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Galdikas / Oral

Paradise in peril: the orangutan crisis and the destruction of borneo's tropical rainforests.

Galdikas, B.M.F., Orangutan Foundation International, 822 S. Wellesley Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90049, USA and Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C., Canada

     The world's last remaining wild orangutan populations, confined to two large islands, Borneo and Sumatra, are now facing extinction. In large measure, this is due to corrupt and short-sighted Indonesian political and business leaders, who have permitted unsustainable exploitation of the tropical rainforests of Kalimantan and Sumatra on a massive scale forests which constitute the wild orangutan's only habitat and, allowed a national economic collapse, which exacerbated habitat destruction even further, due to the greed and opportunism of illegal loggers, palm oil plantation companies and other developers. The El Nino weather phenomenon which caused prolonged drought in Kalimantan during 1997-1998, also created ideal conditions for the massive fires that cloaked Southeast Asia in a toxic haze and demolished approximately three million hectares of forest. These fires were initiated primarily by palm oil concessionaires looking for a cheap way to clear primary rainforest cover so that millions of hectares of plantation could be put in quickly and easily. According to a study published by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), Indonesia's rainforests are disappearing at a rate of more than two million hectares every year and 72% of the country's primary forest has already been lost. Experts agree that this has meant a decline of more than 80% in Indonesia's orangutan habitat and over 50% in orangutan population numbers during the last decade alone. Immediate action from the central government in Jakarta supported by Japan, the European Union, the USA, the IMF and the World Bank is necessary to stop the devastation of the orangutan's forest habitat. If this does not happen, the wild orangutan is almost certainly doomed. Rehabilitation programs such as the one operated by the Department of Forestry and the Orangutan Foundation International are important, of course, to save individual orangutans and for conservation and education. But the most urgent need is to conserve the tropical rainforests upon which orangutans depend for their future and ultimate survival.