Authorities Step Up Action against Illegal Loggers Threatening the Last Orangutans

06th Jun 2007 Press Releases

The Hague/Nairobi, June 2007 – The plight of the ‘old man of the forest’ may be a little brighter today as a result of crack downs by Indonesian authorities on illegal timber smuggling.

But the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is warning that the future of the orangutan, the rainforests of south East Asia and the people whose livelihoods rely on these ecosystems will ultimately depend on international support and regional cooperation especially from timber importing countries.

In recent weeks the Indonesian authorities have stepped up action against the illegal timber trade seizing 30,000 cubic meters of processed wood in Nunukan, East Kalimantan and arresting six people.

A further 40,000 cubic meters of processed wood has been confiscated in Kutai, also East Kalimantan Province along with several arrests.

In a statement released at the triennial conference of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) taking place The Hague, Netherlands, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: “We can only applaud the efforts of the Indonesian authorities to stamp out illegal logging and illegal timber trading. It is this illegal trade and the networks of groups who indiscriminately exploit these nature-based assets that are putting forest ecosystems, local peoples’ livelihoods, the orang-utan and a whole host of other species in peril”.

“The seizure of 70,000 cubic metres of illegal wood represents around 3,000 truck loads of timber. But this must be set against the fact that by some estimates illegal logging is clearing 2.1 million hectares of forest in Indonesia annually worth an estimated $4 billion. This may equate to several hundred thousand truckloads ? corresponding to a continuous line of trucks from Paris to Bangkok,” he added.

“Indonesia cannot and should not have to deal with this issue alone. It requires resources from the international community to support the efforts of the authorities including the wardens on the ground. Indonesia also needs assistance from the timber trading and importing nations including improved policing and customs operations,” added Mr Steiner, who is also a UN Under-Secretary General.

According to GRASP and its network of NGO partners, hundreds of orangutans have fled out of the jungle and ended up in “refugee” camps as illegal logging rapidly destroys the last remaining rainforests of Southeast Asia.

Further pressure is emerging from the burning and clearance of forests for palm oil plantations to produce biofuels. The greenhouse gas emissions generated from the damage to forests may entirely off-set the gains in emission reductions when the bio diesel is substituted a transport fuel.

Meanwhile, investigations by GRASP together with CITES indicate that hundreds of orangutans are being rescued and kept in “rescue” or “rehabilitation” camps as the forest is cut or burnt down, straining the resources of many NGOs.

The news comes in the wake of a Rapid Response report from UNEP entitled the Last Stand of the Orangutan. It has found evidence that logging companies, employing heavy machinery and armed personnel, are also operating in Indonesia’s National Parks in defiance of the law.

And while the Indonesian government has effectively stopped illegal logging in some parks by the use of police and military force the companies, fuelled by the growing demand from importing countries, continue their illegal operations in others.

The rate of loss of the forests, which has accelerated in the past five years, outstrips a previous UNEP report released in 2002 at the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD).

Then experts estimated that most of the suitable orangutan habitat would be lost by 2032. New satellite imagery reveals that the illegal logging is now entering a new critical phase with the rainforests of south East Asia disappearing 30 per cent faster than had previously been supposed.

Satellite images, together with data from the Indonesian Government, indicates that illegal logging is now taking place in 37 out of 41 national parks and that suitable forest habitat may be gone in a little as a decade.

Melanie Virtue, who leads the GRASP at UNEP, said: “We are observing illegal trade in live orangutans as a bi-product of the illegal logging. When the forests are burnt or cut down, mothers are often killed while the juveniles are caught to be used as pets, or sold on to zoos or safari parks.”

Female orangutans only give birth every 6-8 years. Often, their mothers are shot and juvenile apes then captured. In some cases, orangutans are sold for as little as $100 and locally even far cheaper. As the forest is cut down, more orangutans move into farmlands in search for food and are then either shot or captured.

Willem Wijnstekers, Secretary General of CITES, said: “It is very clear from what is jointly conducted by CITES and GRASP, that there is a highly organized structure of illegal trade in orangutans. Consequently, there needs to be much higher law enforcement priority allocated to combating this destructive criminality. Such priority needs to come not only from Indonesia, but from the countries importing illegal timber and orangutans”.

The number of orangutans sold and exported is unknown but is believed to be in the hundreds of not more. Rescue or rehabilitation centres in Borneo contain around 1,000 orangutans and one has over 400 individuals alone. Recently significant numbers of illegally obtained young Bornean orangutans have been found in zoos in Thailand and Cambodia.

Christian Nellemann, a lead author on the Rapid Response report, said: “The rate of decline of the forests is the most alarming we have seen yet anywhere in the World. The real blame lies on the countries buying the timber and wood products from illegal sources. The stepping up of law enforcement in Indonesia is a very encouraging step indeed, but governments in importing countries bear a direct responsibility for the crisis”.

Other measures, able to assist consumers in choosing sustainably harvested wood products include certification and labelling.


Note to Editors

Bornean and Sumatran orangutans are classed as Endangered and Critically Endangered and are listed on Appendix 1 of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Recent estimates suggest there are between 45,000 and 69,000 Bornean and no more than 7,300 Sumatran orangutans left in the wild.

The orangutans share their habitat with a wild range of other threatened and ecologically important species including the Sumatran tiger, Sumatran rhinoceros and Asian elephant. UNEP and the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) have launched the Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP) in response to growing concern over the plight of the orangutan, chimpanzee, bonobo and gorilla.

The report Last stand of the Orangutan: State of Emergency can be downloaded at or at or including high and low resolution graphics for free use in publications.