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Friday, January 8, 2010

Balikpapan Bay in East Kalimantan is home to an incredible variety of ecosystems: in the shallow bay waters endangered dugong feed on sea grasses and salt water crocodiles sleep; along the bay proboscis monkeys leap among mangroves thirty meters tall and Irrawaddy dolphins roam; beyond the mangroves lies the Sungai Wain Protection forest; here, the Sunda clouded leopard hunts, sun bears climb into the canopy searching for fruits and nuts, and a reintroduced population of orangutans makes their nests; but this wilderness, along with all of its myriad inhabitants, are threatened by a plan to build a bridge and road connecting the towns of Penajam and Balikpapan.

The bridge, known as Pulau Balang, would span the bay, splicing through Balang Island, cutting off the mangroves from the rainforest, and running the entire length of the western edge of the protected forest. While the direct impacts would be severe—deforestation for the road, splitting the mangrove from the rainforest, damage to the reef—researchers say that providing people easy access to the mangrove and forests will inevitably destroy them.

"The most serious threats are the indirect ones, notably opening an uncontrollable access to the whole area," Stanislav Lhota, a primatologist with the University of South Bohemia, told mongabay.com.

Map showing proposed road and bridge and shorter alternative (larger image at the end of the article). Image courtesy of Stanislav Lhota.
The project "will open access for settlements, farming, illegal logging, more land speculation, subsequent forest fires, poaching of wildlife, illegal logging. In effect it will cause the destruction of the mangrove area and all wildlife there, but also (slow but certain) destruction of the western side of the Sungai Wain forest," Dr. Gabriella Fredriksson says. Fredriksson, an expert on sun bears, has worked on managing and conserving the Sungai Wain Protection Forest for over a decade.

"The destruction of the mangroves will also impact the fragile marine wildlife in the [Balikpapan] bay and fisheries due to destruction of fish breeding areas," adds Dr. Danielle Kreb of the local NGO RASI, who has studied the marine mammals in Balikpapan Bay for several years and noticed that the Irrawaddy dolphins’ core habitat is in the vicinity of Pulau Balang.

Despite the clear environmental impact outlined by conservationists, the provincial and federal governments support the project. Local governments, however, have signalled over the past couple months that they oppose the project, especially since there is an alternative plan that would threaten none of the ecosystems, and in addition provide a far shorter route between Penajam to Balikpapan.

A lost wilderness?

Sungai Wain protected forest. Photo by: Marian Bartos.
If the Pulau Bridge project goes ahead, Balikpapan Bay will be forever changed. The already shallow bay will face erosion and sedimentation from construction work on the surrounding hills, making the bay less accessible for large boats and leading to more frequent flooding of the coastal villages. Species in the bay, such as dugongs, crocodiles, and green sea turtles—already affected by sedimentation—would likely face further impacts from pollution.

The mangroves—an ecosystem that has faced heavy losses worldwide—would be severely impacted as well. The green corridors allowing species to move between the mangrove ecosystem and the Sungai Wain protection forest will be altogether broken.

"Fauna such as proboscis monkeys and many other species cannot survive in long term in mangroves alone," Lhota explains. "They need regular access to the neighboring forest where they find numerous key resources. Mangroves alone are rather inhospitable environment with only limited food sources. If they are isolated from other forests, they may apparently survive but they will gradually turn into a lifeless stand of Rhizophora trees."

The eventual loss of the mangroves also threatens the local fishing trade since fish require the mangrove forest for breeding: the mangrove stand in question is the last place for fish in the bay to breed.

"East Kalimantan only has a small mangrove area left, because much of the mangrove area [has] already [been] converted to shrimp ponds and industry. And on Balikpapan, [this] is [the] last mangrove forest," says Ade Fadli of BEBSiC, a local conservation group.

The road connecting the bridge to Balikpapan would next pass along the western edge of the Sungai Wain forest reserve, the last major stand of dipterocarp trees along the south and central coast. While the direct impact of road building to the forest reserve would likely be minimal, the road would open the reserve to "illegal logging, land clearance, and above all, forest fires," according to Lhota.

Fire is the most significant threat to the forest. While tropical forests rarely burn under natural conditions, human impacts in Indonesia has left a scar of burning across Kalimantan. Sungai Wain contains the last unburnt primary forest in the area; in 1998 devastating fires spilled across the region, but only burnt a part of Sungai Wain.

"The [Sungai Wain] forest, which was burned only once, regenerates well but becomes highly prone to subsequent fires due to the decrease in humidity and huge quantities of highly flammable dead wood," Lhota explains. "If it burns a second time, it can no longer regenerate easily. With the current tendency of governments to consider such forest as 'lost forever', it is likely to be doomed to further encroachment and conversion."

