Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation

Palangkaraya, Indonesia

Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation

Palangkaraya, Indonesia

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News Article | May 10, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

In this April 30, 2017 photo released by Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF), an albino orangutan sits in a cage as it's being quarantined at a rehabilitation center in Nyaru Menteng, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. The conservation group is asking the public to suggest names for the rare albino orangutan that was rescued from villagers in the Indonesian part of Borneo last month, hoping it will become an inspiring symbol of efforts to save the critically endangered species. (Indrayana/BOSF via AP) JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A conservation group is asking the public to name a rare albino orangutan that was rescued from villagers on Borneo island last month, hoping it will become a symbol of efforts to save the critically endangered species. The 5-year-old female great ape is being kept in a dimly lit quarantine enclosure with round-the-clock veterinarian care after being rescued in the Indonesian part of the island on April 29, Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation spokesman Nico Hermanu said Wednesday. She's the first albino orangutan to be encountered by the foundation in its 25 years of conservation work. The foundation said in a statement that the orangutan has become an ambassador for her species and it wants a "meaningful" name for her that will reflect the significant conservation challenges that orangutans face in the wild. It said she is sensitive to sunlight due to a complete absence of pigmentation and physically fragile, which is common for rescued orangutans, but gradually improving. "Understandably, she still has a long way to go in her recovery following the trauma of losing her mother and her illegal capture," the statement said. Hermanu said villagers in Central Kalimantan province on Borneo had the orangutan for two days and claimed it had strayed out of the forest. Other villagers reported its capture to police and a government conservation agency that asked the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation to intervene. Hermanu said she may only have survived in the wild due to a protective mother that she apparently became separated from. Whether she can ever be returned to her natural habitat is still uncertain, he said. Orangutans, known for their gentle temperament and intelligence, live in the wild only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and on Borneo, which is divided among Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates the number of Bornean orangutans has dropped by nearly two-thirds since the early 1970s and will further decline to 47,000 by 2025. Bornean orangutans were declared critically endangered by the IUCN last year due to hunting for their meat and conflicts with plantation workers, which kills 2,000 to 3,000 a year, and destruction of tropical forests for plantation agriculture. The only other orangutan species, the Sumatran orangutan, has been critically endangered since 2008. Suggested names for the rescued orangutan can be sent to name@orangutan.org.id or by using the hashtag #albinoorangutan on social media until May 14. The group, known as BOS, plans to announce its selection the next day. It and several other conservation groups specialize in rehabilitating captured orangutans and returning them to the wild.


News Article | May 10, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

A rare albino orangutan who became separated from her mother has been rescued in Borneo - and now she's looking for a name. The 5-year-old great ape is the first ever albino orangutan that the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation has seen in its 25 years of conservation work, the Associated Press reported. She was rescued from villagers on April 29 and now the foundation is giving her around-the-clock care in a dimly lit room—due to her sensitivity to light—as she gets stronger each day. "Understandably, she still has a long way to go in her recovery following the trauma of losing her mother and her illegal capture,” foundation spokesman Nico Hermanu said in a statement. The foundation believes the albino orangutan managed to survive in the wild due to a "protective" mother, but somehow, they became separated. Some villagers in Central Kalimantan province said the orangutan strayed from the forest and they kept her for two days, according to the foundation. But other villagers contacted authorities and a government conservation agency to ask for help. Veterinarian Arga Sawung Kusuma told the AP that the orangutan was stressed when she was rescued and was suffering from dehydration. "Her body was curled up," she said. "Her weight is only about 8.3 kilograms (about 18 pounds), which for female orangutans aged about 5 years, she is very skinny indeed." The foundation is not sure if she'll be able to return to the wild. Read: Malnourished Monkey Reportedly Lived in Dark Hole Without Water for 25 Years Now they hope that the orangutan will become a symbol of efforts to save the species, and they're hoping members of the public will help give her a "meaningful" name reflecting the plight the creatures face. Bornean orangutans were declared critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature last year due to hunting and deforestation. Name suggestions can be sent to name@orangutan.org.id or by using the hashtag #albinoorangutan on social media until May 14. The group will announce the final decision May 15.


