Orangutans in Peril as Indonesian Logging Accelerates

NAIROBI, Kenya, February 7, 2007 (ENS) - Emergency action is needed to ensure survival of the orangutan, a new United Nations report warned Tuesday. The great apes' only habitat, the Indonesian rainforest, is being destroyed at a rate up to 30 percent higher than previously thought by illegal logging, fire, and clearing for palm oil plantations.

The report, "Last stand of the orangutan: State of emergency," says the natural rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo are being cleared so rapidly that without urgent action up to 98 percent may be destroyed by 2022.

This assessment moves up the UN's estimated date of Indonesian forest destruction by 10 years due to an acceleration in the past five years of illegal logging, estimated to account for more than 73 percent of all logging in Indonesia.


This young orangutan may not live to become an adult if its rainforest habitat is logged. (Photo courtesy UNEP)
"Without direct intervention in the parks, orangutans and other forest-dependent wildlife will become progressively scarcer, until their populations are no longer viable in the long-term," according to the Rapid Response report from the UN Environment Programme, UNEP.

The report was tabled at the 24th Session of the UNEP Governing Council / Global Ministerial Environment Forum taking place all this week in Nairobi.

The scale of illegal logging, even in national parks, is likely to increase not only in Indonesia, but also in other parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, said the leader of the Rapid Response team Dr. Christian Nellemann from the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research and UNEP's Norwegian center GRID-Arendal.

"The situation is now acute," Nellemann warned.


From left, Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesian Environment Minister, and Christian Nelleman, UNEP-GRID Arendal introduce the orangutan "State of emergency" report at the UNEP meeting in Nairobi. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
The report was prepared by GRASP, the Great Ape Survival Partnership, led by UNEP and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, in collaboration with a wide range of nongovernmental organizations.

Sumatran orangutans are classed as Critically Endangered with no more than 7,300 animals left on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

On the island of Borneo, recent estimates suggest there are between 45,000 and 69,000 Bornean orangutans. They are classed as Endangered.

The report notes that Indonesia is active in fighting illegal logging and has worked with a series of international programs and initiatives to reduce the logging.


Illegal logging operation on the Indonesian island of Sumatra threatens not only orangutans but Asian elephants. (Photo © Hank Hammatt courtesy El Paso Zoo)
As demand for lumber grows, the industry and international market are running out of cheap illegal timber. Loggers are now entering the national parks, the orangutan’s last refuge, where the only remaining timber available in commercial amounts is found.

"At current rates of intrusions, it is likely that some parks may become severely degraded in as little as three to five years, that is by 2012," the authors warn.

To save the oranguntan, Indonesia’s own efforts must be strengthened with the rapid deployment of reconnaissance units, removal of illegal plantations, mining and agricultural development inside the parks and enhanced international law enforcement programs against illegal logging, the report advises.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner noted that the logging is not done "by individual impoverished people, but by well-organized elusive commercial networks," and he called on the international community to aid the Indonesian authorities with equipment, training and funding to patrol their national parks from illegal loggers.


UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner stresses the urgency of orangutan conservation. (Photo courtesy ENB)
"National Parks form a cornerstone in the 2010 target to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss and are also so valuable for eco-tourism and in generating new livelihoods," Steiner said. "Their protection is vital to these international goals and to the entire concept of protected areas."

Most long-term initiatives, like reducing corruption and certification of timber, require the support of the international community including recipients of illegally logged timber, as well as massive changes in management regimes and long-term institutional change, according to the report.

"Some or all of these responses may potentially have paramount effects in the long-term, but they will generally take too much time to develop to an effective level and will fall short of the immediate crisis in securing the future survival of the orangutan and the protection of national parks," the authors warn.

The report recommends, "immediate on-the-ground action" to back up ongoing "global-scale efforts towards sustainable wood production."

Reducing the rate of deforestation over Indonesia as a whole will also have a dramatic impact on regional carbon dioxide emissions, and thus help to prevent dangerous levels of global climate change, the report points out.

"If the logging of national parks continues unchallenged, it could undermine the protected area concept worldwide," the report concludes. "The Indonesian initiatives to strengthen protection of their parks therefore urgently need substantial support from the international community if the orangutan habitats and national parks are to be rescued from this growing state of emergency."

To read the report, "Last stand of the orangutan: State of emergency," click here.