Forest Fires

Spare a few minutes to help save habitat of critically endangered great ape

Please sign this petition to the Indonesian President to halt the destuction of the Tripa Swamps, home to a few hundred critically endangered orangutans.

Press release from “Coalition to save the Tripa peat swamps”

Increase in fires burning in Tripa highlight Indonesian Government failing to cease deforestation; orangutan population doomed unless illegal activities halted immediately.

Tripa aerial flyover June 27 2012, 2pm

Another massive wave of fires currently sweeping across the Tripa peat swamp forests has highlighted the accelerating destruction and ongoing disregard of Indonesian National Law by palm oil companies inside the protected Leuser Ecosystem, despite a high level National Investigation launched months ago, which is yet to report on findings.

A recent spike in the number of fires was recorded by satellites monitoring fire hotspot activity in Sumatra, and confirmed by field staff yesterday who filmed and photographed numerous fires burning in the palm oil concessions operating right across in Tripa.

The five companies at present actively operating in Tripa have responded to the increased media scrutiny and current investigation by increasing security on their plantations. Some are even being guarded by military and police personnel stationed along access routes while illegally lit fires burn inside.

“The ongoing destructive activities of these companies during the investigation indicates their complete disregard for Indonesian law and the authority of the ongoing investigation, and the government is allowing this to happen.” Stated Kamaruddin, lawyer for the Tripa community.

“A direct Presidential Instruction is urgently required to bring an immediate halt to the rampant and illegal destruction of Tripa, not a speech telling the world deforestation is a thing of the past.” Kamaruddin added.

“There is no doubt that each of these companies is breaking several laws. Whilst we realize, and very much appreciate and support the investigation going on (by the Department of Environment), it’s proving to be too little too late. These companies simply have to be ordered to stop immediately, and that order to be strictly enforced, otherwise the Peat Forests and inhabitants of Tripa will be lost forever”, he added.

One of the five companies operating in Tripa, PT. Kallista Alam, was challenged in court and its concession area recently reinstated as off limits to deforestation and degradation in the 2nd revision of Moratorium Map on May 25th, 2012. This particular concession has been the subject of an ongoing legal battle as it clearly contravenes National Spatial Law No 26/2007 and Government Regulation 26/2008, since it was granted inside the Leuser Ecosystem National Strategic Area for environmental protection, in which no concessions can be granted that damage the environmental protection function of the ecosystem, and in which all activities that do damage the ecosystem must be halted, and damaged areas restored.

Fires continued to rage late yesterday in the northern stretches of the PT Kallista Alam concession. Likewise, numerous obviously deliberately set fires were also observed in the concessions of PT. Surya Panen Subur 2, PT. Cemerlang Abadi, PT. Gelora Sawita Makmur , PT. Dua Perkasa Lestari and an area known as the PT Patriot Guna Sakti Abadi concession, even though the latter was never formally granted.

“The situation is indeed extremely dire” reports Dr Ian Singleton of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme. “Every time I have visited Tripa in the last 12 months I have found several orangutans, hanging on for their very survival, right at the forest edge. Its very easy to find them and we have already evacuated a few lucky ones to safer areas. But when you see the scale and speed of the current wave of destruction and the condition of the remaining forests, there can be no doubt whatsoever that many have already died in Tripa due to the fires themselves, or due to starvation as a result of the loss of their habitat and food resources”, he explained.

The Tripa peat swamp forests have received considerable international attention, much of it focusing on the fact that the burning of Tripa’s peat swamp forests made a mockery of a 1 billion USD agreement between the Governments of Indonesia and Norway to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, also known as the REDD deal, since the peat alone in Tripa sequesters huge amount of carbon that is being released into the atmosphere even now .

Tripa was also high on the agenda at the first meeting between the newly inaugurated Governor of Aceh and the European Union, just a few days ago. Furthermore, on June 13th at a global policy address on the future of Indonesia's forests, ahead of Rio+20 summit, at CIFOR, President SBY himself proclaimed that “deforestation is a thing of the past” and "Losing our tropical rain forests would constitute the ultimate national, global and planetary disaster.  That's why Indonesia has reversed course by committing to sustainable forestry."

Yet the ongoing destruction witnessed by the coalition team in recent days is a clear indication that these are simply empty words, and that Indonesia is giving no reasons for its international commitments to be taken as anything more than mere rhetoric.

Dr Singleton also pointed out, “There is still a decent orangutan population in Tripa, however hard and fast it is being extinguished, and there are also large tracts of land that have been cleared of forests but never used. If these companies were immediately instructed to stop all their destructive operations while the legal investigation process continues, and then removed, ideally with prosecutions and appropriate punishment, Tripa, its orangutan population, and many of the contributions it once made to local community livelihoods could still be restored.”

“But without an immediate halt it will all be lost, to the ultimate benefit of only a handful of already incredibly rich people based elsewhere. This whole thing makes absolutely no sense at all, not environmentally nor even economically. It is simply greed, on a massive scale. A simply staggering scale in fact.” Stressed Dr. Ian Singleton. 

