Sumatran Orangutans

The Tapanuli orangutan, a new species known to science

Yesterday brought the extraordinary news that a new orangutan species in Sumatra has been officially recognised by a group of scientists (for full paper, click here). The Tapanuli orangutan. ©Andrew Whalmsley

The Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) has been found in the Batang Toru Ecosystem of North Sumatra, Indonesia. Until recently these orangutans were thought to belong to the genus Pongo abelii, also known as the Sumatran orangutan. However, research has revealed that genetically, these orangutans are more closely related to Pongo pygmaeus, the Bornean orangutan, but remain distinct enough to be classed as an entirely new species.

The Tapanuli orangutan. ©Andrew Whalmsley

There are a number of genetic, morphological and behavioural differences between the Tapanuli orangutan and its cousins. Interestingly, the Tapanuli male's long call is just one of these differences...

A Tapanuli male orangutan's long call (credit SOCP):

[audio wav=""][/audio]

A Bornean male orangutan's long call:

[audio mp3=""][/audio]

Other differences which have been recorded include their diet, skeletal structure, and hair, which is thicker and frizzier than that of the Bornean or Sumatran orangutan.

Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) and Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii)

Sadly, despite being the newest species of great ape known to science, they have immediately been classified as critically endangered, with only 800 individuals thought to exist in the wild. Their only threat is habitat loss. The Tapanuli orangutan’s range is already fragmented across three areas of forest. Additionally the area is threatened with the proposal for construction of a new hydrodam.

Map of Batang Toru Ecosystem, fragmented forest sections shown in orange.

Therefore, we must ensure further loss of their forest habitat is prevented. Visit for further information and to help this new species.

Thank you,

Orangutan Foundation


What is an orangutan?..

This week we take things back to basics...What animal are we helping to save , how and why? 

The animal About a million years ago, orangutans lived throughout much of eastern Asia, from Java in the south, right up into Laos and southern China. Today they are found only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra - both areas of the country of Indonesia. They are the only great ape that lives in Asia and no where else. There are two species of orangutan - the Bornean orangutan (P. pygmaeus) and the Sumatran orangutan (P. abelii). The two species express slightly different physical characteristics.  The latter comes from Sumatra and is classified by a narrower face and longer beard than the Bornean species.  Bornean orangutans are slightly darker in colour and the males have wider cheek pads than their Sumatran relatives.  Behavioural differences have also been observed between the two species; Sumatran orangutans are more frugivorous (fruit-eating) and there is more evidence of tool use than in Bornean orangutans.  Under the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, the Sumatran orangutan is classified as critically endangered and the Bornean as endangered.Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 09.51.11


Orangutans are the largest arboreal mammal in the world. They are also the most arboreal of the great apes and spend most of their time in trees.The preferred habitat of the orangutan is low-lying peat swamp forest – they are rarely found in habitats over an altitude of 800m.  Although they are found on both Borneo & Sumatra, their ranges are very limited.

Orangutans are wholly dependent on trees for their existence. They are perfectly adapted to life in the forest - they sleep in nests (yep - really! In nests built of leaves which they learn to construct from a young age).

Orangutan high up in tree. Photo by Orangutan Foundation

They feed predominantly on fruit and travel with ease through the forest canopy, rarely descending to the forest floor. Primarily frugivorous (eating fruits), orangutans have an important role as seed disperses. They selectively chose ripe fruit whose seeds are adapted to withstand passage through the orangutans' gut. Once excreted, the seeds find themselves in their own little compost pile, which helps them to become established.  Over 400 food types have been documented as part of the orangutans diet, and although it consists mainly of fruit, in times of scarcity orangutans will shift their eating habits to lower quality food, such as bark, leaves & termites (a valuable source of protein!), rather than travel to a different area.  As well as acting as seed disperses, orangutans help to open up the forest canopy.  This allows light to reach the forest floor, which once again helps the forest regenerate naturally. They are a vital cog in the workings of the rainforest ecosystem.  