Home to over 100 mammal species and over 250 bird species, the loss of the forest would devastate tropical species, including a population of reintroduced orangutans.

In addition, the forest is as a catchment source of clean water for the state-owned oil company Pertamina, and the Kariangau Baru industrial area. The loss of the forest would endanger the water needs of these industries, which uses it for cooling in refineries and drinking for employees.

The Sungai Wain forest "is the last watershed covered with forest and hence supplying freshwater on an ongoing basis. The water from this reserve has been used for the oil industry and its workers/households (which make up almost 20 percent of the population in Balikpapan) since 1945," Fredriksson explains.

According to Lhota, Balikpapan Bay has huge ecotourism and education potential which has largely gone untapped.

Taken from: www.mongabay.com

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rehabilitation not enough to solve orangutan crisis in Indonesia

A baby orangutan ambles across the grass at the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation’s Nyaru Menteng rehabilitation center in Central Kalimantan, in the heart of Indonesian Borneo. The ape pauses, picks up a stick and makes his way over to a plastic log, lined with small holes. Breaking the stick in two, he pokes one end into a hole in an effort to extract honey that has been deposited by a conservation worker. His expression shows the tool’s use has been fruitful.

But he is not alone. To his right another orangutan has turned half a coconut shell into a helmet, two others wrestle on the lawn, and another youngster scales a papaya tree. There are dozens of orangutans, all of which are about the same age. Just outside the compound, dozens of younger orangutans are getting climbing lessons from the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS) staff, while still younger orangutans are being fed milk from bottles in a nearby nursery. Still more orangutans—teenagers and adults—can be found on “Orangutan Island” beyond the center’s main grounds. Meanwhile several recently wild orangutans sit in cages. This is a waiting game. BOS hopes to eventually release all of these orangutans back into their natural habitat—the majestic rainforests and swampy peatlands of Central Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo. But for many, this is a fate that may never be realized.

Kalimantan, 2009

The goal of the BOS project is reintroduction, but many of these apes may be destined for a life in captivity. The reason? Suitable habitat in Borneo and Sumatra, the two islands that are home to the world's entire population of wild orangutans, is increasingly scarce. Economic returns from converting verdant rainforests into furniture, paper, woodchips, and oil palm plantations have rapidly diminished the availability of sites for reintroduction, while dramatically boosting the number of orangutans in need of rescue.

So the orangutans must wait. But they are the lucky ones. For every orangutan housed in the center, half a dozen or more may have fallen victim to deforestation or the pet trade, or met their end at the blade of a machete or the blunt end of a iron bar—estimates range from 1,500-5,000 per year. Perhaps worse, some reintroduced orangutans have managed to win taste of freedom only to see their new home destroyed by loggers and oil palm developers.
Orangutan rehabilitation centers originally emerged as a response to the pet trade. Until very recently in much of the world (and even today in parts of Asia and the Middle East), there has been demand for orangutans as circus performers, entertainers for TV shows, occupants of zoos, and surrogate children for childless families. Before much was known about orangutan ecology, the first rehabilitation center was set up in the1960s by conservationist Barbara Harrison, who feared the species might be on the verge of extinction in the wild due to overcollection for the pet trade. Thus centers—including Ketambe and Bohorok in Sumatra’s Gunung Leuser National Park; Sepilok in Sabah, Malaysia; Camp Leakey in Central Kalimantan’s Tanjung Putting National Park; Semenggok in Sarawak, Malaysia; and Wanariset in East Kalimantan, among others—emerged as a way to care for confiscated orangutans in the hope of eventually reintroducing them to the wild. But caring for orangutans is difficult and costly. While baby orangutans score high for their cuteness factor, an adult orangutan, especially a full-grown male, is orders of magnitude stronger than a human and has substantial dietary requirements.

Sumatra, 2009

Sumatra, 2009.
But while the flow of orangutans from the pet trade was relatively manageable, the rise of palm oil has changed the situation, greatly increasing the number of orangutans in need of care. Michelle Desilets, former director of BOS-UK and now executive director of the Orangutan Land Trust, says she started to see the shift about five years ago.

"Originally the great majority of our rescues were confiscations of privately (illegally) owned orangutans. Often these were held by senior police officers, the military or government officials, making it a challenge to successfully confiscate them,” she said.

"About five years ago, our rescue teams began to be informed of wandering wild orangutans in human settlements, and despite immediate response, the teams often found the orangutans to be dead on arrival, due to human/wildlife conflict. Why, suddenly, were there so many cases of wild orangutans being injured or killed by humans? It had to do with the conversion of their forest habitat for the cultivation of oil palm.”

