Quantcast
Climate

One-Third of World's Orangutans at Risk From Fires in Sumatra and Borneo

Despite some rainfall in the last few days, thousands of fires continue to burn on the main islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Unlike previous years, when fires mainly impacted agricultural land, these fires, fueled by a particularly dry season due to El Nino, have swept into national parks and primary forests, the last refuges for so many iconic endangered species, such as orangutans, rhinoceros and tigers.

Local people fighting fires in Indonesia's national park Tanjung Puting. Photo credit: Faqih Zabach

All these animals hover on the brink of extinction and now the odds have been tipped even further against them. It is estimated that a third of the world’s orangutan population is under threat with many already dying and orphans flooding into rescue centers.

Data released last week by Guido van der Werf on the Global Fires Emissions Database estimate emissions generated every day from the fires exceeds that of the average daily emissions for the entire U.S. economy. The U.S economy is 20 times the size of Indonesia’s. Van der Werf estimates that over just 3 weeks of burning, the fires in Indonesia exceeded the entire annual CO2 emissions of Germany.

Rescuing collapsed fire fighter in Indonesia's national park Tanjung Puting. Photo credit: Faqih Zabach

These are staggering statistics and illustrate just how critical it is that the world pays attention, supports the Indonesian government to enforce a fire moratorium, provides sophisticated fire fighting equipment, and holds palm oil corporations and companies using palm oil in their products to account over plantation practices.

These figures are even more disturbing because the fires are in peatlands. Not only are tropical peatlands significant carbon storage areas but when they burn they emit up to 10 times more methane than fires in non-peat lands. Nancy Harris and others, including the World Resources Institute, suggest that when the emissions from both the draining of peatlands for plantations and the fires are taken into account the methane released is 200 times more than that emitted from fires in any other land areas.

Orangutan running from the fire.

This is not only an environmental disaster of massive proportions but also a humanitarian one which will have long-term economic repercussions for Indonesia. Estimates put the number of people affected by respiratory illness at 500 million across Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

So why is there so little press coverage or interest from the rest of the world in this catastrophe? Is it because it is man-made, driven by the palm oil and pulp and paper corporations as well as poachers and small farmers? Do we some how think this is not as news worthy as a hurricane or earthquake?

A mother and baby orangutan in the jungles of Indonesia.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

While it may seem like this is a problem on the other side of the world we are all, as consumers, complicit in this crime. The supply chain is not always obvious and lack of product labelling often means we have no idea that our shampoo or crackers or toilet paper have such a devastating effect. If there is going to be any chance to save the rapidly disappearing mega fauna on our planet and to limit the damage from global warming then we have to start thinking that a problem over there is also a problem over here.

Marie Gale is a conservationist with Save Indonesian Endangered Species Fund an NGO actively engaged in reforestation and wildlife conservation in Sumatra and Borneo.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Watch Live as Polar Bears Congregate Waiting for Sea Ice to Form

Algal Blooms Linked to Largest Die-Off of Great Whales Ever Recorded

Plastic Bags and Fishing Nets Found in Stomach of Dead Whale

295 Bears Killed in Florida’s First Black Bear Hunt in Decades

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Climate
Map of damage to the town of Paradise from the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history. NASA / JPL-Caltech

Heavy Rain Could Trigger Mudslides in Fire-Weary California

Northern California, which is already reeling from the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history, is now bracing for heavy rainfall this week.

The forecasted rain could bring much-needed relief for the firefighters battling the Camp Fire in Butte County. However, it could also bring new hazards due to possible ash, mud and debris flows triggered by the rain.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
A Super Scooper firefighting plane makes a water drop during the Holy Fire near Lake Elsinore, California this October. David McNew / Greenpeace

What Should We Know About Wildfires in California

By Rolf Skar

The Camp Fire raging in Northern California is now the most devastating and deadly fire in the state's recorded history. Simultaneously, deadly and destructive fires are burning in Southern California, as the Woolsey and Hill fires have engulfed iconic areas of Malibu and West Hills. With dozens dead, hundreds missing and thousands of structures destroyed, our hearts go out to those impacted across the region.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Ambrosia artemisiifolia, common ragweed. PLOS ONE

Allergen Alert: Ragweed Is Spreading to New Regions

By Marlene Cimons

Cristina Stinson never had an allergic reaction to ragweed until after she started working with it. "I think the repeated exposure to the pollen is what did it," she said. It also didn't help that her community is chock-full of it. "There is plenty of ragweed in my neighborhood," she said. "In fact, it grows right outside my door."