Orangutans are unique among the primate species.  All the other apes and monkeys (check the difference between apes and monkeys here!) are social and gregarious (meaning enjoying the company of others or/and living together in groups) whilst the orangutan is semi solitary, the largest group being a mother and two offspring.  Females are less solitary and may spend up to 25% with other orangutans. In contrast, male orangutans will spend less than 9% in association with other orangutans.  Sumatran orangutans are more social and this social behaviour usually coincides with the simultaneous fruiting of the fig tree, which doesn't occur in Borneo.

Orangutans are the slowest breeding of all primates and have the longest inter-birth interval of almost eight years, of any land-based mammal. In other words they are the slowest reproducing animal on land... The female orangutan reaches puberty at ten years and will normally have her first infant between the age of 12 and 15. Offspring are dependent on their mothers for at least five years and with a life expectancy of 45 years plus, females will normally have no more than three offspring. With these factors combined, the orangutan population, especially small fragmented populations, are at considerable risk.  They don’t have the capacity to recover from disasters that may strike a population. A slight rise in the adult female mortality rate by just 1-2% can drive a local population to extinction.

Female orangutan, Amoy, with newborn Alex. Photo by Orangutan Foundation

How we work... The Foundation works to protect this amazing species via five areas of work , detailed in a bullet point list here, where you can link to read all about the work of our Bornean and UK team!

And why.... We work in this way to help the numbers of wild orangutans to increase and to preserve the vital habitat they (and so many other species) need to survive. Most recently, orangutan numbers have declined... Please consider learning more about the threats facing these habitats by reading here. Remember it's so easy to learn more and help orangutans and their habitat by telling others and by helping out in any way. If you can outreach for the Foundation in any small way , please do email us on There any many reasons why to conserve a species - some reasons to conserve the orangutan are listed below...

  • For Pongo pygmaeus there has been well over a 50% during the last 60 years (generation length estimated at 20 years, Wich et al. in press).
  • For Pongo abelii there has been well over a 80% over the last 75 years (assuming a generation length of at least 25 years; Wich et al. in press).
  • This decline continues, as forests within its range are under major threat. Most orangutans are outside of protected areas, including within potential logging areas and conversion forests.
  • The decline of the species is predicted to continue at this rate, primarily because of forest loss due to conversion of forest to agriculture and fires. The majority of remnant wild populations are located outside of protected areas, in forests that are exploited for timber production or in the process of being converted to agriculture.
  • Orangutan feeding habits have been described as “boom or bust”. Cheryl Knott in West Borneo reported that when fruit is plenty, the orangutans consumed many more calories. Females had higher estrogen levels and mating was more frequent. The opposite occurred when availability of fruit was low. Orangutans will shift their eating habits to lower quality food rather than travel to a different area. Therefore logging could have drastic effects on reproduction, by increasing birth intervals, due to lack of high quality food. For a species that already has extremely longer inter-birth intervals this is a very serious consequence.

Thank you!

Go Body Shop Trekkers!

Follow the second week of adventure at as Body Shop staff and volunteers trek through the Sumatran jungle in aid of our work. All money raised from the trek will go towards our work, conserving the Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve and its precious orangutan population. Why not show your support of the trek and adopt Sumatran orangutan, Wenda. She is being cared for by our partners, Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP).  Eventually Wenda will be returned to the wild. You can read more about the rehabilitation process on SOCP's website.

Thank you Body Shop trekkers for your determination to raise funds and awareness for orangutans!

Orangutan Foundation





Update on Tripa from Sumatra

Dr Ian Singleton, director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP), has just sent some information about a new video (watch here) and article (read here) about the forthcoming NBC broadcast on the work of SOCP and the situation in the Tripa Peat Swamps, Sumatra.

For those of you in the US the film will be shown on Rock Center with Brian Williams this THURSDAY 18th October. 

Please also spare a minute to sign this petition

Thank you,

Orangutan Foundation





Indonesian court cancels oil palm plantation permit

We heard this morning that the High Court in Medan has ordered the Aceh Governor, Zaini Abdullah, to revoke a permit for an oil palm plantation in the Tripa peat swamps in Aceh province in the north of the island of Sumatra. The appeal was filed by the Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi). This ruling is very good news for the future of the remaining orangutans in Tripa. It also demonstrates a commitment by the Indonesian government to enforce the laws protecting carbon-rich forests and endangered species. Read the full article in the Jakarta Post and keep up to date with the campaign to save Tripa at End of the Icons

Thank you,

Orangutan Foundation


Blind female orangutan can now see her baby twins

Yesterday we received wonderful news from Ian Singleton from the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme.  Gober, a blind female orangutan, sucessfully gave birth to twins in January. Now, after receving ground-breaking surgery, Gober, for the first-time, can see her twins. We wish her a speedy recovery and congratulate SOCP. Read SOCP's press release

One way to support ours and SOCP's work is to adopt Wenda, a gorgeous Sumatran orangutan.