Desilets says the wild orangutans, left in ever smaller fragments of forest, face starvation as their food sources are depleted, forcing them to venture into newly established plantations where they feed on the young shoots of palms, thereby destroying the trees before they produce any oil seeds.

“As a result, they are considered an agricultural pest. Plantation managers often offer a bounty on the head of these orangutans, and the $10-$20 reward is a strong incentive for a migrant worker.”

Desilets says that since workers usually do not carry guns, orangutans are brutally killed using whatever tools are at hand.

“Our teams have found orangutans beaten to death with wooden planks and iron bars, butchered by machetes, beaten unconscious and buried alive, and doused with petrol and set alight,” she said. “Since 2004 more and more orangutans in our centers have been rescued from areas within or near oil palm plantations, and over 90 percent of the infants up to three years of age come from these areas."

Taken from:


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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

SHARE: ShareThis | submit | Borneo orangutan release in jeopardy over fate of coal mining concession

A plan to release orangutans in a 250,000-hectare (618,000-acre) tract of forest in the Heart of Borneo has been disrupted by uncertainty around BHP Billiton's decision to pull out of a coal mining project in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, reports the Independent and conservation groups familiar with the situation.

BHP Billiton had provided funds to help establish the forest reserve in Central Kalimantan and offered conservationists mapping support and use of helicopters to deposit orangutans into otherwise inaccessible areas. The two-year program would have reintroduced scores of orangutans but the first scheduled airlift of 48 orangutans for July 20 was canceled after BHP warned it could no longer guarantee the safety of reintroduced orangutans. Last month BHP said it would pull out of the area for unspecified "strategic reasons", leaving the fate of its concessions in the hands of the Indonesian government. BHP fears that the concessions could go to companies that would take fewer environmental precautions, thereby imperiling the orangutans.

Kalimantan, 2006
"BHP said it can't be part of a release if it can't be sure the orangutans will be safe," said a source who requested anonymity. The source noted that BHP may reinstate the airlift once it gets assurances that the orangutans will not be immediately at risk.

A working group has been created to help address the concerns. The group hopes to encourage new regulations in the Heart of Borneo whereby mining concessions handed back to the central government would be removed from the mining registry and made available for sustainable uses that benefit or protect biodiversity. The BHP concession area serves as the most important watershed in all of Borneo, feeding three major river systems, as well as providing a potential refuge for endangered orangutans.

Kalimantan, 2009
In recent years, expansion of oil palm plantations across Borneo and Sumatra has replaced logging and the wildlife trade as the biggest threat to remaining populations. Rehabilitation facilities rescue orangutans as they are displaced by development in hopes of eventually reintroducing them into the wild. But conservationists report difficulty in locating secure sites for reintroduction.

The Heart of Borneo initiative may help. The initiative, which has some support from Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, the governments that share Borneo, aims to protect 220,000 square kilometers of ecosystems across central Borneo, including key orangutan habitat. Still the plan faces strong opposition from development interests, including mining, logging, and plantation companies.

Precedent for BHP's warming

BHP Billiton's warning for the well-being of wildlife after it pulls out of its Borneo concessions is grounded in experience. Its departure from a remote forest area in Bakhuis Mountains of Suriname last year was followed by large-scale poaching for commercial bushmeat markets. The carnage destroyed the one of the world's most prolific camera-trapping projects for monitoring wildlife. A biologist working in the area called it a tragedy.

"This was the most tragic loss of a pristine habitat and wildlife I have ever witnessed," said the scientist, who asked not to be named. "I will forever remember the Bakhuis as the Lost Eden."

BHP Billiton and WWF, a conservation group that has worked with the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei to develop the Heart of Borneo initiative, were not willing to comment on this report.

With the clearing of forests, baby orangutans are marooned

(06/25/2009) The orangutans at the Nyaru Menteng center, run by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS), are mainly “oil palm orphans” whose forest habitats were destroyed — and parents killed — by the swiftly spreading oil palm industry in Indonesia. BOS hopes to eventually release all of these orangutans back into their natural habitat — the majestic rainforests and swampy peat lands of central Kalimantan. But for many, this is a fate that may never be realized, and instead they may be relegated to a life in captivity. The reason? Suitable habitat in Borneo and Sumatra — the two islands that are home to the world's entire population of wild orangutans — is being deforested so rapidly that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find locations for reintroduction.

Taken from:

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Range extended for world’s most mysterious gorilla

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced yesterday the discovery of eastern lowland gorilla nests in an unexplored area of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), expanding the range of this little-known subspecies by 30 miles (50 kilometers).