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
A sperm whale that washed up in Indonesia's Wakatobi National Park had plastic bottles, bags and cups in its belly. @WWF_ID / Kartika Sumolang

13 Pounds of Plastic Found in Dead Sperm Whale

Yet another whale has suffered from plastic pollution. A sperm whale that washed up dead in a national park in Indonesia had nearly 13 pounds of plastic waste in its stomach, park officials told the Associated Press.

Researchers from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the park's conservation academy uncovered more than 1,000 other pieces of plastic, including 115 plastic cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags, 2 flip-flops and a nylon sack.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
The first smoke from the Camp Fire arrived in Ukiah and turned the daylight red. Bob Dass / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Winds and Wildfires in California: 4 Factors to Watch That Increase Danger

By Brenda Ekwurzel

Before we dive into the science behind the four factors specific to the California Santa Ana winds, let's review the current situation in California and wildfire disaster risks in general.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
A woman stands amidst the ruins of her home following Hurricane Michael; if action isn't taken on climate change, some places could face up to six such disasters at once. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Tropics Could Face Six Climate Disasters at Once by 2100

In a year that saw record-breaking heat waves, record-breaking hurricanes and record-breaking wildfires, it's hard to imagine how the future could look any more like a disaster movie than the present. But that is exactly what researchers from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa have predicted in a study published in Nature Climate Change Monday.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Politics
Zinke tours Paradise, Calif. Nov. 14 with Governor Jerry Brown and FEMA Administrator Brock Long. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Zinke Blames ‘Radical Environmentalists’ for Historic California Wildfire

In an interview with Breitbart News on Sunday, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke blamed "radical environmentalists" for the wildfires that have devastated California in recent weeks, The Huffington Post reported.

"I will lay this on the foot of those environmental radicals that have prevented us from managing the forests for years. And you know what? This is on them," he said in the interview.

You can listen to the whole thing here:

The remarks come as California has suffered the deadliest blaze in the state's history. The death toll from the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise in Northern California, has now risen to 79. Around 1,000 people are still listed as missing, and the fire is now 70 percent contained, according to an Associated Press report Monday.

California Governor Jerry Brown blamed climate change in a statement made last weekend.

"Managing all the forests everywhere we can does not stop climate change, and those who deny that definitely are contributing to the tragedies that we are witnessing and will continue to witness," Brown said.

Regardless, Zinke has remained consistent in pointing the finger at forest management. His current criticisms echo his remarks following other fires this August, in which he said the increasingly frequent and violent blazes were the result of inadequate forest management, and not climate change. He continued in that vein during Sunday's interview:

"In many cases, it's these radical environmentalists who want nature to take its course. We have dead and dying timber. We can manage it using best science, best practices. But to let this devastation go on year after year after year is unacceptable, it's not going to happen. The president is absolutely engaged."

President Donald Trump has indeed vehemently blamed forest mismanagement ever since the recent batch of fires broke out, even threatening at one point to withhold federal funding if the forests weren't managed properly. During a visit to California Saturday to survey damage, Trump brought up forest management again, suggesting that the problem in California was that the forests were not raked enough.

"You look at other countries where they do it differently, and it's a whole different story," he said, as CNN reported. "I was with the president of Finland, and he said: 'We have a much different [sic] ..., we're a forest nation.' And they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don't have any problem," he added.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, however, told a Finnish newspaper he did not recall suggesting raking to Trump.

"I mentioned [to] him that Finland is a land covered by forests and we also have a good monitoring system and network," he said.

Finnish people have taken to Twitter to poke fun at the U.S. President's statement using the hashtag "Raking America Great Again."

Despite Trump and Zinke's criticisms, the fact remains that the federal government controls almost 60 percent of the forests in California while the state controls only three percent. Paradise was surrounded by federal, not state, forests. Further, the fires in Southern California spread in suburban and urban areas, The Huffington Post reported.

Some think the emphasis put by Zinke and Trump on forest management is not about preventing fires at all but rather an attempt to justify opening more public forests to private logging interests.

U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks with land managers, private landowners, university staff, and the media about federal forestry and land management at Boise State University on June 2, 2017. USDA photo by Lance Cheung

Animals
Dolphin found with a bullet wound in California's Manhattan Beach. Marine Animal Rescue / Facebook

'Senseless Killing': Dolphin Found Shot Dead on California Beach

How could anyone shoot a dolphin? A dolphin that washed up dead in Manhattan Beach, California died from a bullet wound, according to local animal rescue workers.

Earlier this month, Peter Wallerstein, the founder of Marine Animal Rescue, responded to a call about a stranded dolphin on the surf, according to NBC News. By the time he arrived at the scene, the marine mammal was dead.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!