Thank you

Orangutan Foundation

Fingers crossed for Tripa - critical Sumatran orangutan habitat

We have just heard that it is very likely that the Astra Agro Lestari (AAL) concession in Tripa will close down! This was reported in a local news source (see below writen in Indonesian). Apparently the article reveals that AAL is no longer in a position to endure the pressure from those "environmental NGOs". The spokesman laments about the tragedy that 700 plantation workers will loose their job. AAL still hopes for a win-win solution in dialogue with those environmental NGOs. Paneco and YEL (Foundation for a Sustainable Ecosystem), PanEco's partner NGO in Sumatra are identified as "such pressuring NGOs".

The statement from YEL's chairman, Sofyan Tan, is poignant.

"There's no win-win-solution! The Tripa concessions must simply get out, as they destroy an ecosystem unique in the world. Once Tripa is protected, funds will come to the government in Aceh. Just think of the immense carbon stock preserved in the peat".

We will keep you informed about any developments.

Serambi Online PT SPS Nagan Raya Terancam DitutupMEDAN – Perseroan Terbatas (PT) Surya Panen Subur (SPS), anak perusahan PT AAL (Astra Agro Lestari), yang mengelola sekitar 2.500 hektare lahan sawit di Desa Pulo Kruet, Kecamatan Alue Bilie, Kabupaten Nagan Raya, terancam ditutup. Kepala Proyek PT SPS Ir Djoniadi kepada Serambi, Kamis (29/10) mengaku tak kuat lagi membantu sekitar 700 orang di lokasi itu. “Benar, kalau dulu sekitar 700 orang masyarakat yang ada di sekitar wilayah itu kehidupannya kami tanggung, namun sekarang hanya tinggal sekitar 400 orang saja, dan kemungkinan dalam waktu dekat ini seluruhnya akan di PHK,” katanya.

Dia mengatakan, jika perusahaan tidak beroperasi maka dampaknya sangat besar terhadap masyarakat sekitar. “Bayangkan saja, warung-warung yang di sekitar itu saja bisa memperoleh pendapatan ratusan juta rupiah per bulannya,” ujar Djoni. Terhadap akan berhenti beroperasi perusahaan, Djoni yang didampingi Comodity Development area Manager PT SPS, Ir Basyir Hasan mengaku karena tidak tahan terus-terusan dipresure beberapa LSM setempat.

Makanya sebelum perusahaan ini ditutup, mereka masih terus mencari solusi untuk duduk bersama dengan berbagai LSM. Saat ini sudah mengarah untuk duduk bersama memikirkan jalan keluar untuk menyelamatkan ratusan masyarakat yang ada di sekitar itu. PT SPS sebuah perusahaan sawit yang menerima yang menerima HGU dari Pemkab Nagan Raya sekitar 5.000 hektar dan selebihnya diambil alih dari PT Agra Patra Citra tahun 2007. Hingga hari ini kata Djoni sudah tak lagi melakukan kegiatan. “Kami saat ini cuma merawat sekitar 2.500 hektar lahan. Ini baru tergarap. Kami belum membuka lahan, masih memperbaiki lahan yang rusak, yang kami beli dari Agra Patra Citra,” tegasnya.

Dikatakan, di daerah tersebut bukan SPS saja yang beroperasi. Sejak 1920-an hingga sekarang sudah ada perusahaan lain yang beroperasi di Rawa Tripa tersebut. “Kini, ada masyarakat yang memiliki modal besar, membuka lahan kebun di Rawa Tripa, kenapa tak disorot,” ujar Djoni. Ia masih memberi harapan jika masih ada solusi dan kesepakatan yang baik. Lebih dari 700 masyarakat nantinya bisa mereka rekrut kembali. “Nantilah kita lihat ya, bagaimana jalan keluarnya,” ujarnya.

