Breakthrough: Forest Ministry pledges habitat concessions

Findelis E Satriastanti

Sanur, Bali, The Forestry Ministry han annaunced a major breakthrough in orangutan conservation efforts by pledging to issue the first concessions rehabilitated animal.

The ministry’s secretary general, Boen M Purnama, said on Thusday That the first permit would be issued within a month to PT Restorasi Habitat Orangutan Indonesia, run by the Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) foundation, foran 86,000-hectare concession in East Kalimantan.

An additional 20,000 hectares will be contingent on the success of the initial release program.

The annauncement was made on the opening day of the international Workshop on Orangutan Consevation, being held in Bali, and is part of Indonesia’s National Plan on Orangutan.

Under the plan, the goverment aims to release abaut 1,200 previously captive orangutans back in to the wild by 2015, as well as stabilize the populations and habitats of the Sumatran and Bornean subspecies by 2017.

Boen said it had taken a while for the goverment to approve the permit because it wanted to ensure that the future operators of the release program were reputable organizations.

Conservationists and NGOs had previously highlighted the lack of a suitable habitat in which to release rehabilitated animals as one of the biggest problems facing the conservation effort.

BOS Chief consultant Bungaran Saragih said his organization had not been able to release a single animal into the wild since 2007, when the national action plan was drawn up.

“Before then, we’d managed to release around 400 individuals into the wild over a period of eight years,” he said.

“The action plan has really complicated the requirements needed for proper orangutan release areas.”

Howover, he said that following the ministry’s promise to grant BOS a permit, the foundation planned to release five to 10 orangutans back into the wild by september this year.

Anna Russon, an Orangutan expert and scientific adviser to the BOS, said the ideal orangutan habitat was lowland forest, because of the plentiful supply of water and fruits.

“They need areas that produce good fruit, and in general, the higher you go, the less fruits there is,”  That’s the trouble for orangutans and humans, as we both want the same thing,”

Russon also highlighted the importance of rehabilitating the orangutans prior to releasing them, pointing out most had been seized from illegal traders and private collectors.

Rehabilitation and reintroduction are the only viable steps if you want to save the species,” she said.

“The process is very important because what else can you do with a confisvated animal? You could put them in cages, but that’s no better than the fate they were rescued from. The best thing is to send them back to the forest.”

Russon acknowledged the rehabilitation program was not appropriate for allorangutans, saying an estimated 40 persen of the animals cared for by conservation centers were not considered fit for release.

“There are variety of reasons for this,” she said.

“The animals may either be too old, or stubborn or in some cases they’ve had to have a limb amputated because of ill-treatment bya their previous owners, while some have gone blind, so their chances of survival aren’t very good.”

She said the BOS deemed an animal was fit for release if it was not too young or too old, and if it was able to find its own food, make its own nest, sociallize with other orangutans, recognize potential predators and travel unhampered through a forest.

However, she stressed the release program would never work if the demand from private owners for pet orangutans persisted at current levels.

Samedi, from the National Forestry Council, said one of the factors enabling the ongoing illegal trade in orangutans was the fact that most of the animals lived outside protected parks, and were thus more at risk.

“Indonesian laws don’t offer protection for wildlife species outside such zones, and are extremely weak,” he said, adding the 1990 Natural Rersources Conservation Law was due for review to address such loopholes.

Then are an estimated 7,500 Sumatran orangutan left in the wild, and some 45,000 of their Bornean cousins. The latter sub species is categorized as endangered, while the former is critically endangered.

Jakarta Globe
Friday, 16 july 2010