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Palms threaten Borneo's orangutans

Latest update : 2008-05-07

Within three years, half of Borneo's orangutans may disappear due to expansion of palm oil plantations. If Indonesia is the main world palm oil producer, Borneo, with Sumatra, is the last living place for wild orangutans.

One of the biggest populations of wild orangutans on Borneo will be extinct in three years without drastic measures to stop the expansion of palm oil plantations, conservationists said Wednesday.

"For Central Kalimantan, the species will be gone as soon as three years from now," Centre for Orangutan Protection director Hardi Bhaktiantoro told a press conference.

More than 30,000 wild orangutans live in the forests of Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province, or more than half the entire orangutan population of Borneo island which is shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

Experts believe the overall extinction rate of Borneo orangutans is nine percent per year, but in Central Kalimantan they are disappearing even faster due to unchecked expansion of palm oil plantations.

"The expansion of palm oil plantations is wiping out entire habitats and unless the government takes drastic measures to protect these orangutan sanctuaries there is no way to reverse the trend," Bhaktiantoro said.

He showed pictures taken in November of dead orangutans being carried out of new plantations in Central Kalimantan, where they are hunted as pests to prevent them eating palm seedlings.

Orangutans are found only on Borneo and Sumatra and are listed as endangered by the Swiss-based World Conservation Union, the paramount scientific authority on imperilled species.

It says numbers of the ape have fallen by well over 50 percent in the past 60 years as a result of habitat loss, poaching and the pet trade.

Indonesia has already lost 72 percent of its 123 million hectares (304 million acres) of ancient rain forest due to frenzied logging and burning of peatland for agriculture, according to Greenpeace figures.

But the recent growth in demand for palm oil from food, cosmetic and biofuel companies is putting more pressure on orangutan habitats, swathes of which lie outside conversation areas.

"The deforestation rate in the area (Central Kalimantan), especially for conversion to palm oil plantation is extremely high," Bhaktiantoro said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was keen to trumpet his government's efforts to save the orange apes as Indonesia hosted the UN-sponsored world climate conference in December.

He used the occasion to unveil a scheme called the Orangutan Action Plan designed to stabilise orangutan populations and habitat by 2017 and promote sustainable forest management.

Date created : 2008-05-07

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