Notes for Editors:

Further Hi-res photos available on

Please find map below with satellite monitored fires from the period 17/06/12 - 26/06/12 new data will become available over the coming days

For Further Press inquiries, Please Contact:


Kamaruddin (Bahasa Indonesian Only)

Tripa Community Lawyer



Dr Ian Singleton

Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme


Mobile: +62811650491


Also, for further media statement, please contact:


Saud Usman Nasution

Spokesperson for Indonesian National Police

+62 811 979 2222


PT. Kallista Alam

  • Komp. Taman Setiabudi Indah II, blok V (ruko) No. 11-14, Medan 20133 Phone: 061 – 8216541

Fax: 061 – 8216532

  • Jl.Cycas II Blok UU, No.55 Taman Setia Budi Indah, Medan, North Sumatera

Phone: 061-800200, 812380

Fax: 021-812380


PT. Surya Panen Subur 2

  • Jl.Pulo Ayang raya,Blok OR Kav.1 Kawasan industri Pulogadung Jakarta13930

Phone: (021)4616555

Fax: (021)4616550


PT. Cemerlang Abadi

  • Central Plaza, 3rd Floor, Jl.Jend.Sudirman Kav.47 Jakarta 12930

Phone: 021-5255414,5255413

Fax: 021-520748


PT. Dua Perkasa Lestari

  • Rasuna Office Park ZO 10-11 Rasuna Epicentrum, Jakarta

Phone: 021-83703232, 031-5925239

Fax: 021-83704488, 031-5925387


PT. Gelora Sawita Makmur

  • LENDMARK Centre,Tower A, 8th floor,Jl. Jend sudirman No.1 Jakarta 12910

Phone: (021)5712790, 5712853

Fax: (021)5712716

The water’s getting lower…

During September (dry season) the Sekonyer river, which flows through Tanjung Puting National Park (Central Kalimantan Indonesian Borneo) was very low. We are also noticing that the low tides, year on year, are getting worse. Some people believe the root cause of the low tide are illegal logging and illegal mining.  River in dry season

Tanjung Puting National Park. Photo by Fajar Dewanto, Orangutan Foundation International 

When fire fighters from Tanjung Puting National Park (BTNTP), Central Kalimantan Agency for Conservation of Natural Resources (BKSDA Kalteng), Orangutan Foundation, Orangutan Foundation International, Friends of National Park Foundation tried to damped the forest fires in park the extreme low tide prevented the speed boat from getting through.

River in dry season

Tanjung Puting National Park. Photo by Fajar Dewanto, Orangutan Foundation International

 River in dry season

Water level on the jetty of Pondok Ambung Tropical Forest Research Station. Photo by Devis, Orangutan Foundation

This is a worrying trend. Thankfully, October has had rain reducing the fire risk.

Thank you,

Hudi Dewe

Programme Co-ordinator Orangutan Foundation

Fires still burn in Borneo

Dr Suwido Limin sent this email today with photos - we hope the rain continues to fall. Last week Orangutan Foundation sent out £5,260 to CIMTROP (Centre for International Co-operation in Management of Tropical Peatland) to support their ongoing efforts.   Dear Jack, 

Fire situation particularly in Kalampangan is the worst during the el Niño this time.  

The TSA KALTENG team does work since 8 Aug 2009 to overcome the fires. In the period 18 to 27 September 2009, a fire broke out in Kalampangan is extremely worse and caused all of our reforestation areas and one tower burned down. This condition is very bad for us, and I personally felt very shocked, as if we were not able to handle it well. The entire team members were trying to extinguish the flames maximum. But due to limited manpower and people involved slightly, that we unable to fight the widespread fires.

Kalampangan tree on fire

Images: forest fires in Kalampangan, Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo CIMTROP©

  Fires in Kalampangan, Kalimantan , Indonesian Borneo

In Kalampangan is very difficult to enter the forest areas due to the thick smoke and haze. The entrance access to the forest inside has been damaged, so two teams tried to enter through the canal using a wooden boat and the other team went through the Sabangau river by boat and then walking around 2 hours to reach the area. This is really hard work and high risk.  

 Firefighter in Kalampangan, Indonesian Borneo

Fire fighter Kalampangan, Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo CIMTROP©

Meanwhile, fires in the Sabangau could be stopped by Patrol Unit Team and some of TSA member. Nevertheless most of people don’t care and unaware with this disaster, probably caused they think that the forest/land burned is not their own personally so they do not feel loss.  There is only 1 tower that can be secured, while 2 base camps which founded from Helsinki and Hokkaido Univ, both have been burned. Until now (8 Oct 2009) some of team members had not returned from the forest inside (in Kalampangan area), they are still working extinguishes the fire at some point because the fire occurred at the bottom layer of soil (ground fire).

Fires in Kalampangan, Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo

Kalampangan, Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo CIMTROP©

Since 4 days ago (2 Oct 2009) conditions in Central Kalimantan, Palangka Raya in particular, Kalampangan and Sabangau having occurred several times a heavy rain. This is very helpful, and the condition getting better. Hope that these good conditions continue, so that our environmental damage can be reduced. On behalf of Cimtrop and whole of members of the TSA KALTENG, I’m very grateful for the infinite care and support from various parties who have helped us financially. Forest and land is ours and for the life of our generations in the future.  