News Article | May 10, 2017
Site: phys.org

The 5-year-old female great ape is being kept in a dimly lit quarantine enclosure with round-the-clock veterinarian care after being rescued in the Indonesian part of the island on April 29, Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation spokesman Nico Hermanu said Wednesday. She's the first albino orangutan to be encountered by the foundation in its 25 years of conservation work. The foundation said in a statement that the orangutan has become an ambassador for her species and it wants a "meaningful" name for her that will reflect the significant conservation challenges that orangutans face in the wild. It said she is sensitive to sunlight due to a complete absence of pigmentation and physically fragile, which is common for rescued orangutans, but gradually improving. "Understandably, she still has a long way to go in her recovery following the trauma of losing her mother and her illegal capture," the statement said. Hermanu said villagers in Central Kalimantan province on Borneo had the orangutan for two days and claimed it had strayed out of the forest. Other villagers reported its capture to police and a government conservation agency that asked the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation to intervene. Hermanu said she may only have survived in the wild due to a protective mother that she apparently became separated from. Whether she can ever be returned to her natural habitat is still uncertain, he said. Orangutans, known for their gentle temperament and intelligence, live in the wild only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and on Borneo, which is divided among Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates the number of Bornean orangutans has dropped by nearly two-thirds since the early 1970s and will further decline to 47,000 by 2025. Bornean orangutans were declared critically endangered by the IUCN last year due to hunting for their meat and conflicts with plantation workers, which kills 2,000 to 3,000 a year, and destruction of tropical forests for plantation agriculture. The only other orangutan species, the Sumatran orangutan, has been critically endangered since 2008. Suggested names for the rescued orangutan can be sent to name@orangutan.org.id or by using the hashtag #albinoorangutan on social media until May 14. The group, known as BOS, plans to announce its selection the next day. It and several other conservation groups specialize in rehabilitating captured orangutans and returning them to the wild.


News Article | May 11, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

The non-profit NGO Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation or BOS rescued a five-year old albino orangutan from villagers on the Borneo island. The villagers captured the orangutan which conservationists believe became separated from its mother in the forest. The foundation has taken full responsibility of the animal with round-the-clock veterinary support to rehabilitate the creature. However, conservationists are looking for a name for the rare orangutan, which is the only albino member of its species that the BOS has rescued in its 25 years. According to reports, people from the Kalimantan Province of the island captured the blue-eyed orangutan when it strayed out of the forest. Some of the villagers called local authorities, who contacted the BOS regarding the albino orangutan. Conservationists believe that the orangutan managed to survive the forests' harsh conditions because of her protective mother. However, after the baby orangutan lost contact with her mother, survival became tougher for the young animal. Currently, the female albino orangutan is being kept in a dimly lit environment as she is highly susceptible to dangers from sunlight. This is because of the absence of pigmentation in her body. "We are still re-observing the condition of her skin and eyes. Overall she has been showing good progress over the last 10 days," veterinarian Arga Sawung Kusuma said. The creature gained 9.9 pounds since her rescue and the orangutan's diet comprises sugarcane juice, an assortment of fruits, and milk. Her appetite also improved over time and doctors believe she will be able to reach ideal body weight soon. However, conservationists claim that the orangutan is still physically and mentally fragile after surviving separation from her mother, as well as her capture. However, the conservationists think she has a long way to go before she will completely recover from the trauma. It is also unclear whether the albino orangutan would be released into the wild. The people at the foundation said that her unique survival story makes the albino orangutan the ambassador for all her endangered kind. The Bornean orangutans were classified as an endangered species in 2016 and current estimates indicate that roughly100,000 are left on the island. This is a significant fall since the number was 288,500 in 1973. According to the International Union for Conservation in Nature, their population will likely further decrease to roughly 47,000 in the next eight years. This is why conservationists are seeking a name from the public, which would signify the immense struggle that these orangutan's face to survive. People can send in their name suggestion at name@orangutan.org.id or by using the hashtag #albinoorangutan on social media sites. The winning name would be declared on May 15. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | May 10, 2017
Site: hosted2.ap.org

