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Jakarta Post

East Kalimantan fires escalate, affect local orangutan sanctuary

  • N. Adri

    The Jakarta Post

Balikpapan   /   Thu, October 1, 2015   /  03:06 pm

Forest fires have continued to engulf parts of Kalimantan, leaving local residents and endangered animals and wildlife struggling to survive the several-week long disaster.

In East Kalimantan, fires that emerged since Tuesday night have reportedly burned some areas inside the 1,852-hectare Samboja Lestari orangutan sanctuary, located some 80 kilometers south of the provincial capital of Samarinda.

Last week, fires also burned some parts of the facility, which is managed by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF), but were finally extinguished by the weekend.

Speaking to The Jakarta Post on Wednesday, BOSF spokesperson Nico Hermanu said the series of fires had so far razed over 200 hectares of forest in the facility, which currently accommodates 209 orangutans and 47 sun bears in its rehabilitation and reintroduction programs.

'€œThe fires have also damaged our helipad,'€ he said, adding that the helipad was located only 200 meters away from the BOSF office.

Despite the fluctuating intensity of forest fires, the sanctuary management, still has no plan to relocate staff and animals from the facility in the immediate future.

'€œOur current concern is that our staff and animals will suffer from respiratory problems due to the haze,'€ Nico said.

From Tuesday evening, BOSF staff, supported by fire fighters and volunteers from the East Kalimantan Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina and the Environment and Forestry Ministry, have been deployed to extinguish fires in the facility.

Over the past several weeks, many regions in Indonesia, have been struggling to put out both man-made and natural land and forest fires. The ongoing disaster, which has also triggered a major haze crisis, has been exacerbated by this year'€™s long dry season triggered by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

Earlier this week, the Sampit Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) in Central Kalimantan managed to evacuate an orangutan from the Wengga Metropolitan residential complex, Baamang district.

The endangered primate had been seen roaming around the area since last week, and was believed to have been displaced from its habitat due to the fires that have ravaged forests in the province over the past two months.

Despite being estimated to be 11 years old, the orangutan weighed only 20 kilograms, indicating that he was malnourished.

'€œWe will take the orangutan to Pangkalan Bun city for [medical] examination. If he is physically fit and ready, we will soon return it to the Lamandau conservation forest,'€ Sampit BKSDA official Muriansyah said on Tuesday, as quoted by Antara news agency.

BKSDA officers, supported by BOSF staff, needed several hours to finally capture the orangutan, whom local residents affectionately call '€œDoni'€. After several attempts, the officers finally managed to put him to sleep with tranquilizer darts.

The Switzerland-based environmental organization International Union for Conservation Nature (IUCN) has listed the orangutan an endangered species since 2000.

Forest fires in Ketapang regency, West Kalimantan, also forced two orangutans to flee from their habitat to a rubber plantation belong to residents of Kuala Satong subdistrict last week.

Ketapang BKSDA head Junaidi said on Tuesday the two orangutans, one estimated to be 30 years old and the other seven years old, had been captured by his officers.

'€œThe evacuation was carried out after reports from local residents who had spotted an orangutan roaming around a well looking for water,'€ he said in a written statement. '€œThe mother later came over, so they found two orangutans at the location.'€

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