigate local authorities for corruption even though the development in the forest has been subsequently legalised, he said.

"The root of the problem with the Kutai National Park is a breach of duty committed by officials to get political and financial advantages," Thayrun said.

"They gave away land spaces to people to win their votes in the local administration elections. They also mobilize people to seize the national park area."

Forest Ministry spokesman Masyhud denied that the forest had been badly damaged and accused the conservationists of exaggerating the impact of the road on the orangutans.

"Its scale is not as dramatic as they have said. The road development has not sacrificed the national park. Like in many countries, a national park isn't meant to be completely sterile of social and economic development," he said.

"It's true that this road development affected the orangutan habitat but it's only temporary as they have adapted to it. We have also implemented some conservation programmes involving local communities."

There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans left in the wild, 80 percent of which live in Indonesia and 20 percent in Malaysia, according to The Nature Conservancy.