Sementara itu, Dr Sofyan Tan, salahseorang dari LSM yang ikut mempresure kegiatan PT SPS selama ini yang dihubungi terpisah menampik disebutkan LSM yang dipimpinnya Paneco “menggoyang” beroperasinya PT SPS. “Kami bukan menggoyang, kami ingin menyelamatkan hutan Aceh. Jika Pemkab setempat ingin uang, ya silahkan, tapi rasakan nanti bila terjadi lagi tsunami,” ujarnya. Bagi Sofyan Tan, tidak ada kata-kata solusi. Rawa Tripa, katanya harus diselamatkan, SPS harus hengkang dari situ. “Rawa Tripa itu, satu-satunya kawasan di dunia ini yang harus dijaga. Rawa itu memiliki kekayaan alam yang tak ada di daerah lain,” katanya.

Tentu ujar Sofyan Tan, dengan menjaga hutan, uang pasti akan masuk ke kas daerah. “Di rawa itu ada penyerapan karbon yang lebih tinggi, yang bisa dihasilkan pemkab setempat dan Pemprov Aceh. Lebih baik perusahaan itu ditutup saja,” ujarnya.(lau) 

Sumatran Orangutan Footage

Please follow this link to view a short piece on the Sumatran orangutans, with a focus on the Tripa Swamps, Aceh, Sumatra that appeared in,32187,1926657,00.html

Oil boom threatens the last orang-utans

This article was published in the Independent newspaper today and covers the urgent situation in the Tripa Swamps, Aceh Sumatra. Read the full article with photos 'Oil boom threatens the last orang-utans'. 'A famous British company, Jardines, is profiting as the lowland forest – which shelters the few remaining orang-utans – is razed to make way for massive palm oil plantations, reports Kathy Marks in Tripa, Indonesia.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Perched halfway up a tree near a bend in the Seumayan River, a young orang-utan lounges on a branch, eating fruit. In the distance, smoke rises from an illegal fire, one of dozens lit to wipe out the virgin rainforest and replace it with oil palm plantations.

It's burning season on Indonesia's Sumatra island, where vast tracts of vegetation are being torched and clear-felled to meet the soaring global demand for palm oil. The pace is especially frenzied in the peat swamp forests of the Tripa region, one of the final refuges of the critically endangered orang-utan – and a company owned by one of Britain's most venerable trading groups is among those leading the destructive charge.

Prized for its productiveness and versatility, palm oil is used in everything from lipstick and detergent to chocolate, crisps and biofuels. Indonesia and Malaysia are the world's biggest palm oil producers – but they also shelter the last remaining orang-utans, found only on Sumatra and Borneo islands in the same lowland forests that are being razed to make way for massive plantations.

In Indonesia, one of the largest palm oil companies is Astra Agro Lestari, a subsidiary of Astra International, a Jakarta-based conglomerate which is itself part of Jardine Matheson, a 177-year-old group that made a fortune from the Chinese opium trade and is still controlled by a Scottish family, the Keswicks, descendants of the original founders.

Conservation groups are targeting supermarkets in Britain to alert consumers to the effects of the palm oil explosion. But The Independent can reveal that Jardines, registered in Bermuda and listed on the London Stock Exchange, is implicated through Astra Agro in ripping out the final vestiges of orang-utan habitat.

Environmentalists are dismayed by the activities of Astra Agro, one of the main companies operating in Tripa under permits that were awarded during the 1990s by the notoriously corrupt Suharto government. They point out that Tripa belongs to the nominally protected Leuser Eco-System, renowned for its exceptional biodiversity, and claim that the plantation businesses are contravening a logging moratorium as well as engaging in illegal practices including burning land.

Greenpeace UK says: "It's scandalous that a British company is bankrolling the destruction of Indonesia's rainforests and peatlands. We need to see big firms like Jardines withdrawing investment from companies involved in rainforest clearance."

