Indonesia Government Launches Sumatra Investigation

14th Apr 2012 Press Releases

Indonesia’s Ministry of the Environment announced today it will open an investigation into the issuance of permits to convert rainforests into palm oil plantations in Sumatra, an allegedly illegal act that may have caused the death of hundreds of orangutans in man-made fires that were set to clear the land.

The ministry’s announcement came in response to findings by the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) forest carbon reduction task force.

On April 13, the government-formed task force said it had evidence that Kallista Alam, a palm oil company, had violated regulations in turning the swamp forest into a plantation. The task force recommended that the ministry and the police further scrutinize the company’s actions.

“The Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) applauds the Government of Indonesia for taking this bold step,” said GRASP coordinator Doug Cress. “The scale of the damage caused by these fires may not be immediately clear, but there’s no doubt that orangutans in Sumatra are in a perilous condition. As many as five percent of the total population may have been lost in these fires.”

The Patrons of GRASP – great ape experts Jane Goodall, Richard Leakey, Richard Wrangham and Russell Mittermeier – sent a letter to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on April 13 asking to intervene in Sumatra, as the country’s biodiversity was under “extreme threat.”

According to experts, there are currently about 6,300 Sumatran orangutans in the wild.

Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the head of the REDD task force, said last week that Kallista Alam had violated regulations that protected the swamp forests. “Opening a plantation inside a protected swamp area has clearly broken the law,” he said.

After interviewing locals, the team was convinced that Kallista had used illegal slash-and-burn methods in order to clear the peat land, violating several laws on plantations and the environment.

“Based on eyewitness accounts, the burning has been systematically done,” Kuntoro said.

On April 3, an Aceh court threw out a lawsuit brought by a coalition of environmental groups against outgoing Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf, who they alleged issued an illegal permit in August 2011.

The license allows the company to convert 1,600 hectares of the Tripa peat swamp forest into a palm oil plantation.

The forest was initially included in the government’s map of areas off-limits to forestry activities, published in May 2011, as part of a two-year moratorium on new forestry concessions in peat and primary forests.

However, a revised map issued in November dropped the Tripa forest from the protected zone. The plaintiffs in the suit argued that when Irwandi issued the permit in August, the revised map had not yet been published, meaning the area was still protected and the issuance was illegal.

For more information, visit The Jakarta Globe.