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Indonesia’s forests are being destroyed. Ecotourism may offer one way to protect them.
By Gemima Harvey for The Diplomat.
Following a flurry of international attention and keen anticipation, the extension of Indonesia’s forest moratorium, preventing companies from getting new permits to clear protected areas, was confirmed on Wednesday. The news comes days before the original ban’s expiry on May 20, but even with this promised respite for Indonesia’s forests, many remain concerned.
Much of this concern centers on the future of vast swathes of tropical rainforest in Aceh, at the northern tip of Sumatra. Aceh’s Governor, Zaini Abdullah, is pushing a pro-development plan that would allow 1.2 million hectares of protected rainforest—some of the most pristine areas left in the country—to be rezoned, opening the gates to mining, timber and palm oil companies. The plan is reportedly close to approval, unless Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono intervenes. The spatial plan calls for roads that would cut through sections of Gunung Leuser National Park, the last place on earth where elephants, rhinos, tigers and orangutans can be found in the same location. Adding alarm, the protected status of a critical ecosystem, The Tripa Peat Swamp, would be removed.
East Asia Minerals (EAM) has been lobbying authorities to approve the plan, releasing a statement last month saying: “The company [EAM] is working closely with government officials in the country and have company representatives on the ground in Aceh to obtain reclassification of the forestry zone from ‘protected forest’ to ‘production forest’.” They go on to say that efforts have been stalled by a coalition of environmental NGOs.
Opponents have taken to social media, with efforts including a recent petition from global campaign network Avaaz. Rudi Putra, the Indonesian conservation manager who won The Future for Nature Award 2013, explains in the appeal that Aceh boasts the largest biodiversity in the Asia Pacific region and is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site.
In 2011, the national moratorium was set in motion by an agreement between Indonesia and Norway under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) scheme. Norway pledged US$1 billion to support Indonesia in its strategy to address issues of rapid deforestation and peatland degradation, which accounts for 75% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Forest coverage is disappearing at a disturbing rate, earning Indonesia the dubious distinction of inclusion in the 2008 Guinness World Records for having the fastest rate of deforestation. An area equivalent to 300 soccer fields is cleared every hour, and the UN Environmental Programme predicts that 98% of Indonesia’s forest area could be destroyed by 2022.
Suspense about Aceh’s future coincides with the release of a UNDP study of forestry governance in Indonesia, which rates Aceh as the most poorly managed in terms of protection, regulation, planning and participation of REDD+.
Graham Usher, Landscape Protection Specialist, Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Project is pleased that the moratorium has been extended but says it remains unclear what this means for Aceh. He notes that where the former governor reformed forestry regulation in favour of protection, the new Aceh governor is reverting “to the development paradigm of ‘less forests = more development.’”
Usher explains that national laws and environmental guidelines are paramount, including mandates to protect the Leuser Ecosystem, but the Aceh Government is under the impression that a “special autonomy” act gives it unbridled authority to break national forest protection laws. He says, “It appears that the National Government is taking a softly-softly with Aceh to avoid disputes.”
A key problem is inconsistency in spatial mapping. While the National Government has the final say, since decentralization in the late 90s, local governments have been producing their own maps and Usher says not all of these are recognised by the national authority. He gives the example of a 2007 concession handed to a palm oil company by the land mapping agency in Aceh. This concession in the Tripa Peat Swamp was marked as protected by all previous moratorium maps and yet the company (Dua Perkasa Lestari) has continued to clear the land, regardless of its environmental significance and concerns over legality.
Usher says efforts are being made to move towards a solution “where all government agencies essentially work from the same baseline data.” But with 40 years of divergent maps to assimilate, this is far from simple. “There is no doubt that progress has been made, particularly with the public perception that maps are public documents and should be transparent.”
It is also critical to consider the affected indigenous people living near the areas mapped for rezoning.
Campaigners and conservationists assert that lost forest coverage could cause landslides and flash flooding, with serious consequences for local populations. Usher says that Aceh has many steep mountains with fragile soil systems and that a proposed new road network creates risk of major disasters. “The Leuser Ecosystem was not only established to protect biodiversity and threatened species, but also to protect the ecosystem services on which millions of people currently depend.”
Others, however, argue that restraint on industry is a restraint on raising the living standards of the rural poor. Pro-development bodies maintain that expanding industry creates jobs for communities where there may be little alternative economic opportunity.
