Indonesia: BOS Foundation saves orangutan from extinction

Otniel Tamindael Antara 19 Feb 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation is keen to release as many Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) as possible into their natural habitat in its efforts to save this protected species from extinction.

In cooperation with the Central Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), the BOS Foundation has again released 12 orangutans into the Bukit Baka National Park in Katingan District.

BOS Foundation Chief Executive Officer Jamartin Sihite remarked in Palangkaraya of Friday that the 12 Bornean orangutans, eight females and four males, were transported by a team overland from the Nyaru Menteng conservation center to the Bukit Baka National Park.

The trip from the conservation center to the national park took about 10 hours, with the team making a stop every two hours the check the physical condition of the orangutans.

Bornean orangutans live only on the island of Borneo, where their populations have declined by 60 percent since 1950, and new projections anticipate their numbers will fall another 22 percent by the year 2025.

"We have a great desire to release as many orangutans as possible, and in 2017 we plan to set free some 100 of them into their natural habitat," Jamartin remarked.

The BOS Foundation CEO added that the recent release of 12 orangutans into their natural habitat in the Bukit Baka National Park was the fourth of its kind since 2016.

In July 2016 the the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) officially announced the Bornean orangutans were critically endangered with their population in sharp decline due to habitat destruction and illegal hunting.

It was the first time in many decades that the IUCN has a clear understanding of Bornean orangutan population trends, and as they were hunted and pushed out of their habitats, losses to this slow-breeding species were enormous and would be extremely difficult to revers.

Over the past 40 years, a total of 17.7 million hectares of forest have been destroyed in Kalimantan, mainly due to make way for oil palm plantations.

Half of these forests used to be prime orangutan habitat, but deforestation is accelerating and it is predicted that a further 15 million hectares of forests will be cleared and converted to plantations by 2025.

However, this is not the only threat this incredible species is facing; it is being hunted for its meat and to stop crops from being raided.

Two major strategies to save orangutans from extinction are protecting the individuals or protecting their forest habitat.

These strategies are both complex, but the the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said it could contribute to make a difference.

In October 2016, the BOS Foundation in East Kalimantan released four orangutans into the Kehje Sewen Forest, to mark 25 years of dedicated work in the field of orangutan conservation.

The orangutan release was carried out by the BOS Foundation, together with the East Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency.

Covering an area of 86,450 hectares, the Kehje Sewen Forest in East Kalimantan is managed as an Ecosystem Restoration Concession area by PT Restorasi Habitat Orangutan Indonesia.

The BOS Foundation purchased this Ecosystem Restoration Concession in 2010, specifically to be used as a release area for rehabilitated orangutans.

Head of the East Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency Sunandar Trigunajasa said, "We are all aware of the fact that the responsibility of species and habitat conservation rests on all of our shoulders, be it the government, the community, the private sector or public organizations."

Therefore, Sunandar said it was necessary for the Natural Resources Conservation Agency to fully support the BOS Foundations orangutan release effort.

Realizing that the wild orangutan population is going to sharply decrease in the coming years, Jamartin Sihite, the BOS Foundation CEO said the foundation is forced to immediately find suitable forest areas for releasing orangutans from its rehabilitation centers.

The BOS Foundation desperately needs support and commitment from both central and regional governments, not only to provide suitable areas, but also to strengthen law enforcement in case of crimes related to habitat destruction.

Jamartin stated that the release of orangutans by the BOS Foundation into their natural habitat has only been possible through the cooperation with the Natural Resources Conservation Agency, the provincial government, and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

The Ministry of Environment and Forestry is making every effort to intensify its biological diversity conservation, particularly to protect the endangered Sumatran orangutans (Pongo Abelii) and Bornean orangutans, as their natural habitats are shrinking.

The ministry has a target to increase the population of 25 endangered fauna, including orangutans, in the 2015 to 2019 mid-term development plan.

In this regard, all heads of the Natural Resources Conservation Offices and the National Park Offices have been informed to intensify their biodiversity conservation efforts.

The ministry also plays an active role in increasing the population of the endangered animal and addressing human-animal conflicts.

Public education on the importance of conserving orangutans and other endangered animals must be stepped up, and here, the role of NGOs including the Nature Conservancy (TNC) is crucial.

According to TNC Program Manager Niel Makinuddin, the biggest threat to the endangered orangutan population is the conversion of forests into plantation and mining areas.

The rate of habitat loss and degradation in Sumatra is 1.5 percent annually and two percent annually in Kalimantan.

Forest fires and poaching also threaten the survival of these orangutans, he added.

In order to save the orangutans, the TNC has recommended improvement in the government policy on regional land spatial planning, including licensing in human resources and corridor connectivity.(*)

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