Orang-utans are vanishing at an alarming rate in Borneo but in Sumatra their situation is even more precarious. The Sumatran orang-utan – more intelligent and sociable than its Borneo cousin and with a unique culture of tool use – is likely to be the first great ape species to go extinct.

There are believed to be just 6,600 individuals left, mostly living in unprotected areas of Aceh province. Their lowland forests remained relatively undisturbed during the long-running separatist war in Aceh, but since a peace agreement was signed in 2005, it has been open season.

The primates are now splintered across 11 pockets of jungle, with only three populations considered viable. Another three, including Tripa, are borderline viable. Elsewhere, the orang-utans – which use sticks to extract insects from trees and seeds from fruit – are effectively extinct. As their territory shrinks, along with their food supplies, the apes are increasingly coming into conflict with humans. Farmers shoot those caught raiding crops; babies are captured and sold as pets. Adults discovered in oil palm plantations may be hacked to death with machetes.

In Tripa, more than half of the 62,000 hectares of ancient forest has gone. As well as being home to endangered species including the sun bear and clouded leopard, the peat swamps acted as a protective buffer during the 2004 tsunami. They also hold gigantic carbon stocks which are now being released, exacerbating climate change. "If you can't save Tripa, what can you save?" asks Denis Ruysschaert, forest co-ordinator for PanEco, a Swiss environmental organisation.

Sumatra is a beautiful island, with jungle-clad mountains and picturesque villages where long-horned water buffalo wander. But it is difficult not to be shocked by the colonisation of the landscape by one short, stumpy tree: oil palm. The monoculture is a desolate sight, stretching for miles, relieved only by charred hillsides dotted with tree stumps – cleared land awaiting yet more oil palms. Trucks rattle past, laden with the prickly red fruit from which oil is extracted. In Aceh, they call it the "golden plant" – the cash crop that is lifting the province out of poverty and helping it rebuild after the tsunami. "Recently there's a frenzy to plant oil palm," says Fransisca Ariantiningsih, who works for Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari (Yel), an Indonesian conservation group.

On Sumatra's west coast, a small-time farmer, Raluwan, is nursing his seedlings. Ten families, he explains, have logged and burnt 100 hectares of land. Each hectare will yield four tonnes of fruit, fetching 800 Rupiah (47 pence) a kilo."I used to grow chilli, but palm oil is a very economical crop," he declares. "You don't need much pesticide or fertiliser." Raluwan knows orang-utans live in the nearby forests. "I don't care," he says. "I've got to feed my family."

However, many are missing out as the industry grows to meet demand from Europe, the US, China and India. Most plantation workers are migrants from Java and in Tripa, communities that depend on the swamps for water, fish and medicinal plants are suffering.

Kuala Seumayan is hemmed in by plantations. Villagers say they no longer have space even to bury their dead. "Since the forest has been chopped down, it's difficult to get food," says one elder, Darmizi. In the Seumayan River, youngsters dive for freshwater clams while children squeal and splash in the placid brown waters. It's an idyllic scene, but something is missing: the sights and sounds of the forest. The only wildlife consists of a hornbill and two long-tailed macaques. Indrianto, a forestry manager, says: "This used to be all peat swamp, with many trees and animals. Now it's all oil palm. Before, I heard animal calls. Now I hear only chainsaws."

By chance, we spot an orang-utan in a solitary tree. Tripa has just 280 apes left. The young male, its fur glowing in the afternoon sun, curls one arm lazily over an upper branch.

A black slick floats on the water: sludge from one of many canals dug to drain the swamps. The arduous procedure is considered preferable to planting on fallow land, which would require negotiations with landowners. This way, the companies also get to sell the timber. As you fly over Tripa, the scale of destruction becomes clear. The green tangle of the forest, in all its riotous variety, abruptly gives way to giant rectangles, laid out with geometrical precision and studded with thousands of palms.

Riswan Zen, a spatial analyst for Yel, last flew over in 2007. "So much forest gone, and all in two years, my God," he says, gesticulating at a satellite imaging map. "If nothing is done, there'll be no forest left in one to two years."

Tripa, designated a priority conservation site by the UN, could hold 1,500 orang-utans if the forest was allowed to regenerate. Prospects seem slim, although Indonesia – one of the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, thanks to deforestation – claims to be committed both to saving the orang-utan and combating climate change.