This reasoning is used by industry representatives opposed to extending the ban on forest conversions. The director of law and advocacy for the Indonesian Palm Oil Association, Tungkot Sipayung, spoke out in The Jakarta Post, saying extending the moratorium will “limit development of labour-intensive palm plantations and palm processing sectors.”
Another sentiment, in opposition to limiting development, is cynicism towards the interventionist role played by industrialized countries. World Growth, a pro-development NGO, contends in a report about the potential impact of the 2011 moratorium on communities, “It is crucial that developing nations be given the same chance that developed nations have benefited from.” The report points out that in certain regions palm oil is the main or only crop grown, providing jobs in its various stages of production.
Usher dismisses the idea that industry expansion pulls people from poverty as “rubbish.” He uses spatial planning in Aceh to illustrate that land decisions are being dictated by “a few bureaucrats and private interests.” He goes on to note that there is limited land for productive agriculture in the region and that most people live on the north/northeast coastal plain, where most rice production takes place. This rice farming hinges on irrigation from inland forests. “If these forests are converted to other uses (such as oil palm or mining), many of these people will suffer increased poverty. There is a reason that developed countries like Japan and Taiwan (with a similar landscape to Aceh) have 60-70% forest cover: they have long realized that they need this level of forest cover to sustain their development.”
Spurred by climate change worries, industrializing nations are being called on to minimize emissions. As Indonesia demonstrates, this in turn requires new policies and improved forest management to limit the deforestation linked to growing industry. That’s a point echoed in a study by Yale and Stanford University researchers, which projects that expansion of palm plantations in Indonesia’s could pump more that 558 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2020, more than all of Canada’s current fossil fuel emissions.
Indonesia has the third-largest tropical rainforest coverage in the world and as global warming is blamed for more severe weather events and environmental catastrophes, many eyes are turning to the Southeast Asian nation to keep the lungs of the earth intact.
But who draws the line between development and environmental degradation?
Indonesian conservationist Rudi Putra says in the Avaaz petition appeal, “Countries like mine have a right to develop, but not at the expense of our priceless natural patrimony, and it should benefit, not harm, Indonesians.” Wolfgang Sachs, author of The Development Dictionary, has written: “Politics is compelled to push either equity without ecology or ecology without equity.” He continues to discuss post-development initiatives where, “a transition from economies based on fossil-fuel resources to economies based on biodiversity is paramount.”
One possible model is ecotourism, which lets people earn money while living in harmony with the earth. Indigenous communities retain their independence, at the same time accessing a sustainable economy.
Disputes between indigenous populations and multinational companies are increasingly common, in a disturbing trend known as “land grabbing” or “economic land concessions.” In Laos and Cambodia, for example, the chain of collusion strings together multinational companies, backed by banks in Europe, which are granted land concessions by corrupt government officials, who then look away as locals are rendered powerless, their farmland and livelihoods destroyed. The disenfranchised are left with an ultimatum: work for the companies or starve.
Right now in Borneo, the Malaysian firm Sarawak Energy is planning to establish hydroelectric dams, which according to news site Mongebay are “controversial because they require the forced displacement of indigenous communities and will flood large tracts of rainforest. Furthermore there is currently little demand for the electricity that will be generated, raising suspicions that the primary purpose of the projects is to generate lucrative contracts for politically well-connected firms.”
Ecotourism turns this trend around. Rather than economic growth at any social and environmental cost, people are empowered to create a conservation-focused economy, creating job opportunities while providing incentives for protecting rainforests and generating funds for wilderness patrols and the rehabilitation of endangered species displaced by human activity.
Take the inspiring example of community-based ecotourism in Tangkahan — near the Gunung Leuser National Park, an area under threat from the Aceh Government’s forest plans. Fuelled by the desire to create a sustainable economy, two villages of more than 7000 people came together to establish The Lembaga Pariwisata Tangkahan (LPT). Supported by NGOs Indecon and Flora and Fauna International, in 2002, LPT signed an agreement with the National Park Authority, securing 10,000 hectares (now 17,000 hectares) for eco-tourism activities under the prerequisite that it be protected. From 55 founding members, 32 formerly worked as illegal loggers, indicating an innate wish to protect their environment while retaining the ability to feed their families.
With financial incentives for conservation, the community has transformed the area into an ecotourism destination. This has led to job creation, with various roles required to run their tourism office and multiple tour packages. LPT’s website states that just a decade ago, the area was an exit point for illegal logging in the national park. With its stunning scenery and clear rivers, however, the community began to realize the potential for income from appreciative visitors.
