Translation of recent Der Spiegel article.

Orangutans die after clearing by burning | Der Spiegel

The perpetrators are threatened through high sentences:  One must pay a lot of fines and count up to 10 years in prison for burningIndonesian forest. Yet, two palm oil companies in Sumatra have set a large area of peat swamp on fire. More than a hundred orangutans could meet their end.

Jakarta – Dozens of orangutans could have died after clearing by burning in the northern part of Sumatra – Indonesian authorities have now initiated an investigation against two palm oil companies. Those were accused to have set a large area of peat swamp forest on fire in order to gain more space for their plantation, said a spokesman of the Ministry of Environment on Tuesday.

According to local environmentalists, about hundred orangutans have already died in Tripa Forest, and now only 200 remain. All surviving orangutans in this area could be eliminated by the end of this year.

A total of 6600 Sumatran orangutans are estimated to remain in Sumatra. Environmentalists have sent warnings for months. Only 14,000 of an initially 60,000 ha forest in the Tripa region are still intact.

Clearing by burning is illegal in Indonesia and can be penalized with 10 years in prison and fines of up to almost 800,000 Euro. Still, burning of forest is common, to rapidly clear large areas. Thereby, climate damaging carbon dioxide emerges in peat swamp forest such as in Tripa, since not only trees but also the peat soil, often several meters deep are dried and burned out.

The accused companies should have burned 1600 ha (16 km2) (apologies, poor translation). The companies Die beschuldigten Unternehmen sollen 1600 Hektar (16Quadratkilometer) abgefackelt haben. The companies reject the allegations and blame local farmers as being responsible.

At the beginning of April a court in Aceh reached a verdict on a lawsuit filed by the environmentalists. They have tried to stop a permit through the court that allowed palm oil producer PT Kallista Alam to clear 1600 ha of Tripa Forest for a new oil palm plantation. The court declared that it did not have the authority to rule on the case. The parties would first have to reach an amicable agreement, so stated in the verdict.

“If the court had explained that it did not have the authority in the beginning, when the case was filed, it could have been filed in a higher court,” criticised the biologist Ian Singleton, who leads the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) and has been fighting for years for the preservation of this forest. “One can call the Judges’ behaviour as laughable, if it was not so potentially fatal for Tripa’s remaining 200 critically endangered orangutans.”

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About iansingletonsocp

Orangutan conservationist, former zookeeper and field researcher.

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