Best wishes,

Suwido H. Limin 

Forest Fires Flare Up Again - Your Help Needed!

Fires in Sabangau, Borneo (CIMTROP Sept 09) Fires in Sabangau -CIMTROP© Images should not be used without permission 

We have just received the following communications from Professor Jack Rieley, a world expert on tropical peatlands, about the fire situation in Sabangau, which has worsened over the last few days. To help support the efforts of CIMTROP (Centre for International Cooperation in the Management of Tropical Peatland) the organisation on the ground tackling the fires, please use our general donation button and leave a comment stating your donation is for CIMTROP/Sabangau

Thank you for your support,

Orangutan Foundation

An SMS message from Dr Suwido Limin, director of CIMTROP, sent earlier today (24th Sept) from inside the major fire area in the upper Sabangau

  "Big fire started from our research transect, spread across middle of Taruna canal and trans Kalimantan highway up to dams 3&4. Fire speed is around 1 km per hour supported by strong wind all day. Now I am working at night with my team. The tree regeneration plot expected all burned but cannot see yet." 

 Putting out forest fires, Sabangau, Borneo (CIMTROP Sept 09)

Above and below -with limited resources CIMTROP tackle the fires. CIMTROP© Images should not be used without permissionBurnt peat forest (CIMTROP Sept 09)

This was followed by another SMS from Dr Suwido Limin.

"Now midnight. We are operating 4 pumps. I am manning one machine with Agung. I will work until morning but very tired."  

Tired but dedicated -fire fighting teams tackle fires all day and night (CIMTROP Sept 2009) 

Training - CIMTROP© Images should not be used without permission

Email from Dr Suwido Limin sent to Jack Rieley (22nd Sept).

 ‘I have just come from Kalampangan. On this afternoon, we started to implement a new method. The fires become worst again!  In Taruna and Kalampangan fires started on the afternoon of 20th of September. Our team are still trying as much as possible to secure and save this area, but the fires spread very fast and the wind is moving rapidly so that we are being overwhelmed. Our team is working very hard, all day and night and one person was injured. We tried to secure two towers and several research equipments. Some areas of our reforestation project have been burned (eventuality).  I’m personally indeed truly sad with the worst situation. All of the TSA (fire-fighting team) power is limited and we are hardly able to extinguish the fires at this location. Neither can we enter and check inside the area (using the tower) because the road along the canal was burned and created many holes of embers.'   

 Fire-fighting team (TSA) Sabangau, Borneo (CIMTROP Sept 09)

TSA Training CIMTROP© Images should not be used without permission

Email from Dr Jyrki Jauhiainen (22nd Sept), a research scientist at the University of Helsink, who was in the Sabangau area until a few days ago. 

Arrived back to Finland yesterday afternoon. Things may be really bad in our peat research sites now. Haze was bad until last Wednesday, but we succeeded to get our sampling done & gas monitoring sites established. Wednesday evening there was heavy rain and that cleared air and suppressed many of the surface fires. Things seemed to be under control again despite some wind breeze on Friday & Saturday morning. We left from Palangka Raya (PKY) on Saturday as the sky was still clear (probably that was the last Garuda flight for some time).  SMS messages from PKY have been sad: gas monitoring plot & equipment in Block-B Berengbenkel lost, Kalampangan open area plot lost, Japanese open area minitower likely lost, Suwido worried about fate of tall Japanese towers and base camp, Taruna village evacuated, Siemenpuu area likely lost, many firemen in hospital due to respiratory problems… Many of the above mentioned areas cannot be accessed due to thick smoke and now health of people is more important. Suwido must be quite depressed and tired.’ 

Please consider donating to help CIMTROP tackle these fires.

Borneo’s Fires - Risk Remains High

Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, where our main programmes are based still remains extremely dry and fires pose a real threat to key orangutan populations. What this posts shows, is that if we have the resources to fight these fires they can be put out and controlled. June sent through this news today...

'There are fires in Tanjung Puting National Park and Orangutan Foundation are assiting the National Park authorities with logistical and transportation costs. Thankfully the fires that we were battling in Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve have been sucessfully put out. But it's raining ash right now here in Pangkalan Bun, I kid you not. Haze is very bad.'

Professor Jack Rieley, a world expert on tropical peatlands from Nottingham University, also sent through this information he received from the field about the fires in Sebangau Forests.

Palangkaraya's airport is closed and all the hospitals are full. Schools are closed and the fires and the smoke are getting worst. Fortunately Dr Suwido Limin, of CIMTROP, reported this morning that the research area in Sebangau is safe from fire, as Suwido's team have been sucessful in their operations to protect from fire. They are working still to install water pumps in another three locations.

Fighting Wild Fires

This is what June (Orangutan Foundation Programmes Manager) reported yesterday. The fires are about four hours from Camp Buluh, an orangutan release camp in the Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve and they are about 10 hectares wide. Currently there are 12 “Manggala Agni” (Forest Fire Prevention Brigade) fighting the fires since they were reported on Thursday night. There are also three teams assisting from our EC-Lamandau Programme and Pak Jakir, Patrol Manager has also been with them since Friday. They are currently using three machines to draw out water from the river to put out the fires.

