Indonesian fires again threaten orangutans

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2000:

JAKARTA––Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid pledged on March 8 that he would try to control as many as 500 fires set in Sumatra to clear forests for logging and planting. The fires became a public issue when smoke briefly engulfed Sumatra, as occurred for months in mid- 1997, when Borneo was covered as well.

Farmers and loggers raze the forest understory each spring and summer partly to save labor and make charcoal; partly to avoid meeting deadly snakes. Animals escaping the flames are often trapped or shot. Wild pigs and deer are hunted for meat; orangutans may be illegally captured for sale.

Ashta Nita Bustani, head of the Semboja Wanariset Orangutan Rehabilitation Project, told the Indonesian state news agency Antara in February that the 1997 fires cut the orangutan population of Borneo by about 30%. Bustani said that some orangutan refugees from the 1997 fires were still wandering outside Kutai National Park, seeking new habitat. His organization had reportedly relocated seven orangutans in the preceding week.

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