Jessica McKelson, Director of Raw Wildlife Encounters, launched her ecotourism initiative in 2008 and said the livelihood of local people is a core pillar for why the company operates. “They are custodians of the lands that surround their communities, where we bring guests to visit, they allow us to enjoy these areas and we offer employment opportunities from guides to rangers to administration as well as education programs so they can comfortably support their families and don’t have to work in legal, or illegal, logging or palm oil and can live sustainably. Most have lost all their natural resources to deforestation practices and were left with no option but working for $8-$10 per day in terrible conditions or losing that job to transmigrants.”
Since the business started, McKelson says that 85% of gross earnings have gone to community and environmental programs. “This community-based eco-tourism model provides local people with stable, consistent income without damaging their own backyards and the wildlife and ecosystems within it. It’s conservation through empowering and educating the community. A win-win for all!”
Along with economic benefits for local people, there is the added bonus of conservation-based skills transfer from NGOs to the community. Describing the Tangkahan initiative, The International Ecotourism Society says that skills like “ecotourism development and management, planning and policy development, conservation management, and monitoring and assessment” were merged with Karo culture and values “to ensure community ownership of the initiative and equality in the distribution of benefits.” Raw Wildlife Encounters also offers guide training to the Tangkahan community to support sustainable management that is consistent with standards set out by The International Ecotourism Society.
In promoting ecotourism, emphasis must be placed on ethical management to ensure it does not transform into mass tourism, void of eco-values. McKelson says Bukit Lawang in Sumatra is an example of this. She explains that tourists ignore conventions about avoiding contact with orangutans and even pay bribes to local guides for a close encounter and the chance to feed them, which becomes encouraged by guides keen for the extra cash.
Despite the cases of mismanagement, she says, “Eco tourism in Indonesia can be a great employment model to protect natural resources via an alternative sustainable livelihood.” In other words, a step in the direction of building economies that do not come at the expense of the environment.
Full article > http://thediplomat.com/2013/05/19/can-ecotourism-save-indonesias-disappearing-forests/
Gemima Harvey (@Gemima_Harvey) is a freelance journalist and photographer.
Raw Wildlife Encounters Founder Director and Orangutan Land Trust (OLT) Trustee Jessica McKelson is currently in Singapore for the Orangutan Land Trust workshop to determine the Trusts future direction and strategy.
Executive Director of OLT, Michelle Desilets, said of Ms McKelson's involvement and the workshop "I am so proud of you and to be a part of the efforts of Orangutan Land Trust. I am only too excited to be a part of this strategic workshop with dynamic people. You are such an inspiring woman, keep up the great work!"
OLT was founded by Lone Drescher Neilson, known internationally as a champion for orangutans, and as one of the foremost experts in the rescue, care, rehabilitation and release of these orangutans. She is the founder and manager of the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Reintroduction Project in Central Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) operated by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. OLT is also a partner of Ms McKelson's Earth 4 Orangutans project founded with acclaimed primatologist and Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program Director Dr Ian Singleton.
"I feel privileged to be part of such an amazing organisation", Ms McKelson said of OLT.
Today Ms McKelson departs for Sumatra to meet with The Guardian (UK) Environmental freelance journalist Oliver Milman to share with him the incredible work Raw's conservation partners achieve within the unique areas of Sumatra Raw Wildlife Encounters visits. Read Milman's past articles on RWE and our conservation partners work here:Zookeepers plan to build islands for orangutans - The Age
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About Raw Wildlife Encounters
Raw Wildlife Encounters (RWE) is one of the world's leading eco adventure travel agencies. It provides guests with life-changing travel experiences and unique wildlife encounters while catering for an exceptional quality and comfortable journey along the way. Raw tours are lead by qualified wildlife professionals who take guests along roads less well-travelled and allow them truly unique learning experiences with exotic wildlife. Raw Wildlife Encounters fosters responsible tourism that benefits the local people, tribes and wildlife in all travel destinations through Raw’s Conservation Commitment programs.
According to the Head of the Legal and PR Office of the Aceh Regional Secretariat, Makmur Abrahim, the permit, for an area of 1.605ha of lush forest peatland in Tripa, within the protected Leuser Ecosystem, was withdrawn because PT Kallista Alam was considered to be violating the existing legal regulation.
After a long battle, the withdrawal of the permit demonstrates the Governments compliance with the law and is a warning to others not to flout the law and regulations in Aceh. “This is important for maintaining legal certainty in conducting business and in investing in Aceh, and thus benefits the common people,” said Teuku Muhammad Zulfikar, Executive Director of WALHI Aceh (Friends of the Earth Indonesia).