Fewer than a quarter of Indonesian producers have joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a global organisation promoting sustainable practices. (Astra Agro is not among them.) Even in Aceh, where Governor Irwandi Yusuf, a former rebel leader, has proclaimed a "Green Vision", authorities seem unwilling to crack down on the powerful oil palm companies.

So far, Jardines, whose colourful history inspired a series of novels by James Clavell, has resisted pressure to rein in its Indonesian subsidiary. In a statement to The Independent, Jardines – whose interests include the Mandarin Oriental hotels and Asian branches of Starbucks and IKEA – said Astra Agro's plantations "function in full compliance with ... environmental impact studies".

Astra Agro says it plans to develop only half of its 13,000 hectares in Tripa because of conservation concerns, and it denies any illegal activity.

Ian Singleton, a Briton who heads PanEco's Sumatran Orang-utan Conservation Programme, has no doubt that oil palm is the biggest threat to the orang-utan: "I see the orang-utan as a test case. Are we serious about trying to conserve the planet's eco-systems? If we are, let's prove it by saving a species like the orang-utan. We know where the orang-utans are; all we have to do is protect the forests. If we're serious about conservation, this is where we start."

At a glance: Jardine Matheson

*Founded by two Scottish traders in Canton, China in 1832, it was the first British trading company to smash the East India Company's Asian monopoly.

*Founder William Jardine was known as "the iron-headed old rat" for his toughness and asperity.

*The company's fortunes were founded on smuggling huge quantities of opium into China, creating millions of addicts.

*When the Chinese fought back, Jardine persuaded the British government to launch the First Opium War against China.

*Astra Agro, a subsidiary of the company, claims that "concern for the environment" is "an integral part of all the company's activities".

Destruction of the Tripa Peat Swamp Forest - Orangutan Habitat

At the beginning of the 1990's the Tripa Swamp Forests, on the west coat of Aceh (island of Sumatra) had approximately 1,500 Sumatran orangutans. Sumatran orangutans are listed as critically endangered. Today, the remaining Tripa Swamps that are being converted to oil palm plantations contain only an estimated 250 orangutans. It is crucial for the future of the Sumatran orangutan species to save this population's precious habitat. Adult Male Sumatran Orangutan

Adult Male Sumatran Orangutan.

Please take some time to watch this video Destruction of the Tripa Peat Swamp Forest (Aceh) made by PanEco. It was filmed in the Tripa region of Aceh Sumatra. It features local people voicing their concern about the impact of the palm oil business on their daily lives.

Ian Singleton, Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme's (SOCP) Director of Conservation, blogged about the situation in Tripa in November. Read his post Save The Tripa Swamps to find out more.

Thank you.

Reply to comment - orangutans in zoos

Amy thanks for your question. Without entering into a debate about the value of zoos hopefully I can address part of your question. Stephen is currently very busy but he'll hopefully blog again at the start of next week. The assumption should not be made that just because orangutans spend a lot of time alone in the wild that this behaviour must be replicated in captivity. How solitary a wild orangutan is depends on factors such as food availability or type of forest habitat. For example, Sumatran orangutans are observed to be more social during times of increased fruit availability. If the habitat allows a higher density of orangutans then social behaviour is more likely to be observed. If food is scarce and long distances have to be travelled then orangutans don't necessarily have the time or energy to invest in social interactions. Zoos often keep orangutans in small family groups, an adult female orangutan with her infant and perhaps juvenile offspring and this reflects a grouping that is observed in the wild.

What is certain is that there still remains a great deal to be learnt about this highly intelligent great ape!

Many thanks,


Orangutan Foundation

Save The Tripa Swamps - Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme

Ian Singleton, Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme's (SOCP) Director of Conservation, has kindly written todays post for this blog to mark Orangutan Awareness Week 2008. This last few years we, at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP), have been kept very busy trying to save the Tripa peat swamps on the west coast of Aceh. Our “normal” work tackles all aspects of orangutan conservation (SOCP photo gallery) in Sumatra including:-

1. Confiscation, quarantine and reintroduction of illegal pet orangutans 2. Research, surveys and monitoring of wild populations 3. Education and awareness raising 4. Habitat conservation, especially the Batang Toru Forests of North Sumatra and the remaining peat swamp forests of Aceh’s west coast.

