Forest Fires and thick smoke threaten Orangutans and other wildlife in Indonesia
Severe forest fires and toxic smoke threaten the wildlife in Indonesia. Our rehabilitation centres near Jambi are also greatly affected.
Jambi Indonesia, 2nd November 2015
Indonesia’s economy is strong in agriculture and forestry. Especially oil palm and accacia plantations dominate huge parts of the islands. Every year at the end of the dry season (June to October) huge tracts of forest are cleared and burned to be used as future farmland and plantation areas. These fires often get out of control, resulting in blazing fire storms moving across the country and thick, toxic smoke blanketing huge parts of Asia. This year the situation is far worse than in previous years due to extremely dry conditions and a lack of rain. The situation is out of control.
The worst affected areas are the islands of Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo, which are home to the last remaining wild orangutans. The forest fires threaten humans and animals alike, causing respiratory infections and destroying valuable habitat. The fires and smoke clouds are one of the biggest threats to the critically endangered orangutan populations.
Jungle school in Bukit Tigapuluh closed
Frankfurt Zoological Society operates two orangutan rehabilitation centres adjacent to Bukit Tigapuluh National Park, near the city of Jambi. While the stations located deep in the jungle are not yet affected by nearby forest fires, the toxic smog is inevitable. “For weeks we have been dealing with thick smog and fine ashes covering every inch of outdoor equipment and making it difficult to perform our daily routines,” describes Peter Pratje, FZS programme manager in Indonesia. “Like all of us, the orangutans suffer from the smoke and haze. Currently we have closed down the jungle school and treat the animals with honey and immunostimulants to support their immune system.”
Forest fires in concession areas close to Bukit Tigapuluh National Park
In August 2015 Frankfurt Zoological Society, WWF and The Orangutan Project were granted the licence to manage two huge forest areas (39,000 hectares) next to Bukit Tigapuluh National Park as Conservation Concessions. They are designated to provide additional habitat for orangutans and other wildlife. Some forest fire hot spots have already been identified within these concession areas and our staff constantly monitors the development of the situation. Luckily, so far no forest fires have been reported inside the National Park by our survey teams in the field. Nevertheless, there are hot spots in the concession blocks, areas that were clear-cut by local farmers earlier this year and are now being burnt.
“We’re training ranger units to operate in the concession areas, which will support us to fight and prevent forest fires in the future,” says Peter Pratje. “However, the rangers are not yet fully trained and lack proper equipment, so we won’t jeopardize the life of our staff members or that of our partners by sending them out.”
The forest fires in and around Bukit Tigapuluh National Park are not yet as severe as in other parts of Indonesia, which is good news for the orangutans and people living and operating in this area. However, the risk of the situation deteriorating is ever-present, at least until the rains will finally set in.