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World Wildlife Day: Raising the next generation of orangutans in Indonesia

Palm oil production, logging, coal mining and disastrous fires create perfect storm for extinction


MARCH 2 2016. Despite national and international laws on the protection of the species, an estimated two to three thousand orangutans are brutally killed every year on oil palm plantations, near coal mines, and by farmers. Orangutans are under severe threat of extinction according to UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), and by next year, their numbers may drop so significantly that some believe the species will pass the point of recovery.


To mark World Wildlife Day, FOUR PAWS hopes to raise awareness regarding the plight of these great apes. The animal welfare organization has already been working for nine years to help the orangutans of East Kalimantan in Indonesia.


World Wildlife Day takes place every March 3rd. It was proclaimed in 2013, to mark the opening for signature on March 3rd 1973 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES, also known as the Washington Convention). The convention aims to protect endangered wild species.


Dr Signe Preuschoft, head of the FOUR PAWS orangutan project, stated that, “Indonesia relies heavily on income from tropical wood: From the coal that lies just a few centimetres below the forest floor, to everything above for palm oil. In 2015 alone, Indonesia produced 32.5 million tonnes of palm oil, of which 26.4 million tonnes were exported. This industry clears vast areas of forest every year to make room for monoculture oil palm plantations, and palm oil has now become the most-used vegetable oil on the planet.”


The forest fires that occur every year also put the wild animals in great danger. Last year alone, the devastating fires burned 2.6 million hectares of rainforest and farmland in Indonesia. There are no official figures for how many orangutans lost their lives, only estimates. During every dry season, these fires are ignited intentionally, used as a cheap and easy way to clear cut forests.

Fire-raising has been a problem in Indonesia for a long time. Dr Preuschoft stated, “The Indonesian Government turned a blind eye to it for years. However, after the choking smoke caused human casualties, authorities are now punishing these offences more often.”


The disaster relief unit of FOUR PAWS is currently supporting technical fire-prevention measures in the Sungai Wain rainforest, a protected area of Kalimantan. Partner organisation Pro Natura Foundation is setting up firebreaks there to limit fire damage in the future and protect the area’s wildlife. In addition, a team of local people, including some FOUR PAWS Orangutan Academy team members, are being trained as a volunteer firefighting unit.


Dr Preuschoft said, “The fires didn’t affect our Orangutan Academy here in Borneo, as conditions in the dry season weren’t that extreme. But, it still shocking…We can expect an increase in the numbers of orangutan orphans over the next few months whose mothers were either killed by the fires, or could no longer find food.”


At the FOUR PAWS Orangutan Academy, orangutan orphans are being prepared for a life of freedom. As soon as the team of experts is confident they can cope with life in the wild, the animals are released into a large, protected area of the forest. A side-effect of the FOUR PAWS orangutan project is that other endangered wild species, such as the Sunda clouded leopard, the hornbill, the sun bear, and many others, can also now live more peaceful lives in the protected area.


FOUR PAWS is hoping that World Wildlife Day helps bring international attention to the plight of orangutans and other threatened species where extinction can be prevented by sustainable human intervention. #WorldWildlifeDay