National

Orangutan may be extinct
in 3 years

Conservationists say protected wild orangutans in Central Kalimantan may be extinct in three years unless the government acts to stop the expansion of oil palm plantations.

Center for Orangutan Protection (COP) research shows the orangutan population is falling fast as forests are cleared to make way for oil palm plantations.

"We don't need to wait until 2015 to see orangutans extinct in Central Kalimantan. They will be gone in two or three years," COP forest program officer Novi Hardianto said here Wednesday. "The expansion of oil palm plantations is wiping out the orangutan habitat."

Forestry Ministry data shows there should be about 31,300 wild orangutans in the forests of Central Kalimantan.

"The population is only 20,000 orangutans now," said Novi.

He said government ambitions to make Indonesia the world's largest palm oil producer have accelerated the extinction of orangutans.

The provincial administration has also proposed a plan to clear a further 455,000 hectares of rainforest for oil palm plantations.

"Our investigation shows palm oil companies, who are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), are still clearing forest and orangutans are suffering the consequences," Novi said.

He referred to the palm oil producers association's RSPO initiative to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil.

The RSPO requires new plantations established after November 2005 not to clear primary forest which has conservation value.

Novi said the Forestry Ministry has yet to take action to protect orangutans living outside the conservation areas.

"There has been no court case on the killing of orangutans," he said.

Environmentalists recently stepped up pressure on palm oil firms in Indonesia to promote sustainable forest management and stop expanding plantations into the forest.

Environmental group Greenpeace has forced consumer goods giant Unilever to buy only certified sustainable palm oil, including from Indonesia -- the world's third-largest forestry nation with 120 million hectares of forest.

Greenpeace said it estimated 1,600 orangutans were killed because of expansion of oil palm plantations during 2006.

Novi said dozens of conservationists wearing orangutan costumes would stage a rally here Thursday to demand government stop expansion of oil palm plantations into forests.

During the press conference, COP activists showed pictures taken last year of dead orangutans being carried out of new plantations in Central Kalimantan.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono launched an ambitious Orangutan Action Plan to protect the country's orangutan species by 2017 during the recent Bali climate change conference.

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