Name sought for rare albino orangutan rescued in Indonesia (AP) — A conservation group is asking the public to name a rare albino orangutan that was rescued from villagers on Borneo island last month, hoping it will become a symbol of efforts to save the critically endangered species. The 5-year-old female great ape is being kept in a dimly lit quarantine enclosure with round-the-clock veterinarian care after being rescued in the Indonesian part of the island on April 29, Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation spokesman Nico Hermanu said Wednesday. She's the first albino orangutan to be encountered by the foundation in its 25 years of conservation work. The foundation said in a statement that the orangutan has become an ambassador for her species and it wants a "meaningful" name for her that will reflect the significant conservation challenges that orangutans face in the wild. It said she is sensitive to sunlight due to a complete absence of pigmentation and physically fragile, which is common for rescued orangutans, but gradually improving. "Understandably, she still has a long way to go in her recovery following the trauma of losing her mother and her illegal capture," the statement said. Hermanu said villagers in Central Kalimantan province on Borneo had the orangutan for two days and claimed it had strayed out of the forest. Other villagers reported its capture to police and a government conservation agency that asked the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation to intervene. Hermanu said she may only have survived in the wild due to a protective mother that she apparently became separated from. Whether she can ever be returned to her natural habitat is still uncertain, he said. Orangutans, known for their gentle temperament and intelligence, live in the wild only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and on Borneo, which is divided among Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates the number of Bornean orangutans has dropped by nearly two-thirds since the early 1970s and will further decline to 47,000 by 2025. Bornean orangutans were declared critically endangered by the IUCN last year due to hunting for their meat and conflicts with plantation workers, which kills 2,000 to 3,000 a year, and destruction of tropical forests for plantation agriculture. The only other orangutan species, the Sumatran orangutan, has been critically endangered since 2008. Suggested names for the rescued orangutan can be sent to name@orangutan.org.id or by using the hashtag #albinoorangutan on social media until May 14. The group, known as BOS, plans to announce its selection the next day. It and several other conservation groups specialize in rehabilitating captured orangutans and returning them to the wild.


