Orangutans in the haze shrouding the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation camp on 5 October 2015 Photo: Antara Foto / Reuters

By John R. Platt
22 October 2015

(takepart.com) – Indonesia is on fire.

Right now, tens of thousands of small forest fires are burning across the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, the only habitats for orangutans and other rare species. Many of the fires appear to have been intentionally set by palm oil companies, which employ slash-and-burn agriculture to clear land of native trees to plant their cash crop, which is used as an ingredient in everything from food to cosmetics.

Richard Zimmerman, executive director of Orangutan Outreach, calls the conflagrations a disaster for endangered orangutans. Some of the fires are burning in important orangutan habitats, including Borneo’s Sabangau National Park, thought to hold the largest wild population of orangutans. “This is catastrophic,” Zimmerman said. He said he’s worried about how many wild orangutans have died from the flames and resulting smoke.

“The problem with fire and smoke is absolutely dire,” said Lis Key, communications manager for International Animal Rescue, which runs a rehabilitation center for more than 125 injured and orphaned orangutans in Ketapang, Borneo.

“Wild orangutans and orangutans in centers like ours are badly affected by the smoke,” she said. “Some suffer upper respiratory tract infections, which can even prove fatal. Some of the babies we’ve taken in recently have been suffering not only from dehydration and malnourishment through lack of food but also breathing problems from the polluted air.”

(A visit to the Ketapang orangutan sanctuary and attempts to track the scope of illegal palm oil deforestation can be seen in this week’s episode of The Operatives, which airs on Sunday, Oct. 25, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Pivot, the television network owned by Participant Media, TakePart’s parent company. Join the Operatives on their missions and take action to protect all wildlife by clicking here.) […]

Orangutans have more to fear than just the fire. The flames and smoke are pushing them out of their already reduced habitats and closer to human villages, where the adults are killed and the young apes are sold into the pet trade. In the past week, International Animal Rescue saved one such young orangutan, Gito, who had been kept in a cardboard box and left in the sun to die.

Two more young orangutans were repatriated to Indonesia this week after they were rescued from smugglers at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A report last year from the Great Apes Survival Partnership found that many illegally obtained orangutans and other apes are being sold to China for display in zoos and other entertainment facilities.

Although most adult orangutans that escape the fires are killed by poachers, a few are luckier. Key reported that her group recently relocated 10 wild orangutans that had been found “stranded close to palm oil concessions or in areas of forest that have been destroyed by fire.” […]

“When these fires finally end, that’s when we’ll see the bodies,” Zimmerman said. [more]

Orangutans Are Dying as Indonesia Burns


  1. Anonymous said...

    Palm oil companies and those involved are engaging in a wholesale slaughter of indigenous people, animals, fauna and future.

    Unlikely they'll ever be held accountable, but should. Nobody has a right to drive species to extinction, not even the whole of humanity. Nobody has a right to ruin vast tracts of forests either.

    The species is fatally stupid.  


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