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SOS Rhino : In the News : Current Rhino News :Indonesian Fires, Loggers Threaten Orangutanse
 

Indonesian Fires, Loggers Threaten Orangutans

  PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia, September 27, 2002 (ENS)


Thick haze has covered many parts of Kalimantan, Sumatra, and North Maluku this week, prompting schools to close down and people to stay at home. The haze is created by fires smouldering across these islands due to drought, lightning and fires set for land clearance that get out of control.

Palangkaraya Mayor Salundik Goyong Wednesday ordered all schools to close until further notice. He said the closure was ordered because of the health hazard caused by the thick haze that has blanketed the area for weeks. On Thursday the haze, caused by smoke from burning forests and peat, had reduced visibility in Palangkaraya to around 10 meters (33 feet).

In August, the Kalimantan government put together a team of 370 forest rangers, police and soldiers, to try to put out the fires, without much success. Authorities can only hope for rain, which is not forecast until October.

Orangutan expert Dr. BirutÈ Galdikas says a fire several weeks ago advanced quickly on the Orangutan Foundation International's new Care Center facility in the village of Pasir Panjang, a suburb of the city of Pangkalan Bun. If not for the quick work of the center's staff, the facility and the orangutans could have been damaged or destroyed.

Many fires have been burning underground for months. Suwido Limin at the Kalimantan Centre for International Cooperation in Management of Tropical Peatland began in late July to battle a fire started in the Natural Laboratory for Management of Peat Swamp Forest where his team has been recording biodiversity and natural resource functions of this threatened ecosystem for the last 10 years.

Limin says, "This area is also home to the largest remaining orangutan population in the world. Its survival is also threatened, and up to 5,000 animals could die if these fires gain a firm hold." So far, Limin's team including a group of 17 young volunteers from the United Kingdom who are living and working at the center, have managed to hold off the fires.

More serious, says Dr. Galdikas, is the problem of illegal logging near the foundation's Camp Leakey orangutan research facility. "Illegal loggers are coming in from another river system and spending many days going through swamps to reach the eastern border of the study area. They are carving out small canals and building wooden rails to float and drag logs out later this year when the rains come. We hear their chainsaws, and are fearful they will begin cutting down the fruit trees for the orangutans in the study area."

Located in the Tanjung Puting Reserve in Central Kalimantan, Camp Leakey was established in 1971 by Dr. BirutÈ Galdikas. It was named after anthropologist Louis Leakey, who was a mentor to Dr. Galdikas as well as Drs. Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. Originally consisting of two huts, Camp Leakey is now a cluster of permanent wooden structures that provides a base for scientists, staff, students, and guards.

"We are mounting police patrols," Dr. Galdikas says, "but the loggers are not always easy to find. Even when the police encounter the loggers, they are only told to leave - they are not forced to leave. After being give a couple of chances, then the police can be more forceful. This takes time and frankly time is running out. We know these people have used machetes to kill orangutans, like Davida, and we do not want anything to happen to the many orangutans we know that live in the study area like Princess, Peta, Unyuk, Tutut, Tom, and so many others."

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