Friday, 8 May 2009

Letter: Indonesia, save orangutans now!

Fri, 05/08/2009 1:21 PM | Reader's Forum The Jakarta Post

I am writing to express my fears and concerns for the environmental degradation in Borneo and Sumatra that is happening right now; in particular, for the detrimental effects this is having on the orangutan species.

Mass deforestation, largely led and imposed by powerful palm oil companies is responsible for the rapid depletion of orangutan habitats on both islands. There are only an estimated 25,000 wild orangutans remaining, the majority in Borneo.

I am urging the Indonesian government to take more heed of the plight of this species before their number plummets beyond repair, as many conservationists fear will happen in less than five years time.

Loss of habitat and the killing of adult orangutans and taking of babies to be sold in the illegal pet trade is causing untold suffering to the individuals concerned and is pushing the species to the brink of extinction.

Palm oil companies must be held responsible for their role in this tragedy. In areas where they have caused irreversible destruction to forests they must be forced to pay for conservation projects directly aimed at helping orangutans and the local people, many of whom do not want these companies destroying their land. People who kill orangutan mothers and steal their infants should be imprisoned and not just have the victims confiscated, as is present policy.

Furthermore, the idea of a moratorium on oil palm plantation expansion should be taken seriously. Eco-tourism could work as a viable economic alternative if conducted under strict ethical and sustainable guidelines. The two cannot run together - few people, I believe, would want to visit the islands legendary for their unique flora and fauna only to be confronted by mile upon mile of oil palm plantations.

Palm oil plantations are "dead" zones in which very few species can survive, least of all orangutans which are dependent on forest environments.

I have witnessed what is happening to Borneo myself and seen many orphaned baby orangutans holed up in rehabilitation centers (if they are lucky) when they should be free in their natural habitat - the pristine rainforests. Many people would pay to see more of that.

I urge Indonesia to give up the short-term, illusory and destructive "gains" of palm oil, and instead cherish and protect its most precious resource - its rainforest and the biodiversity that thrives on it. Only by changing course now, as a matter of urgency, will the orangutan, a sensitive, gentle, intelligent ape, stand any chance of surviving into Indonesia's future.

Jeanie Elford