Sumatran orang-utan haven

EoF News / 13 April 2009

The West Australian /, 11 April 2009 -- A protected Sumatran forest which is home to a Perth-raised orang-utan released into the wild in a worldwide first two years ago could be logged, according to Australian Orang-utan Project president Leif Cocks.

Temara, a Sumatran orang-utan, was raised at Perth Zoo for 15 years before a supervised release into Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in central Sumatra in 2006 as part of an international effort to re-establish the critically endangered species.

Mr Cocks said the 144,000ha park patrolled by anti-poaching and antilogging units funded by the AOP was supposed to be the last haven for more than 100 Sumatran orang-utans, of which only 6300 are left in the wild.   But a new proposal to clear forests in the area had been put forward by timber giant Asia Pulp & Paper, placing the orang-utans and other endangered species, including the Sumatran elephant and tiger, under threat.

Mr Cocks said 33,776ha of forest had been requested for logging by next year, including the orang-utan reintroduction centre and a forest “buffer zone” into which many orang-utans had migrated.

While the palm oil industry was identified as the main destroyer of orang-utans -- killing up to 6000 a year in Sumatra and Borneo through clearing and persecution -- the pulp paper industry was also a huge threat.   “While Temara’s protection is assured, proposed new large-scale deforestation is threatening to destroy the orang-utan population that Temara was sent to join, as well as the habitats of species including the critically endangered Sumatran tiger and elephant,” he said.   “For Temara to help develop a sustainable orang-utan population, it is absolutely crucial for her and others to settle in this area . . . it is astonishing that APP continues its relentless push into the forest while allegedly ignoring the needs of not just one, but many critically endangered species.”   Saying calls for the company to end logging had fallen on deaf ears, he urged Australians to stop using APP products and for the Federal Government to provide mandatory labelling of the country of origin on all timber products to “stop the devastating destruction from continuing”.

APP did not respond to questions yesterday, but its website said balancing the economic need to meet the world’s demand for high-quality paper with a long-term approach to responsible use of forests was “a challenge APP has taken firmly in hand”.   The company said it would continue to “develop plantations in a responsible and sustainable manner in areas that do not have significant conservation value”.