The Leuser Ecosystem is one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the world, it the only place on earth where critically endangered key species, the Sumatran orangutan, tiger, elephant and rhinoceros co-exist. In 1990 there were almost 2,000 Orangutans in the Tripa Peat forest, today it could be less than 200 due to the ongoing and illegal clearance of forest for palm oil plantations.
This is a victory for environmentalists who have worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the issue, launching a successful world-wide online campaign, Save Tripa, lead by Dr Ian Singleton, Director Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program and his team and colleagues at Walhi Aceh.Jessica McKelson, Director Raw Wildlife Encounters and Save Tripa activist said "The Save Tripa campaign has achieved its first major goal in the fight to save the Tripa peat forest. We congratulate the Aceh Government for taking this first important step in encouraging the Indonesian Government to enforce its own laws."
Author: Ian Singleton
Source: The Jakarta Post, Medan | Mon, 03/26/2012 8:04 AM
The Jakarta Post recently reported the death of a giraffe at Surabaya Zoo, found to have ingested 20 kg of plastic. This is extremely tragic, but of course by no means surprising in Indonesia’s zoos, given the appalling way they are managed.
As a former zoo keeper myself in the UK, what is clear to me is that the vast majority of zoos in Indonesia hardly pay any attention whatsoever to investing in their zoo and instead see them only as potential revenue generators.
A good example is the so-called Medan Zoo in North Sumatra. For many years this occupied just a few tree-shaded hectares within the city itself and despite its poor and insanitary conditions, a number of animals somehow managed to survive there for several years. Nevertheless, they were subjected to voluminous decibels of dangdut just outside their cage every weekend and public holidays, and a barrage of peanuts were thrown at them every day.
On public holidays, more than 20,000 visitors would visit and almost all would throw copious numbers of peanuts at the animals during the day. Not exactly a nutritious balanced diet.
In its wisdom, the Medan municipality eventually decided to move the zoo to a large area of open, mostly tree-less land on the edge of the city. It was then reported that around 60 percent of the animals died during or after being transferred to the new site, built hurriedly, poorly designed and with little thought to providing shelter from the sun or rain, or clean water supplies to any of the animals.
A few survivors did manage to hang on, but could be clearly seen hiding in the few shady areas, gasping due to the heat and dehydration. The standard of care was also extremely poor. A small clinic building had no drugs or equipment, and not even the tools to anesthetize animals properly. Food was inadequate, generally handed out in the mornings, and left there all day.
All in all, Medan is the only place I know of in the world that has built a new zoo even worse than the old one! What gets me most though, is that managing a zoo is not rocket science. Many animals will survive and even breed if simply given a safe and sheltered enclosure, clean drinking water, and adequate nutrition. But just how possible is it to improve facilities and diets when entrance fees are so disgracefully low?
I have heard many times how admission prices for zoos and other recreation sites are deliberately kept low so that everyone is able to benefit from them. Sure, but the old Medan Zoo cost about Rp 2,000 to enter 10 years ago and even the new one is just a little over Rp 5,000 (US 55 cent) today. With admission prices less than half the cost of a becak (pedicab) or a decent nasi bungkus (meal), I think they could easily be quadrupled and still everyone would be able to visit a few times each year. And that might even allow zoo managers to reinvest some of the takings on their assets, their facilities and their animals.
I am sure too, that given the incredible wealth of the Indonesian “elite” and how they love to have their names displayed in public places, that any zoo showing a genuine commitment to improving, by putting some of its own money back in, could quickly begin to tap the large numbers of rich potential philanthropists around these days, to sponsor their animals and new exhibits. But they would indeed have to prove they were serious before most private individuals or corporations even consider putting any money into them, or having their names associated.
Indonesia’s zoos also continue to be a drain on Indonesia’s incredibly rich wildlife. With only one or two notable exceptions, I would wager that almost all of their animals were born in the wild. This is in sharp contrast to western zoos, were with a few exceptions, most notably for conservation purposes, almost none are wild born these days.
If animals do breed in Indonesian zoos, they frequently die young, due to the poor nutrition they and their mothers receive and the insanitary and unsuitable conditions in which they are kept.
Zoos here, therefore, still tend to either buy their animals on the market (often illegally) or request them from the Forestry’s Ministry conservation department (PHKA), for example if they have been captured due to human wildlife conflicts or confiscated as illegal pets or in trade.
