Truth and Consequences: Palm Oil Plantations Push Unique Orangutan Population to Brink of Extinction

A manmade inferno inside the globally renowned Tripa rainforest in Aceh, Indonesia is pushing this forest’s unique population of Sumatran orangutans to the brink of extinction. Destruction inside palm oil plantation leases is driving the end of this great lowland forest, despite years of efforts by local communities to defend their forests and livelihood.

The fires have been devastating not just for the critically endangered orangutans and other iconic species, including tigers and elephants, but also for the surrounding communities of traditional fisher people whose livelihoods are dependent on the forest’s rich resources. Conservationists from Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program estimate that as many as 100 of Tripa’s orangutans have been killed in the fires so far.

The timing and location of the fires in Tripa, unknown to burn naturally, casts enormous suspicion on the agribusiness companies active in the area. Using fire to clear forests in Indonesia is illegal. Unfortunately, the survival of Indonesia’s valuable forests is at risk at the hands of profit hungry agribusiness companies that clear rainforests for palm oil and plantation timber production.

Communities desperate to hold onto their rainforests and forest- dependent livelihoods and conservationists outraged at the global environmental tragedy unfolding were shocked when this concession was signed into law. The new plantation is in clear violation of Indonesia’s high-profile national moratorium on deforestation along with multiple other regional and national laws that have given protected-area status to Tripa and the surrounding Leuser Ecosystem. Facing such a clear example of illegality in the Indonesian agribusiness company, a coalition of impacted parties took the rare step in Indonesia of filing a criminal complaint against the management of plantation company PT Kallista Alam, as well as a lawsuit against the provincial government of Aceh.

The dire situation in Tripa contradicts commitments made by the Indonesian government and the agribusiness industry to break the link between deforestation and palm oil production. In 2011, Indonesia adopted a moratorium on deforestation. Agribusiness companies followed with official policies and voluntary certification efforts of their own to clean up plantations and palm oil supply chains in effort to make them more environmentally sensitive, transparent and accountable. Yet now, despite local community objections, widespread international concern and government acknowledgment that the Tripa forest should be protected, international palm oil traders, like Cargill, continue to give the palm oil produced in Tripa access to the global market.


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