The eastern lowland gorilla, also known as Grauer’s gorilla, is currently listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List. Scientists estimate that the gorilla has as few as 8,000 individual left. Although closely related to mountain gorillas, the eastern lowland gorilla is the world’s largest living primate, weighing over 500 pounds at maximum, and is endemic to the DRC.
Researchers surveyed the unexplored region in the DRC, known as Itombwe forest, during a calm period between the DRC’s government and rebels group, which use Itombwe for its rich natural resources.

“Today’s announcement that Grauer’s gorillas inhabit forests in Itombwe more than 50 kilometers south of their previously known range gives hope for the survival of the subspecies and a renewed impetus for protecting this extraordinary biodiversity area in the Albertine Rift of Africa," said Dr. James Deutsch, Director of WCS’s Africa Programs.

Along with evidence of the eastern lowland gorilla, researchers also discovered a new frog and toad species that are in the process of being described. In addition, the survey found indications that chimpanzees also had a larger range than previously believed.

"The findings of our survey will be important to conservation efforts for eastern lowland gorillas and their habitat, primarily because so little is known about this subspecies." said Dr. Andrew Plumptre, Director of the WCS’s Albertine Rift Program. "In particular it will help us in the development of plans for the demarcation of boundaries for the Itombwe Reserve, which is in the process of being created."

The announcement of the eastern lowland gorilla’s expanded range was made yesterday at the Gorilla Symposium, a conference organized by UNEP-Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals, the German Ministry for the Environment, the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Frankfurt Zoological Society at the Frankfurt Zoo in Germany.

Taken from

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Conservation groups condemn 'open and organized plundering' of Madagascar's natural resources

Eleven conservation organizations—including WWF, CI, and WCS—have banded together to condemn logging in Madagascar's world renowned parks during a time of political crisis.

Taking advantage of the turmoil after interim president Andry Rajoelina took control of the country in a bloodless coup from former president Marc Ravalomanana on March 17th, pristine forests have been plundered for valuable wood, wildlife trafficking has increased, and illegal mining operations have begun say the conservation organizations.
As reported last week by Mongabay.com, the forces involved in the logging are not just impoverished locals, but according to a local source who spoke on the condition of anonymity, 'foreign traders' and 'big businessmen'.

“[They] have arrived in local towns seeking to take advantage of the political crisis that has weakened park protection and enforcement," the source said. "This is the worst, by far, that has happened to [Marojejy] park in recent years. The situation is worse than desperate."

The lawlessness of the situation is confirmed by the conservation organizations who write that the logging is done with “open and organized plundering, sometimes using firearms, of precious wood from several natural forests, including national parks such as Marojejy and Masoala.”

The chaos has put a halt to Madagascar's tourism industry—one of the impoverished nations most important growth industries. Valued at $400-million-dollars-a-year the industry could be hurt for years to come, especially if its natural treasures are devastated.

Jeremy Hance
March 30, 2009

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Flu epidemic killing bonobos in Congo sanctuary

Located in sixty acres of forest, the Lola Ya Bonobo sanctuary is a place for bonobos who have been confiscated by police following attempts to sell them to pet markets in the US, Europe, or Middle East. The sanctuary provides rehabilitation for the bonobos and educates the local populace about the apes in an effort to curb hunting bush meat, one of the major threats to bonobos and apes across Africa. The center eventually hopes to reintroduce some of the bonobos back into the wild.

Bonobos are smaller than Common chimpanzees. They also sport pink lips and a black face. Behaviorally, bonobos are quite different from common chimpanzees. Whereas common chimpanzees live in patriarchal groups, bonobo groups are dominated by females. They are less violent than chimpanzees and do not engage in warfare like common chimpanzees. In addition, bonobos are famous for their sexual openness, including using sexual activity as a greeting and a way of mitigating conflict.

Bonobos are listed as endangered by IUCN's Red List. Only found in the DRC estimates of their population vary widely, from 5,000 to 50,000 individuals. Bonobos are threatened by habitat loss, deforestation, the pet trade, the bushmeat market, and even for use in witchcraft.

Six bonobos, a species of chimpanzee, have died from a flu epidemic in a month at the Lola Ya Bonobo in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Ten more have contracted the flu.

“There is no fever. Antibiotics don’t do anything. The bonobos have severe respiratory infections and then they can’t breath for 3 days then they die,” writes a staff member on the sanctuary's blog through the conservation organization WildlifeDirect. The staff of Lola Ya Bonobo have sent out a plea for help and donations, as the flu continues to sweep through their center.

Taken from:
Flu epidemic killing bonobos in Congo sanctuary
Jeremy Hance
March 29, 2009

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