Today, June is in Lamandau with the fire-fighting teams and so hopefully we’ll receive an update on the situation when she returns.

Thank you Gerhard R, Helen N, Jenny O, Brigitta S, Tal B and Matthew K for your recent donations – your support is much appreciated.



Update on Fire Appeal

We have just heard from Ashley Leiman, Orangutan Foundation's Director, who is currently in Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo that, as of today (27th August 2009), the local Department of Forestry has sent out fire fighting teams to localized fire hot spots. The area where our field programmes are based has received virtually no rain for seven to eight weeks and all the rivers are extremely low. Ashley, who was calling from the Orangutan Foundation office in Pangkalan Bun, said “there is the smell of smoke in the air”. Orangutan Foundation has guard posts equipped with fire fighting equipment and our employees are alert and ready to take action if necessary.

Over two weeks ago we launched an appeal on behalf of our partners, CIMTROP (Centre for International Cooperation in the Management of Tropical Peatland), working in the Sebangau Forests.  Thank you to everyone who responded so quickly and generously, your donations will be directed to CIMTROP, who are working around the clock to tackle the raging fires.

Orangutan Foundation is now widening this fire appeal to include other forest areas at risk.

Video of Fires in Sebangau Forests Orangutan Habitat

The link below has been sent to us by Dr Suwido Limin, Director of CIMTROP (Centre for International Co-operation in Management of Tropical Peatland). It is a short video on YouTube showing footage of the fires in Kalampangan, Sebangau Forest.  It highlights just how dangerous CIMTROP's work is. [kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

A huge thank you to Care For The Wild International for donating £3,600 through Orangutan Foundation to CIMTROP and to Orangutan Aid for donating £150. Thank you to our members, who have been very generous in donating to CIMTROP through Orangutan Foundation. Thank you David B for your donation through this blog.

If anyone is thinking of donating through Wildlife Direct please leave a comment stating your donation is for the Sebangau Fires.

Sebangau Forest Fires Threaten Wild Orangutans

Some images sent through from Dr Suwido Limin, Director of CIMTROP, Centre for International Cooperation in the Management of Tropical Peatland. The work that Dr Suwido and his team are undertaking is very dangerous and Suwido has to provide insurance for his team (also expensive and not easy to get). His men are working away from roads and operate 24 hours a day transporting heavy equipment manually or by motor cycle to where it is needed. It is even more dangerous in the dark. As Dr.Suwido Limin reports, this is a hazardous job. “Peat fires are unique as they spread below the surface, on average 20-30cm below ground but sometimes as deep as 60cm, which makes fighting them both dangerous and unpredictable. You can put out fire in one place and then flames suddenly shoot up behind you.” Orangutan Foundation sent out £3,000 to CIMTROP last week. Thank you to Mara, of Hong Kong based Orangutan Aid, for your offer to donate US$200 and to thank you to Orangutan Foundation ambassador and member, Helen who donated £70 towards tackling the fires through Give As You Earn.  We will keep you updated this situation.

Sebangau Forest Fires

CIMTROP team tackling the fires. Photo by CIMTROP

Fire Fighting Sebangau

Fires at Sebangau Forest, Central Kalimantan. Photo by CIMTROP

Using motorbikes to carry equipment to fires -CIMTROP

Motorbikes are needed to carry equipment and access the fires. Photo by CIMTROP

Sebangau Fires 

Photo by CIMTROP 

For more information read the press release below.


Forest fires are breaking out in the Sabangau peat-swamp forests in Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, threatening the lives of the estimated 8,000 wild orangutans living here.  This is exceptionally worrying during times of extreme drought caused by El Niño. This year Borneo is once again firmly in the grip of such a drought. During previous El Niño years several hundred thousand hectares of primary rainforest burnt in this area, destroying the habitat of thousands of orangutans and other endangered plants and wildlife. According to Dr. Suwido Limin, Director of the Indonesian peatland conservation organisation CIMTROP, management of the forest by forestry companies over the last forty years has led to the loss of forest rights for local people. In order to restore the local community’s engagement with the forest, these rights need to be returned.

Dr. Limin has witnessed out of contol fires many times before and is concerned that 2009 will see a repeat. He has spent the last twenty years studying and protecting this unique ecosystem and knows very well the risks involved. “These fires have started as a result of human actions; newcomers to the area have attempted to follow traditional Dayak farming methods for land clearance but they lack the experience to control the fires they start. When peat dries out it burns very easily and at great temperatures. Once these fires take hold, they burn and burn and can be almost impossible to put out until the rains come again. In that time huge areas of forest and irreplaceable peat deposits may be lost”.

Peatland fires are not only a major threat to the natural environment and the many species that live here but also to the health of the local population due to smoke inhalation. Nationally, huge clouds of smoke are blacking out the sun, affecting air and sea traffic and potentially causing millions of dollars of lost revenue. On a global scale, they are one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute significantly to rising global temperatures and hence climate change.