VIENNA--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Animalis edition of the prestigious World Branding Awards saw 92 brands from 35 countries named “Brand of the Year” in a glittering ceremony held at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna today. The Animalis edition of the Awards focused on pet and animal brands. Animal Planet, FURminator, Hill's Prescription Diet, KONG, ORIJEN, Pedigree, Petplan, PURINA Pro Plan, Red Dingo, Tetra and Whiskas were announced as global winners. Regional winners were Equi-Trek (United Kingdom), Evidensia (Sweden), Fressnapf | Maxi Zoo (Germany) and Horze (Finland). National tier winners included V.I.P. Petfoods (Australia), Aeon Pet (Japan), Amiguard (Switzerland), Avanti (India), Benelux (Belgium), CP Prima (Indonesia), Cunipic Alpha Pro (Spain), Dolina Noteci (Poland), Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo (United Arab Emirates), Earth Rated (Canada), Equsana (Denmark), Irish Rover (Ireland), JerHigh (Thailand), JUWEL Aquarium (Germany), Lord Lou (Netherlands), Manfred of Sweden (Sweden), MONGE (Italy), MUSH (Finland), NatureBridge (China), Oasy (San Marino/Italy), Pet Lovers Centre (Singapore), PetCenter (Czech Republic), Pets At Home (United Kingdom), Pi-Pi-Bent (Russia), Powercat (Malaysia), Puppia (South Korea), Q-Pets (Hong Kong), Rogz (South Africa), Royal Canin (France), Top Breed (Philippines), Vetmeduni Vienna (Austria), YU (Taiwan) and Ziwi Peak (New Zealand), among others. Four NGOs – the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (Indonesia), The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (Kenya), The Jane Goodall Institute (United States) and Wildlife Friends Foundation (Thailand) – were also recognised for their work. The Awards celebrates the achievements of some of the greatest brands around the globe. Uniquely, winners are judged through three streams: brand valuation, consumer market research, and public online voting. Each brand was named “Brand of the Year” in their respective categories. The Awards is organised by the World Branding Forum, a global non-profit organisation dedicated to advancing branding standards for the good of the branding community as well as consumers. It organises and sponsors a range of educational programmes, and has joint collaborations with leading universities and museums. The Forum also publishes branding news on its website that reaches a global audience of over 4 million visitors. “The Animalis edition of the Awards pays tribute to the achievements of pet and animals brands from around the world. Consumer votes count towards 70 per cent of the final score, so winning brands have to have built a strong relationship with their customers in order to win,” said Richard Rowles, Chairman of the World Branding Forum. “Over 60,000 pet and animal lovers from around the world voted for more than 800 brands from 35 countries. Winning brands have had to work hard to stand out from the tough competition,” said Peter Pek, Chief Executive of the Forum. The event was hosted by Stuart Freeman from Radio FM4 in Austria. For more information and the full list of winners, visit awards.brandingforum.org. About the World Branding Forum The World Branding Forum (WBF) is a registered global non-profit organisation. Its aims and activities are to provide raise the standards of branding for the good of the industry as well as consumers. The WBF produces, manages and supports a wide range of programmes covering research, development, education, recognition, networking and outreach. For more information, visit brandingforum.org. About the World Branding Awards The World Branding Awards is the premier awards of the World Branding Forum, a registered non-profit organisation. The awards recognises the achievements of some of the world’s best brands. There are three major tiers of awards – the Global Award is awarded to international brands, Regional Award for brands that cover a geographic region, while the National Award is awarded to brands that are household names in their country of origin. For more information, visit https://awards.brandingforum.org.


News Article | July 27, 2017
Site: phys.org

People thought to have migrated from other parts of Indonesia have occupied part of the sanctuary, cut down trees and planted crops including palm oil, Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation spokesman Nico Hermanu said Thursday. The human activities are near a "forest school" where more than 20 orangutans live semi-independently and learn how to find food, build nests and other skills they need for survival—a crucial part of their rehabilitation from trauma often inflicted by people, who take babies for pets or kill the animals for wandering into plantations. The foundation bought the land for the 1,850-hectare (4,571-acre) sanctuary from locals over several years and restored its forest. The facility now cares for 170 orangutans overall. Hermanu said the foundation told the residents they were encroaching on the Samboja Lestari sanctuary, "but their activities keep continuing." Local police have refused to prosecute and recommended talks instead "which won't solve anything," he said. The foundation is now seeking the help of the local government in East Kalimantan province to ensure its rights over the land. Nearly 340 hectares (840 acres) of the sanctuary have been encroached, and Hermanu said some of it may have stemmed from dry season fires in 2015 when part of Samboja Lestari burned. Plantation companies and villagers often deliberately set the fires to clear land for planting. The number of orangutans in Borneo and on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, recognized as separate species and both classified as critically endangered, has fallen precipitously since the 1970s. The orangutans are protected species in Indonesia and Malaysia but deforestation has dramatically shrunk its habitat, with about 40 percent of Borneo's forests lost since the early 1970s and another huge swath of forest expected to be converted to plantation agriculture in the next decade. Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, one of several groups focused on orangutan conservation, also has 60-year concession rights to about 86,000 hectares (212,000 acres) of forest in Borneo that it bought from the government in 2011 for 12.9 billion Indonesian rupiah ($1.5 million at the time). About a quarter of it is suitable habitat for releasing orangutans after their years-long rehabilitation. Explore further: Name sought for rare albino orangutan rescued in Indonesia


