Orangutans inhabiting an Aceh protected peat forest surrounded by oil palm concessions are at risk of being completely wiped out by the end of this year if fires set to clear the land aren’t stopped, according to conservationists in Indonesia.
Ian Singleton of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP) said that only about 200 of the 3,000 Orangutans living in the Tripa forest in the early 1990s remain. In all, only an estimated 6,600 Sumatran Orangutans are left anywhere in the wild, he said.
This has come as the pace of burning in the Tripa Peat swamps has accelerated in the past few weeks, possibly as palm oil companies take advantage of Aceh’s uncertain current status under an “interim” Governor, conservationists said.
The real concern is that at the current pace of destruction there will be no remaining High Conservation Value Forest and no more protected wildlife in the area by the end of 2012.
Graham Usher of the Foundation for a Sustainable Ecosystem said that only 12,000 of the original 60,000-hectare forest remains. Much of the forest is now highly fragmented, with the largest remaining block measuring less than 8,400 hectares and only one other fragment over 1,000 hectares.
Any orangutans trapped in the remaining small fragments of forest amid the burning are now effectively refugees of forest that no longer exists and are likely to die from starvation if not killed or captured.
Just in recent months, Usher told a Jakarta press conference, at least 100 Orangutans have been killed, while an additional 100 died between 2009 and 2011 in the process of conversion of the palm oil concessions or from starvation.
According to Usher, over 100 fire hot spots were recorded between 19 and 25 March among the area’s palm oil plantations.This is apparently perhaps the worst burning since satellite monitoring of Indonesia’s fire hot spots began in late 2000.
A number of the fire hotspots were coming from an apparently illegal palm oil concession, considered by many in breach of Indonesia’s moratorium on clearing forest.
The PT Kallista Alam concession permit was, according to the conservationists, issued three months after the government’s moratorium map was issued. There is currently an ongoing legal case in Aceh concerning the same concession in which a decision is expected April 3rd.
This suit alleges that the concession was clearly issued inside the Leuser Ecosystem, which is designated a National Strategic Area for Environmental Protection in Indonesia’s National Spatial Plan, established in 2008 under Government regulation 26.
Conservationists also say that forest clearing and drainage canal construction began in the concession even before the permit was issued, that the permit was issued while the concession was clearly shown as off-limits to any new plantations under the President’s official map establishing a moratorium on new permits.
The request was made Thursday for the government immediately to order all oil palm companies with concessions within the Tripa Peat Swamps in the Leuser Ecosystem to immediately cease all land clearing and burning.
In addition, it was suggested that the government of Norway immediately suspend the 2010 bilateral letter of intent that was the basis of the moratorium until the burning has been thoroughly investigated.
By far the most fire hotspots, however, were located in the PT Surya Panen Subur 2 Concession, a 13,000 hectare palm oil concession that formerly belonged to PT Astra Agro Lestari, in which Hong Kong-based Jardines owns a majority stake.
That was purchased by Astra Agro Lestari in 2007 and then sold to Triputra Group, founded by a former CEO of Astra, according to SOCP, in late 2010, following heavy criticism of Jardines connection to the concession in international press reports.
Why would Jardines want any association with a palm oil concession located in a protected area and, indeed, why would the company then turn around and sell that under pressure to a loose associate rather than set it aside for conservation?