An emergency rescue team has successfully evacuated a large adult male orangutan trapped in a small pocket of forest in the Tripa peat swamps. The orangutan was in danger of starvation because of encroaching palm oil plantations.
The specialist team of orangutan vets and government staff, consisting of members from the SOCP (Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program), YEL (Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari) and BKSDA (Nature and Natural resource conservation agency of Indonesian Government), left the camp around 9 p.m. last night to rescue an adult male orangutan identified as being at high risk.
Map of orangutan rescue evacuation.
The Tripa Peat Swamp Forest Field Team said the orangutan had been trapped in an area measuring less than 1 hectare located near the northern end of a palm oil concession currently being contested in court.
The decreasing area no longer had the food to support the orangutan's existence said the team, and the large Sumatran male was already showing signs of malnutrition.
SOCP veterinarian drh Yenny Saraswati, said in a press release:
"We first saw this orangutan about 3 months ago and it looks like he’s lost around 30% of his body weight since then. If we hadn’t rescued him now he would eventually have starved to death."
SOCP said it only relocates orangutans as a last resort because of the risks of sedation, but the orangutan's situation had become dire. With no food said the group, the orangutan had begun to eat palm oil shoots for sustenance, an act that would certainly have gotten him killed.
Yet palm oil companies are operating illegally in the area said SOCP, and are destroying the protected forests, habitat and food sources for the orangutans.
Yesterday, the Head of the Indonesian Government’s special REDD+ Task Force, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, announced an immediate detailed investigation to determine if land allocation for palm oil plantations had been granted illegally.
Map of the evacuation area.
Indonesia's Ministry of the Environment and the Head of the Indonesian National Police will conduct further investigations and if illegalities are found, it is hoped appropriate actions will stop all activities, penalize offenders, and seek restitution for the damage caused by ecosystem degradation within the protected Leuser Ecosystem National Strategic Area.
SOCP says it is grateful for the move but Tripa’s peat swamp forests continue to be cleared and drained. The conservation group added:
"An immediate order needs to be made from President SBY to cease all land clearing activities and palm oil operations while the Ministry of Environment and the National Police gather evidence for prosecution. The companies need to be ordered to cease all activities immediately, and the drainage canals need to be blocked as soon as possible."
Dr. Ian Singleton, the Director of SOCP said that despite a number of legal investigations into their activities:
"Several palm oil companies are continuing to destroy the habitat of the Critically Endangered orangutans in Tripa, including PT Kallista Alam and PT Surya Panen Subur 2."
And both of their palm oil concessions begin just a few hundred meters from the rescue location, added Singleton.
The plight of the Sumatran orangutan first came to light last month after reports surfaced of orangutans being killed in fires set illegally by palm oil companies. At the beginning of April, Dr. Singleton told Digital Journal, that if deforestation wasn't halted, Sumatran orangutans could be extinct by the end of 2012.