News Article | July 28, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

FILE - In this Jan. 7, 2016, file photo, a wild orangutan sits on a tree branch in Sungai Mangkutub, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Conservation group Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) says nearly a fifth of the forest belonging to an orangutan sanctuary on the Indonesian part of Borneo has been occupied and damaged by people living near the area, threatening efforts to rehabilitate the critically endangered great apes for release into the wild. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File) JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A conservation group says nearly a fifth of the forest in an orangutan sanctuary on the Indonesian part of Borneo has been taken over by people, threatening efforts to rehabilitate the critically endangered great apes for release into the wild. People thought to have migrated from other parts of Indonesia have occupied part of the sanctuary, cut down trees and planted crops including palm oil, Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation spokesman Nico Hermanu said Thursday. The human activities are near a "forest school" where more than 20 orangutans live semi-independently and learn how to find food, build nests and other skills they need for survival — a crucial part of their rehabilitation from trauma often inflicted by people, who take babies for pets or kill the animals for wandering into plantations. The foundation bought the land for the 1,850-hectare (4,571-acre) sanctuary from locals over several years and restored its forest. The facility now cares for 170 orangutans overall. Hermanu said the foundation told the residents they were encroaching on the Samboja Lestari sanctuary, "but their activities keep continuing." Local police have refused to prosecute and recommended talks instead "which won't solve anything," he said. The foundation is now seeking the help of the local government in East Kalimantan province to ensure its rights over the land. Nearly 340 hectares (840 acres) of the sanctuary have been encroached, and Hermanu said some of it may have stemmed from dry season fires in 2015 when part of Samboja Lestari burned. Plantation companies and villagers often deliberately set the fires to clear land for planting. The number of orangutans in Borneo and on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, recognized as separate species and both classified as critically endangered, has fallen precipitously since the 1970s. The orangutans are protected species in Indonesia and Malaysia but deforestation has dramatically shrunk its habitat, with about 40 percent of Borneo's forests lost since the early 1970s and another huge swath of forest expected to be converted to plantation agriculture in the next decade. Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, one of several groups focused on orangutan conservation, also has 60-year concession rights to about 86,000 hectares (212,000 acres) of forest in Borneo that it bought from the government in 2011 for 12.9 billion Indonesian rupiah ($1.5 million at the time). About a quarter of it is suitable habitat for releasing orangutans after their years-long rehabilitation.