To try and prevent this happening, CIMTROP run a rapid-response fire-fighting team (locally known as the Tim Serbu Api, or TSA) to tackle fires as soon as they are reported and before they get out of control. The team monitors an area of 100,000 hectares and is made up of local people who have received training and equipment from CIMTROP and are ready to be called upon when fires break out. But, as Dr. Limin reports, this is a hazardous job. “Peat fires are unique as they spread below the surface, on average 20-30cm below ground but sometimes as deep as 60cm, which makes fighting them both dangerous and unpredictable. You can put out fire in one place and then flames suddenly shoot up behind you.”

One fire hotspot is Kalampangan which borders both the NLPSF (the Natural Laboratory for Peat Swamp Forest), an international research site established by CIMTROP, and Sabangau National Park – home to the world’s largest orang-utan population. CIMTROP’s fire-fighting team have been battling fires in Kalampangan non-stop for the past ten days and will continue to monitor the fires until the rains come. Local residents report the fire took hold incredibly quickly, raging through the tinder-dry vegetation, decimating all in its path and burning down into the peat. Here orangutan sleeping nests can be seen in trees shrouded in smoke and rhinoceros hornbills fly through the haze overhead. On the ground, the TSA create fire breaks and pump water from nearby canals and bore-holes onto the fires. Bore-holes often need to be twenty meters or more deep to access sufficient water to tackle the fire, taking up to six hours and teams of three or four trained workers to dig. Extinguishing just one square metre of burning peat takes two to three hundred litres of water.

Alim, a long-term TSA team member, is enthusiastic to talk about their work and what they need. “We use water pumps and special fire-fighting hose to carry water from the water bores and canals to the burning areas. At the moment, we have twenty TSA rapid-response fire suppression team members, all fully trained specialists in fighting peat fires. They work alongside ten more people split between the River Patrol Team (Tim Patroli), which carry out daily patrols along the boundary of the NLPSF using the Sabangau river, and the TSA Ground Patrol Unit who use motorbikes to monitor the forest from the land. All our teams keep in contact with each other using two-way radios. Of course, it would be great if we could have more equipment so we can cover more ground. Ideally, I would like sixty permanent TSA members so we can set up more fire-fighting points working simultaneously in this fire hotspot while also allowing the team to get some rest! We need more water pumps, lots more hose and permanent bore-hole sites so we can channel water to burning areas more easily. Unfortunately, one of our patrol bikes was destroyed in the Kalampangan fire making patrolling much harder.”

Dr. Limin is proud of his team and their dedication in such difficult conditions. In 2006 they battled successfully for five months to save an area of pristine forest, and he expects a similar commitment this time around. But he echoes Alim’s calls for more equipment and personnel. “It is difficult to maintain funding for the TSA over the long-term because major fires occur maybe once every three or four years. We need to have the capacity to guarantee income and operational costs for the TSA and Tim Patroli and have funds permanently available for immediate use when fire hits. Disasters do not wait while mitigation strategies are discussed and put in place; they hit hard and fast, with little warning. We rely on donations, and are very grateful for the financial support we receive, but at the moment we simply don’t have the resources we need to tackle all the fires that are starting.”

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".

Fire Fighting - Just a Duty or Dedication?

Last week the Central Kalimantan Agency for Conservation of Natural Resources (BKSDA) held motivation training sessions for their Forest Fire Brigade. They asked Orangutan Foundation staff to facilitate with this after the dedication they showed when tackling the recent fires that broke out in Sungai Lamandau Wildlife Reserve. Forest Fire Fighting Award Ceremony

Pak Eko Novi, the Head of BKSDA SKW II Kalimantan Tengah, awarded a Manggala Agni (Forest Fire Brigade) Pin, to our staff at Danau Burung Post (Bird Lake Guard Post) because of their dedication and participation in tackling the fires.

Isam represented other KPEL (Partnership for Local Economic Development) staff (Sias, Amat, Fendy, Aris dan Jakir) at the award ceremony. It is hoped the award will help motivate other staff, BKSDA staff and the local community to have more responsibility and participation concerning the conservation of the Sungai Lamandau Wildlife Reserve.

At last week's training session we aimed to build team cohesion and lift the spirits of the Forest Fire Brigade. We hope it will instill a sense of honour and the brigade will feel proud about their duties and their job. Fire fighting is not just a “job” but is “dedication” for nature conservation.

Motivation and team Building Session

Pak Hudi leading the motivation and team building session.

The team building and motivation sessions included various games:

Carry a Bomb. Each team must carry a bottle (as a bomb) with limited tools from one place to a target. The aim is to encourage teamwork, strategy, and role distribution within the team.

Team building exercise

Courier. Each team must deliver a message (a stick) from one place to another place only using their neck’s. This game has aim to build team work, strategy and the “quick think” response.

Team building exercise

O-O Game. A pair of participants must save themselves from plastic rope that binds their hands. This game has the aim to build problem solving strategy.

Thank you,

Pak Hudi

Programme Coordinator, Orangutan Foundation UK

Fire breakout near border of Wildlife Reserve

At the end of April, there was another fire breakout, near the Pos Danau Burung (or Bird Lake Post) that borders the western section of Sungai Lamandau Reserve. Map Lamandau Wildlife Reserve -Bird Lake Post

Map showing Bird Lake Post on the Reserve Border.