The Tripa swamp forests probably harbored around 1,500 or more orangutans at the beginning of the 1990’s but in the years leading up to the fall of the Suharto government and the escalation of the Aceh separatist conflict much of these forests were allocated as oil palm estates. Some of these estates cleared their land, established drainage canals and even planted oil palms in parts of their concessions, but all were then left abandoned during the conflict between 1999 and 2005, during which time they became overgrown and drainage canals became blocked and stagnant.

Tripa Swamp - forest clearance (photo from SOCP)

Destruction of the Tripa Swamps (photo from SOCP)

Tripa Swamp -Digging drainage canals

Digging Drainage Canals (photo from SOCP)

Over the last year or two, however, some of them have resumed operations, meaning new forest clearance (logging, burning etc), new drainage canals, clearing some of the old oil palms and planting with new ones. Naturally, many of the activities of these estates is not consistent with existing laws. For a start, peat of greater than 3 m depth cannot legally be converted, and much of the area under these estates has been measured by SOCP and found to be up to 5 m deep or more. There is also a moratorium on all logging in Aceh, issued by the Governor in 2007, but implementation of this regulation in the field is still lacking.

Measuring depth of peat

Much of the peat due for conversion is more than 5 metres deep and stores huge amounts of carbon. (photo from SOCP)

The destruction of the Tripa peat swamps not only endangers the 250 or so orangutans still surviving there, but also has major implications for climate change and for local communities. The peat swamps store vast amounts of carbon, which will all be released to the atmosphere over the coming years if the clearance and drainage is allowed to continue. Drying of peatlands also results in subsidence of around 1 m in 20 years, extremely worrying in an area on the coast that is already only around 1 m above sea level. Given this, the development of these swamps makes no sense, not even economically.

Due to the urgency of this situation, SOCP has been working extremely hard to bring all these issues to public attention. We have been lobbying local and national governments and our education department has been focusing on the local communities in the area. The issue has already been broadcast on international TV programs and published in both national and international media. It seems now that people are beginning to take notice, but we must continue to be diligent.

For more information on this issue please visit our website and download the Tripa value report. Also see a recent article 'Urgent Action Needed Over Sumatran Peat Forest Logging' in the Telegraph.

Thank you,


Make it an orangutan week!

It's Orangutan Awareness Week 2008! A focus for groups or individuals to hold fundraising events and raise awareness of the threats to orangutans and their rainforest habitat. Stephen will be blogging throughout the week and we will also bring you a couple of guest posts. Gary Shapiro, Orangutan Republik Education Initiative will blog about how Orangutan Awareness Week began and Ian Singleton from the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme will report about their efforts to save the Tripa Swamps in Sumatra. This year we decided to highlight the important role the orangutan’s habitat, the tropical forests of Borneo and Sumatra, has in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Deforestation is the second largest cause of global warming. Andrew Mitchell, Director of the forest conservation organisation, Global Canopy Programme and a trustee of the Orangutan Foundation said, “If deforestation is the front line for forests in the war on climate change then orangutans are the ambassadors being burnt at the stake. Emissions from deforestation are equivalent to 36 million people flying from London to New York every day and unless this is halted we will lose the fight against Global Warming. The global community has one year to agree a workable mechanism for including forest emissions in the global climate deal to be agreed next year in Copenhagen. We along with our orange cousins watch with fear and hope." Read Andrew Mitchell's Director's Journal. Close up

I know Stephen has used this photo before but I think it is well worth using again.

Orangutan Foundation programmes protect orangutan habitat by preventing the destruction and burning of the tropical forests and this helps to reduce global warming. We are also investigating whether it is possible to utilise carbon markets in order to conserve the Belantikan Hulu Forests. Please visit our website to find out more about what we are doing and how you can help. View short film on Tanjung Puting National Park   If you're doing something for orangutans this week we'd love to hear from you and it still isn't too late - go orange for orangutans this Friday!

Brigitta, many thanks for your monthly donation - this regular support is very important to us.

Thank you,


Orangutan Foundation (UK Office).