The former governor of Aceh who granted a permit to a palm oil company, said he did so to bring attention to failing climate change policies, but SOCP in a response to the governor today, called his actions "completely reprehensible."
Digital Journal first reported the plight of Indonesia's Sumatran orangutans on March 31, after learning that an estimated 100 apes had been killed in 92 fires, burning out of control in the Tripa forest on the coast of Aceh province.
The fires, illegally started by palm oil companies, are devastating prime habitat areas and killing orangutans said conservation groups, who challenged the legality of the permit granted by Aceh governor Irwardi Yusuf in court. The permit issued to PT Kallista Alam, allowed for the development of a 1,600-hectare (3,950-acre) oil palm plantation in the heart of the Tripa swamp.
After 5 months of hearings in the court case, the Banda Aceh Administrative Court said last week, it had no authority to rule on the case because the parties involved had not tried to solve the case outside of the court room.
It was an act that Dr. Ian Singleton, Director of Conservation at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) in Indonesia, told us could mean the destruction of the forests, and the extinction of the Sumatran orangutan by the end of 2012.
Yet Dr. Irwardi, who denied the permit was illegal, told Australia's The Age a few days ago, that the permit was "morally wrong," but he signed it as, "a wake-up call to the international community over its failing climate change policies."
Irwardi also denied that orangutans were in jeopardy from the land clearing, an allegation that SOCP is now strongly refuting. In a press release issued to Digital Journal this morning, SOCP said:
While we appreciate the former Governor of Aceh’s admission that issuing the permit was “morally wrong”, we completely refute his claims that the remaining Orangutan population has been unharmed by recent clearing and burning of the remaining peatland forests of Tripa.
The former governor, said SOCP, had been been "informed on numerous occasions of the presence of an important Orangutan population in the Tripa peat swamp forests." Furthermore, the group added, while they appreciated the governor's frustration over insufficient funding:
"We also find his method of drawing attention to the problem, namely sacrificing carbon-rich deep peat swamp forests and a population of the Critically Endangered Sumatran Orangutan, completely reprehensible."
What has confused many about Dr. Irwandi's so-called cry for help, is that the man himself has a history of strong conservation policies, yet by signing the permit, he has sacrificed a critical habitat for Sumatran orangutans. One that as part of the Leuser Ecosystem, is one of the largest remaining natural habitats for orangutans in the world.
SOCP is now insisting that the Indonesian government enforce their own laws to prevent the extinction of Tripa's orangutans. The group also highlights several law-breaking incidents in the Tripa swamps conducted by other concessions besides PT Kallista Alam , including PT Dua Perkasa Lestari and PT Surya Panen Subur 2.
Yet despite a massive push through petitions and correspondence signed by thousands of people from around the world, "no responsible Government official has made a public statement about the case since early December 2011," said SOCP, who adds that this doesn't bode well for Indonesia's global image.
The conservation group said it will continue to lobby the Indonesian government for protection of the Tripa forests and the orangutans who inhabit them. "We would be betraying the Sumatran orangutan and all our many supporters, if we do not continue to lobby for this using all means at our disposal."
And SOCP has vowed strong action if necessary, adding that it would push for a suspension of Norway’s Letter of Intent on emissions reduction with Indonesia, including its $1,000,000,000 aid package, and ask for a global suspension of all purchases of Indonesian palm oil that is not fully certified by the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
Finally, said the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme said, it would completely reject the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) certification scheme, until the rogue companies operating in Tripa are prosecuted.