Thankfully, at that time, our Programme Coordinator, Pak Hudi, was visiting the area with the Section Head (II) of the Central Kalimantan Agency for Conservation of Natural Resources (BKSDA), Pak Eko Novi. Along with our ever-ready Patrol Manager, Pak Jak, they raced to assist our field staff at Pos Danau Burung.

Danau Burung (Bird Lake Post) Fire fighting Team.

Field staff from Pos Danau Burung who made up the fire-fighting team

Face to face with the fire wall

Face to face with the fire wall

Fire breakout - forest in the background

Trying to stop the fire - forest in the background

Fire breakout

Beating the fire

Caught unaware they had to grab whatever was at hand to beat the fire.

They slogged to beat out the fires for many hours under the hot sun. We appreciate the hard work of our field staff, whose primary role is to replant the western part of the Reserve but would not hesistate to switch roles as fire-fighters when needed.

Tears for nature Tears for nature - tired and emotional.

Pak Eko Novi was also very appreciative of our staff’s dedication that he organized a special ceremony for the field staff, in which he presented pins from the Fire-Fighting section (Manggala Agni) of BKSDA Section II. It was truly an honour, and much appreciated!

It does not stop there for our hard-working Programme Coordinator, Pak Hudi. Today (13th May), under a special invitation from Pak Eko Novi, he will be giving a team-building exercise for the Fire-fighting team of BKSDA Section II, Central Kalimantan.

Hopefully, we will have a post from Pak Hudi himself about this experience!



Programmes Manager

Your questions about Lamandau and its orangutans

Many thanks for your excellent questions and comments. Here's the answers to some of your questions. Sheryl you asked about illegal burning - most of the illegal burning occurs at the southwestern side of Lamandau where it is prone to fires (vandals tend to set fires as to encourage new grass to flourish, and thus attract deer). Fire-fighting is one of our more important operations in Lamandau that we take seriously, and all our guardposts are equipped with fire-fighting equipment.

Maina you asked how many orangutans are in Lamandau. Since 1998, 160 orangutans have been released in Lamandau Wildlife Reserve. As well, it is estimated there are a few hundred wild orangutans found in the Reserve.

Hope to post some photos from Stephen's farewell party tomorrow.



Forest regeneration at Pondok Ambung - a year after the fires.

About a year ago, almost seven hectares of forest behind the Pondok Ambung Research Station was burnt to the ground (see post Fires in Tanjung Puting National Park). This was attributed to human carelessness (not the Pondok Ambung staff, we should note!), and favourable dry conditions. A burnt forest patch however, when left alone, regenerates and a vegetation survey was conducted in February 2009, at the burnt area, to see what had indeed grown back. Field manager for Pondok Ambung, Mr. Devis, noted that the dominant plant types in the recovering burnt area are the ferns, or more specificially the Gleichenia linearis (tree fern) and Lycopodium cernuum (club moss).

Lycopodium cernuum (club moss)

Lycopodium cernuum (club moss)

The grasses and sedges are also growing back (Digitaria ischaemum, Sorghum halepense, Pennistrum purpureu, Eleocharis parvula, Cyperus kyllingia, Cyperus distans and Cyperus paniceus), along with the shrubs (Melastoma malabathricum, Ochthocharis borneensis, Achasma coccineum Val. Blumea balsamifera).

The trees as well are making a comeback (Schima wallichii korth, Garcinia sp, Rhodamina cinerea, Eugenia sp, etc.). The evergreen tree (Schima wallichii korth) dominates the rest of the tree types.

Schima wallichii korth

Schima wallichii korth is the dominant tree species

It’s not just good news for vegetation – the newly growing area is also attracting deer who favour open habitats for grazing.

Deer hoof mark

Deer track

We will continue to monitor the changes of this recovering burnt area. With each new seedling pushing its way through the soil, one is reminded that this damaged patch of forest, as with the other fire-damaged forests elsewhere in Borneo, could come back to life, if it is left alone.

Forest just after the fire

The forest just after the fire.

One year later the forest is recovering.

Forest recovery one year on. All photos by Devis Rachmawan.

Thank you very much Nicole D and Tal B for your recent donations. We are currently trying to raise $250-300 to buy two digital cameras (see post Meet our new vet for the orangutans of Lamandau Wildlife Reserve).

Thank you,

June Rubis

Sowing the seeds…

My every sense says the forests on the northern border of the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve are in trouble. Already split into thin fingers of forest, separated by degraded areas, it seems these forests are retreating not expanding. However, with the support of local communities, we have chosen this area as a reforestation site. A few days ago I went there with Rene Dommain, the visiting German peat researcher, and we stayed at the very northern point of the Reserve, where we have a guard post, Post Prapat (see map).

Map Lamandau

Behind the post is one of the fingers of forest. Here there are tall trees, including those species found in deep forest, but they are only 20 metres away from sand. Clearly this is remnant primary forest and the thinner it gets, the more vulnerable it becomes.

Ariel view

Aerial view of Post Prapat with the remnant forest behind.

