Indonesian forest fires force dozens of endangered orangutans to flee

Tuesday, November 7, 2006
Mantangai, Indonesia
Wildfires that have been raging across Indonesia since mid-September have choked the country in a thick haze and driven dozens of endangered orangutans from their jungle habitat.
An animal rescue team from IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org) and the Borneo Orangutan Sanctuary Foundation (BOSF) has already treated more than forty orangutans for respiratory problems and burns.

Annual fires are intentionally set in Indonesia to clear forest land for agriculture before the rainy season begins in November. This year’s fires are the worst in a decade due to drier than normal conditions. Peat swamps, which form much of the ground cover in the forest habitats, have been smoldering for weeks and sending a thick pall of smoke all across the region. The smoke has choked the country and drifted over into the neighboring countries of Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. Indonesian airports have been closed and in Kalimantan drivers have been forced to use their headlights in the daytime due to the low visibility.

The raging fire and thick smoke has destroyed orangutan habitat and forced the animals out of the jungle. Orangutans flee the burning jungle in search of food and safety, often into nearby palm oil plantations, where they are beaten by humans. IFAW is in Indonesia to rescue the displaced orangutans, give them medical treatment, and relocate them to safer habitats.

Less than 60,000 orangutans remain in the wild in Indonesia and IFAW estimates that they could face extinction from the wild in ten years due to habitat destruction.

Indonesia has the highest number of threatened species of mammals in the world, around 146, according to the World Conservation Union. Among these is the Asian elephant, with an estimated 50,000 remaining in the wild (plus another 10,000 in captivity). Their habitat is already in danger with widespread human encroachment, and the looming wildfires push the space constraints even further.

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