But why, in 2012, should this still need to be the case? Why aren’t Indonesia’s zoos breeding the animals themselves and exchanging them with other zoos, as do most zoos in the rest of the world? Is it because they’re too greedy to invest in their animals and keep them healthy enough to breed and rear their offspring to adulthood? Or is it just far too easy to replace them when they die?
At this point I must also mention the fact that there has been, since 1969, an Indonesian Zoo Association (PKBSI). But what does it do? It doesn’t even have a formal website, just a blogspot, with hardly any information on its goals and mission, or on Indonesia’s many zoos, as you might expect. What role does it play in encouraging Indonesia’s zoos to improve?
I once worked in Jersey Zoo (now Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust), one of the world’s best zoos; not best because it is bigger or more beautiful, or makes more money than others, but because it has a genuine mission to save endangered species. It was established in the late 1950s by well-known author Gerald Durrell with conservation as its primary function, and funds raised for many endangered species rescue projects all over the world.
Jersey Zoo has since had numerous major successes, among them saving the pink pigeon, echo parakeet and Mauritius kestrel, all down to just a tiny number of individuals (in some cases just three or four females and a few males) a few decades ago, but now numbering in their hundreds once again in the wild due to captive breeding and managed reintroduction programs.
Enough is enough I think. In 2012 we should be able to evaluate the role of zoos in Indonesia, to close down the bad ones and encourage the better ones to get even better. But this will never happen if their owners and managers see them only as a source of extra pocket money.
For the sake of the animals and the visiting public, start charging sensible entry fees and start reinvesting some of the revenue, then perhaps you will get even more support and encouragement from those that are able, and almost certainly willing to help. But only if you can first show you are serious about it!
Dr. Ian Singleton is the Director of Conservation, PanEco Foundation, and principal conservation advisor to Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari in Indonesia.
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Author: Hotli Simanjuntak
Source: The Jakarta Post, Aceh Tamiang, Aceh | Fri, 02/17/2012 9:53 AM
Photo - Moving: An evacuation team examines a newly caught orangutan. The animals that are rescued are frequently found skinny and malnourished.
One morning, an orangutan evacuation team arrived in a hilly area with only a few rubber trees left in Aceh Tamiang.
The 15-member team from the Leuser Ecosystem Management Agency (BPKEL), the Sumatra Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP), the Orangutan Information Center (OIC) and the Aceh Orangutan Forum (FORA) was walking on red soil newly leveled for plantations.
The red land, cleared of rubber trees by workers of PT Bahruny, an estate company owned by Oil Palm Business Association (GAPKI) chair Joefly J Bahroeny, is located in Rimba Sawang village, Aceh Tamiang, bordering North Sumatra.
Atop an almost dead rubber tree was an orangutan and its one-year-old offspring, sitting and basking in the morning sun.
Their long, golden brown hair was in sharp contrast to their skinny bodies due to undernourishment.
“These orangutans were trapped in this location as workers started felling rubber trees for oil palm plants,” said OIC volunteer Krisna Ketapel.
Krisna is a local resident recruited by the OIC, an NGO engaged in watching over and monitoring orangutans emerging from forestland to enter the estates around his village home in Rimba Sawang.
The team’s visit to the plantations was meant to evacuate the orangutans isolated in the location, where only a small number of rubber trees can still be found. The other hills around it were already denuded and converted into circling terraces for oil palm planting.
The presence of orangutans was detected before they were slaughtered by estate workers while leveling the area. “We estimate hundreds of them are still trapped with the widespread land clearing operation for new plantations,” Krisna said.
Krisna has often witnessed orangutans going down to the estates near his village, usually from the protected forest in the Leuser ecosystem zone, only four kilometers from the closest plantations.
Rampant illegal logging and land reclamation for estates are seen as considerably disturbing the habitat of orangutans in the areas adjacent to the Leuser zone. The activity also increases the intensity of conflict between wildlife like tigers and elephants and man.
“In the last two to three years we’ve been informed of the orangutans frequently trapped in estates particularly in Aceh or North Sumatra border areas or asked to evacuate them,” said Ian Singleton, director of the SOCP.
The SOCP is a collaboration between the government and several NGOs like PanEco Switzerland, the Lestari Ecosystem Foundation (YEL) and the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) in Germany, focusing on orangutan conservation in Sumatra and covering orangutan rescue, quarantine and release.