Rene helped to explain the process and no surprises here – the villain was fire. Whilst he described it as an “anthropogenic impact”, you and I can hear “man made”. The southern part of Borneo is a relatively “young” landscape. The base material is sand, deposited either from erosion of the high interior mountains or during the periods when the area was an ancestral seabed. Over thousands of years, grasses, shrubs, and then trees gradually covered the sand and forests grew.

Fires have had a major impact on this ecosystem. The first fires burning through the shallow humus layer, killing the trees’ roots. With the trees fallen the next fires to occur were even more destructive with subsequent fires encouraging scrub growth. Ultimately this left an exposed layer of sand with the original nutrient rich humus having been destroyed. Presently, these remaining forests are just waiting for the next dry year, the next fire.

The aim of the reforestation programme is not ambitious – even in our wildest dreams we cannot envisage the day when this will be thick forest. What we are trying to do is broaden the forested fingers, reduce the gaps and push the balance in favour of the trees not the scrub.

It is a tall order to regenerate this area, but you know us, we like a challenge!

We have established a tree nursery at Post Prapat. The people from the surrounding communities have been enthusiastic in finding wildings (seedlings harvested from wild seed-fall) to stock it. We will keep the trees in the nursery until their rooting systems are well established.



The whole process is hugely resource-intensive and the return may be as little as 50ha (1/2 km2 or 123 acres). But that is hardly the point. The real points are:

  • People learn about how fragile these ecosystems are.
  • We are demonstrating that protecting the existing forest is much more effective than trying to re-grow it
  • By protecting the fragile fringes, you prevent damage spreading to the core

In the case of Lamandau, the forest core is still rich in biodiversity. I led Rene on the 7 km walk southwards from Post Prapat to Camp Rasak. On the way, we saw a few birds and a snake. At Camp Rasak, I was hoping to catch of glimpse of Boni who we are told is seen most days and neither did we see Andi and Sawit, who seem to have gone off together (see post 'More orangutans back in the wild'). However we were fortunate to see Lady Di and her baby.

Lady Di and infant

Lady Di and infant 2

Lady Di and infant 3

Lady Di was released into Lamandau in Febuary 2006 and this is her first baby.

It is hard to believe our reforestation programme site is only 7 km away, but without this added protection, this forest and these orangutans would seem a lot more vulnerable.

- PS, Sheryl, you’ll be pleased to know once the eagle, snake and monkeys were out of the traps, I also set the fish free :-)

We are participating in WildlifeDirect's business strategy. Please help us by taking this user survey, thank you.

WD user survey

Thank you

Last night I closed my blog by saying thank you for all your support. This morning there was an email from the UK office detailing exactly how much we had received in response to our appeal for ‘fire beaters’ (Muriel T $10, Tatsuya H $10, Christopher W $500, Sheryl B $10, Brigitta S $50, Francis D $20, Lucia C $100 and Theresa S (four donations totalling $250)).I am afraid I understated my thanks:

Thank you all, very, very much!

Firstly, here’s the proof we are directing your money as stated.

Fire Beaters

The fire beaters kindly modelled by Abdi (left) and Devis (right).

We have 47 beaters almost ready - we just need to bolt the rubber to the poles, and there are lots more on order. Our aim is to have one beater per staff member along with buckets, jerry cans and hand sprayers. We also want to ensure we have enough beaters available, so they can be handed out to volunteers from close by villages, if there is a fire. Devis actually said “Now I’ll feel guilty if it rains!”. However, the tragic reality is, if not this month or even this year, we will need this fire fighting gear at some point on in the future and now we will be prepared.

The second thank you is due to Theresa who donated money for Malaria medicines. I spoke to the vets who said their greatest need was actually for oral antibiotics which they prefer to use instead of invasive injections. Also, if it is a sick free-ranging, rehabilitated orangutan that needs treatment, they can leave tablets with the field staff for mixing/hiding in food. The vets asked for “Marbocyl” which the UK office kindly procured. Ashley Leiman, Founder & Director of the Orangutan Foundation brought out the Marbocyl, with a lot of other supplies for the OCCQ, and gave them to Dr. Popo and Mrs Waliyati (Senior Administrator) on Saturday.

OCCQ supplies

Donated antibiotics

OCCQ supplies 2

Dr Popo (in blue) and Mrs Waliyati (in red) with the OCCQ supplies.

OCCQ carers

OCCQ carers taking the orangutans out to the forest

Rerin with orphaned infant

Rerin, a carer at the OCCQ, with one of the many orphaned infants.

Theresa, I hope our buying an antibiotic not an anti-malarial is OK with you. After all, it is what we were told the little ones needed!

Once again thank you all very much for your support!

Violet - A chance to be free again.

We found Violet in a chicken coop. She was chained around her neck, covered in dirt, and scars, and she smelt. Her skin was dry and she had discharge from her eyes and a bloated abdomen. She had been fed the same food as the family who kept her: rice, tofu, vegetable and sweet tea. The owners claimed that they had “found the orangutan in their field six months ago.” At first they did not want to give her up because “they loved the orangutan”. Violet -chicken coop

Violet with chain in chicken cage

Violet with chickens

Violet with the chickens

Violet being rescued

Violet being rescued by the mobile education team

Ironically, it was the mobile Education Team who found her. They had gone to the village of Bukit Raya, Central Kalimantan to raise awareness about orangutan conservation amongst the people. The cage they found Violet in was, at most, 1 x 0.5 meters and her mother had almost certainly been killed. The Education Team told the family the law and Violet was duly passed over. That same afternoon, she was brought to our Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine Facility (OCCQ).