News Article | December 20, 2016
Site: www.scientificamerican.com

The news about endangered species tends to be pretty bleak. That definitely proved true in 2016, but the past year also saw quite a few successes. Here are some of the best news stories from 2016, as chosen from the “Extinction Countdown” archives and by experts and conservation groups around the globe. The illegal wildlife trade affects hundreds of species around the world and has put quite a few on the fast track toward extinction. Luckily, several of them received important support at this fall’s meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which banned or limited international trade for several imperiled species, including pangolins, the African grey parrot, and several kinds of sharks. “Almost all of the decisions were really based on science,” says Susan Lieberman, vice president for international policy for the Wildlife Conservation Society. “You have to celebrate when that happens.” Of course, what makes the CITES action good news is that we’re stepping up to help species that have become critically imperiled. “It’s good news that governments are recognizing the risks these species are in,” Lieberman says. “It’s bad news because the situation for these species is really horrible.” Outside of CITES, elephants also got a boost when the U.S. adopted tighter regulations in the trade of ivory. “The new regulations will make it much harder for criminals to use the United States as a staging ground for illegal ivory trade,” Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of wildlife conservation at WWF, said this past June. “They also send a strong signal to the international community that the U.S. is committed to doing its part to save elephants in the wild.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had a number of Endangered Species Act success stories this year, but the best was probably April's announcement that three subspecies of island fox native to California's Channel Islands had recovered and are now no longer considered to be at risk. This marked the fasted recovery under the ESA to date and reflects 12 years of intense conservation efforts by several dedicated partners on the federal, state and local level. Some of the biggest species and most recognizable species on the planet had a few minor victories in 2016. Most recently, the recognition that giraffes are an endangered species made news around the world. That might seem like bad news, but the public outcry may be what we need to finally get conservation efforts moving in the right direction. Zhou Fei, Head of TRAFFIC’s China Office in Beijing, says one of the best stories of the year is that giant panda populations improved enough that the IUCN Red List now considers the iconic animals to be no longer endangered. (They’re now listed as vulnerable to extinction.) Others have expressed worry that this categorization change will lessen our ability to protect pandas moving forward, but it’s still pretty good news. Orangutans had a bad year (more on that in our “worst of 2016” article), but there were bright spots. “The best orangutan conservation story of 2016 is the successful continuation of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation's release program,” says Richard Zimmerman, executive director of Orangutan Outreach. “They've now released 250 orangutans into safe, secure forests. The majority of these orangutans were rescued orphans who were rehabilitated over many years. Due to a lack of available forest they were forced to remain in cages and wait to be released.” Several other rescue and release expeditions in other locations helped even more of these imperiled apes, although Zimmerman noted that “there are still hundreds of orangutans waiting to be released and we expect the expeditions to continue in coming years. These releases are quite expensive and require a lot of coordination on the ground.” Finally, experts from the NRDC pointed to a “decades-in-the-making breakthrough agreement on sonar safeguards for whales and our oceans.” With so many cetacean species in decline, this easing of at least one of the pressures affecting them can only help. Our feathered friends got several bits of good news this year. Most notably, five captive-born Hawaiian crows—a species that went extinct in the wild decades ago—made their triumphant return to a protected Hawaiian park a few days ago. Expect to hear a lot more about this story in the coming year. Another Hawaiian species, the Akikiki, has been immortalized in space, with an asteroid permanently named after the tiny endangered birds. That may not have directly helped efforts to conserve the species, but it did bring them international (if not interstellar) recognition. Meanwhile, in New Zealand, every single kakapo (a large, flightless, critically endangered parrot) has had its genome sequenced, an effort that will help to increase the species’ population in the coming decades. (This year’s record breeding season also gave kakapo numbers a much-needed boost.) A few smaller creatures belong on our list, as well. “This year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally took bees seriously,” says Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees received endangered species status, and similar protection has been proposed for the rusty-patched bumblebee. “That’s pretty big,” Black says. “We’ve never had a bee listed before.” Amphibians, many of which are being wiped out by the deadly chytrid fungus, had at least one success story this year. “I was really heartened by the study that Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs are holding their own against the chytrid fungus,” says Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity. Meanwhile, desert tortoises and other species benefitted from the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which promoted clean energy development in the California desert while protecting local wildlife. “This plan will enable us to combat climate change, which is a threat to wildlife, habitat and landscapes worldwide, while preserving important habitats,” said Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “This is a blueprint for other states, the nation and the world to consider as we all work together to fight climate change and race against extinction.” On a broader level, many species benefitted from efforts to preserve entire ecosystems. “Globally, protected areas continue to expand, both on land and especially in the ocean,” says Stuart Pimm, Doris Duke Professor of Conservation at Duke University and president of Saving Species. “There is widespread agreement that these are the best solution to protect biodiversity.” Pimm reports that his own team’s efforts are paying off. “We don’t help our donors buy a lot of land, but we help them buy land strategically.  We are now connecting formerly isolated fragments of habitat to create large, continuous habitats in Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, India, and Sumatra.” Obviously there were other endangered species successes over the course of 2016. What would you add to this list? Add your comments below, or discuss things on Twitter under the hashtag #extinction2016.