Previously, the SOCP evacuated orangutans from several locations in Aceh and North Sumatra. In addition, it also confiscated protected animals from individuals or orangutans from communities that had domesticated them.
According to Ian Singleton, the opening of estate areas in Aceh Tamiang began in 2005 in the early period of peaceful agreement between the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government. Prior to the accord, land clearing wasn’t so widespread because Aceh was embroiled in armed conflict.
Now, when there’s conflict between animals and men during reclamation, estate owners tend to urge NGOs or environmental activists to intervene by moving or catching the animals without understanding the underlying causes of the problem. Estate companies are even prepared to fund the relocation of trapped orangutans.
“The media has frequently initiated the discourse that estate companies should contact NGOs or authorized agencies when they find orangutans in their land clearing areas for relocation,” noted Singleton. In his view, this is not a desirable solution, nor will it be favorable to the animals concerned. In reality, this method doesn’t much prevent the slaughter of orangutans lost in plantations.
Photo - Evacuation: A government-NGO joint evacuation team rescues newly caught orangutans to be released to the nearest forest suitable for them to live.
“We’re convinced the number of orangutans killed in the process of land clearing has been far bigger than the total rescued, especially in areas where the government and environmental activists find it hard to monitor,” he said. In Aceh Tamiang, there are tens of thousands of hectares of rubber and oil palm estates owned by estate firms and individuals, mostly bordering the Leuser ecosystem – recognized by UNESCO as one of the world’s ecosystems.
The BPKEL managing the zone has revoked estate licenses many times for encroaching on protected forestland within the Leuser ecosystem.
Since 2009, the BPKEL has canceled 26 estate permits for illegal operations in restricted areas, covering 3,700 hectares of oil palm plantations and thousands of hectares of land already cleared but not yet planted.
“The pressure on this conservation zone will be greater and more severe unless strict control is exercised, particularly with the opening of an access road in the area close to Leuser,” said Badrul, conservation manager of the BPKEL. To prevent graver damage and the loss of rare animals’ habitats, this agency has been restoring the original estates and forest areas by replanting them with various trees.
— Photos by Hotli Simanjuntak
Retirement Islands for Orangutans
An innovative plan to create man-made islands for sick and injured orangutans in Indonesia is offering hope of a better life for animals who have previously been destined to spend their remaining days in cages.
While much of the fight to save the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan focuses on protecting their natural habitat, for some orangutans it is already too late.
Environmentalists say they are rescuing a growing number of orangutans that are unable to return to the wild because they are too ill or injured, often the result of coming into contact with humans.
Now, Australian zoo keepers, the Australian Orangutan Project and an eco-tourism company are partnering with an orangutan conservation group in Indonesia to raise money to buy land in Sumatra to create four “islands” where sick and injured orangutans could live in an environment more akin to their natural habitat, with staff on hand to care for them.
The plan is to dig moats around the land, which would prevent the orangutans, which cannot swim, from escaping. The animals can live for up to 50 years.
Four orangutans being cared for by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program have already been identified as possible residents of the planned islands, said Jessica McKelson, supervisor of the primates department at Melbourne Zoo and founder of Raw WildLife Encounters, the eco-tourism company involved in the project.
Ms. McKelson said one orangutan who could benefit from the project had been shot 62 times after wandering past a village on the edge of a forest. He was left blind after being shot in both eyes, and cannot return to the wild.
“He’s becoming large and mature and he really needs to get out of the cage,” said Ms. McKelson. Another orangutan the organizers hope to relocate has been diagnosed with the human strain of hepatitis B.
But first the organizers must find suitable land for the orangutans and raise money to lease the land.
Ms. McKelson said they hoped to raise 80,000 Australian dollars ($77,432) to lease about three hectares of land near the city of Medan, in north Sumatra. A clean water supply for the orangutans would be crucial.
There are also plans to establish an education center near the site to help teach locals about how they can live in harmony with orangutans, which is Indonesian for “man of the forest”.
Environmental groups blame palm oil and logging companies for encroaching on the animals’ natural habitat, and Ms. McKelson said villagers were increasingly coming into contact with orangutans as a result of deforestation. She said the animals sometimes approached villagers’ fruit trees, which could lead to conflict.
“We will be able to use this as a key education center to educate locals with the orangutans and also educate them about human-animal contact,” said Ms. McKelson, adding that there were an estimated 6,000 Sumatran orangutans left in the wild.
By LIZ GOOCH
November 25, 2011, 8:29 AM