Violet stayed three week in Quarantine at OCCQ. Veterinary tests showed she was suffering from anemia caused by parasitic infestation: amoebic dysentery, to you and me. She was given the medication that she needed and plenty of food.

Violet at OCCQ

Violet at OCCQ 2

Photos, taken last year, of Violet at the OCCQ

Three and a half years on, and she is almost unrecognizable. These days, Violet lives in “Pondok Medang” along with 32 other orangutans. Every second day she is taken to the forest where she is allowed to climb and play in the trees. She can not go to the forest everyday because we try to separate male and female orangutans – we are happy if they have babies in the forest, but we do not want more babies at the Care Centre.

Violet clearly wants to live in the forest full time. On the days she goes into the forest, she climbs high into the trees and is reluctant to come down – even in the rain. This doesn’t make her too popular with her carers but they are pleased with her forest skills.

Violet in OCCQ forest

Violet high in trees

Violet up in the OCCQ forest

Rather worryingly, Violet has become bored with bananas. As you can imagine, they are a bit if a staple at the Care Centre. However, it is now mango season and Violet still loves mangos. When I last saw her, she was sat on a basket of fruit, which was meant for the other orangutans, greedily stuffing mango after mango into her mouth!

Two weeks ago, I wrote that I was going to the Care Centre and promised you a story. Violet’s is that story. There are over 300 orphaned orangutans at the Care Centre; it is impossible to follow all their progress. Some, however, touch you and Violet’s story is so tragic, but heart-warming, she is the orangutan for our Foster Programme.

I had gone to the Care Centre, for a meeting, to discuss the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve, our Government designated release site. So far, 153 orangutans have been returned to a life in the wild in Lamandau’s forests. This year, we’re pushing for it to be Violet’s turn.


Violet grass

Violet now - soon she'll be given the chance to live in the wild once again.

I know I should have sent this blog to you as soon as I wrote it. As so often, we found ourselves juggling priorities and I never reached the “send stage”. Tonight – blissfully with electricity – I am also happy to say we had a steady drizzle for two hours, on the back of some heavy but localized showers last week. The rain is not enough to fill the swamps and rivers; two days ago I went passed our food store where we have a high and low jetty – the low jetty is still four feet above water level. However, the rain is enough to drop the fire risk, which is a relief. The beaters are almost ready; today we collected the rubber flanges. If the rain does not continue, with your help, we will at least be better prepared.

Again, I apologize for the lack of news but I am truly grateful for the support you give us. Keep your rain dancing shoes on!

Fires in Tanjung Puting National Park

I know you are still waiting to hear an orangutan story – for that I apologise. The post is written and will follow this one but I have been caught up in rather more immediate events. I wrote some weeks ago how little rain we have received, well we are now into our third week without a decent shower and have suffered our first fire (see photos below) in Tanjung Puting National Park.

Forest behind Pondok Ambung

Fire behind Pondok Ambung 2

Fire fighting Pondok Ambung

Fire Pondok Ambung

Six and a half hectares went up behind Pondok Ambung Research Station. The fire burned through scrub and secondary forest – it was held at the edge of the primary forest which was a relief but, sadly, this is only a sign of things to come.

We are caught up in “La Nina” weather phenomena which is effecting the Pacific bringing rain storms to north eastern Australia and drought to south-eastern Australia and, bizarrely, to us. Here, I have lived through two El Nino events, in 2002 and 2006. On both occasions the extended dry season resulted in wide spread fires and chocking haze. The fires of 2006 catapulted Indonesia into third place on the list of the largest emitters of green house gases. El Ninos are bad. I have to say, I am not impressed by its sister La Nina either. To be so dry at this time of the year is beyond exceptional. And it will impact on the orangutans. Already, the evening sky is filling with smoke.

Small blazes are tackled directly, encircled by lots of people who tamp down the spreading edges and are backed up by the hand sprayers. Larger blazes require the making of a cut line across the fire front, which is typically a metre (3’) wide scar of bare soil; in 2006 the cut line in Tanjung Puting was 12 km long (see photo below).

Cut line TPNP

The cut line is then patrolled until the fire arrives and is then prevented from crossing. For small fires, our staff is usually first on the scene. For larger fires, everyone is called in including people from the surrounding villages.

Cut line TPNP 2

Now I am going to break with tradition and ask directly for support. I have no idea whether this request is allowable under Wildlife Direct rules; all I can do is vouch for its sincerity. We need to equip our staff with fire fighting tools. The principal tool is a “beater”, which consists of a bamboo pole with a cut car tire ‘tongue’ at the end. We need to buy lots of these beaters so that we are ready to tackle the fires. I am asking for a $2 donation from each reader. The beaters costs around $1.50 and the extra money will go towards buying hand sprayers which are used for dousing beaten, but still hot, embers (see photo below).

Fire fighting Pondok Ambung 2

Thank you for your support and I will keep you updated.