News Article | November 4, 2015
Site: www.nature.com

The world’s only wild orangutans — already besieged by logging, hunting, pet trading and the steady expansion of palm-oil plantations — are now threatened by forest fires that have burned for months on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra in southeast Asia. In the toxic smoke and haze, locals and researchers are scrambling to protect the estimated 50,000 remaining orangutans that live only on those two islands. Fires erupt every year in Indonesia during the dry season, as farmers, plantation owners and others deliberately burn forest to clear land or to settle territorial disputes. But this year’s El Niño weather pattern, combined with a legacy of land-management practices that have dried the soil and degraded vast swathes of peat-swamp forest, turned this burning season into an environmental catastrophe that has destroyed more than 2 million hectares of forest throughout Indonesia, to which Sumatra and much of Borneo belong. Since late summer, teams of researchers have headed out from the city of Palangkaraya in Borneo to find and fight new blazes. Some patrol the rivers and others head into the forest, where extinguishing the flames can require drilling more than 20 metres down to reach the water table — tough, gruelling work that is carried out amid tropical heat and in a persistent, menacing orange haze. One day in October, Simon Husson, director of the UK-based Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project, deployed a drone at the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation’s centre for orangutan rescue and rehabilitation near Palangkaraya. “Eyes in the sky are a huge help,” he says. “On the ground, you’re in choking smoke and the haze is severely restricting visibility.” As the drone rose above the smoggy blanket, its camera glimpsed a new fire burning deep in the forest. The fire was remote enough not to threaten the orphaned and injured orangutans being readied for reintroduction to the forest, “but you can’t help thinking about the wild ones out there”, Husson says. Husson and his colleagues have temporarily abandoned their normal research activities in the 6,000-square-kilometre Sabangau Forest, which is home not just to orangutans but also to rare Bornean white-bearded gibbons, sun bears and pangolins, to help local fire-fighting teams with cash and personnel. “Not only is [research] pretty unimportant right now,” he says, “it’s basically impossible to study the orangutans in the canopy as we can’t see them for the smoke.” Peat fires devastate orangutan populations primarily by destroying crucial habitat, but the animals are also susceptible to the same types of smoke- and haze-induced respiratory problems as humans. The charismatic arboreal apes are already endangered throughout their range; their population is estimated to have declined by 78% from more than 230,000 a century ago. “Over half the world’s orangutans live in peat-swamp forests, and every one of these peatlands in Borneo right now is on fire, somewhere,” Husson says. Undisturbed peat forests are actually incredibly fire resistant, says Susan Page, a geographer at the University of Leicester, UK, who studies peatlands in southeast Asia, because the swamps are damp enough to make ignition difficult. But, unfortunately, large tracts of Borneo’s peatland are anything but undisturbed. In 1996, Indonesia’s then-president Suharto launched the Mega Rice Project, which tried to transform 1 million hectares of Bornean peatland into rice paddies. Draining the peat was essential for the plan, and despite the fact that no rice was ever harvested, canals that were cut through the forests have been draining water from the peat ever since. The infernos in Indonesia have climate implications as well. Normally, Borneo’s peat forests are efficient carbon stores, holding tonnes of organic matter in layers of compressed plant material that can be more than 15 metres thick. But when that peat burns, the accumulated carbon is released. This year, the fires have already released more than 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — more than Japan’s annual carbon emissions. Since September, carbon emissions due to the fires have exceeded the daily production of the United States on at least 38 days, prompting one conservation scientist to call this year’s fires the “biggest environmental crime of the twenty-first century”. The situation is unlikely to get better without an extended period of rain or a serious commitment from the Indonesian government. If the El Niño-driven drought persists, as some climate models predict, this year’s fire season could last well into 2016. “Severe fires did not occur before there was intensive land-use development,” Page says. “Solutions will require strong political leadership and investment.”

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