Raging Fires in Indonesia Displacing Communities and Pushing Orangutans to Edge of Extinction

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A global tragedy is unfolding in Indonesia this week as fires rage through Tripa Swamp, displacing local communities and threatening hundreds of critically endangered Sumatran orangutans. These fires, initially set by palm oil companies to clear land for more plantations, are pushing this population of orangutans to the edge of extinction. Conservation experts say the extinction of the orangutan population of Tripa is no longer years away, but only a matter of months, even weeks.

Photo by Carlos Quiles/March 27, 2012

Tripa Swamp is a forest of special value. It is home to one of the largest remaining population of wild orangutans, is rich in biodiversity, and has provided livelihoods to Indonesian forest communities for generations.

Help save Tripa and the wildlife and people who live there: Demand that the president of Indonesia uphold the nation’s forest protection laws and order the palm oil companies to cease land clearing and burning in the Tripa forest.

Tripa swamp is comprised of deep peat — more than 20 feet deep in some parts. Peatlands contain decades of decaying material that, when submerged in water, becomes habitat for many species and stores huge amounts of carbon, which plays an important role in regulating our global climate. As peat swamps are drained of water, the decaying vegetation releases massive amounts of carbon and the drying, decaying vegetation turns the rainforest into a matchbox. For this reason and others, Tripa peat swamp, part of the Leuser Ecosystem, is widely considered to be of significant conservation value and was designated in 2008 as a National Strategic area for environmental protection under the National Spatial plan.

In 2007 Governor Yusuf of Aceh signed a province-wide moratorium on forest logging, another law to provide protection to the Tripa rainforest. Yusuf eventually was named the “green governor” for this action he took to protect the forest. But despite these legal protections and his “green” reputation, Governor Yusuf issued a permit in August 2011 to PT Kallista Alam to allow 1,605 hectares of deep peat in the Tripa forest to be converted into a palm oil plantation. None of the forest communities were consulted for this permit, denying them their rights to control their traditional lands and forcing them to face air and water pollution and loss of their forest livelihoods.

In November of 2011 a coalition of NGO’s filed a legal case against the Governor and PT Kallista Alam for the illegal expansion into Tripa forest. Once this case was filed and palm oil companies learned community groups were trying to stop their expansion, they rushed to burn and clear more forest, resulting in the massive fires ablaze today.

Photo by Carlos Quiles/March 11, 2012

Since the case was filed there have been numerous hearings and the world is awaiting the court decision to be released next week. If the judges rule in favor of the Governor and PT Kallista Alam — allowing the permit to remain — the future of this global biodiversity hotspot will be at great risk.

The international community cannot just stand by watching this beautiful forest ecosystem get destroyed. We need your URGENT help. Please take action by telling President Yudhoyono of Indonesia to order palm oil companies to cease the burning of the Tripa forest immediately and save Sumatran orangutans.

For more information about Tripa and this global tragedy, please see End of the Icons.

Images by Carlos Quiles.