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Report on SAGA2/COE Symposium


Galdikas, Biruté 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 Indonesia's former political and business leadership, which was corrupt and short-sighted. This ruling elite: 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. In certain parts of Indonesia, orangutans have already gone locally extinct--as they have in some areas of Malaysian Borneo. As a result of the fires and cutting for timber estates, it is estimated that only 3,000 wild orangutans are left in East Borneo (Kalimantan Timur). The situation in Central Borneo (Kalimantan Tengah) is probably the best for wild orangutans, and even there the future is not especially bright. Perhaps 1,000-2,000 orangutans still survive in Tanjung Puting National Park alone, among as many as 8,000-10,000 orangutans in the province as a whole.
     Without doubt, therefore, primate research and conservation efforts must go hand-in-hand. As an example, Indonesia's Minister of Forestry and the Governor of Kalimantan Tengah recently were persuaded by the Orangutan Foundation International to convert two expired logging concessions in a peat forest swamp area into a nature reserve rather than into a palm oil plantation. In light of the continuing pace of deforestation in the tropical world, that is a significant achievement, especially for the orangutans that desperately need protected habitat to survive.
     This is just one instance of the kind of immediate action needed from the central government in Jakarta. Furthermore, Japan, the European Union, the USA, the IMF and the World Bank must strongly support Indonesia's initiatives 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.


Copyright (C) 1999- COE International Symposium