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Paper Giant Asia Pulp and Paper Set to Destroy Home of Reintroduced Orangutans, Indigenous Tribes

Washington, D.C., May 19, 2009 – A massive logging operation planned by one of the world’s largest paper companies will destroy the forest home of 100 great apes that are part of the only successful reintroduction program for Sumatran orangutans, conservationists have learned.

World Wildlife Fund and four other groups working to protect Sumatra’s biodiversity -- the Frankfurt Zoological Society, Zoological Society of London, WARSI and the Sumatran Tiger Conservation and Protection Foundation – have learned that a joint venture company involving Asia Pulp & Paper/Sinar Mas Group (APP) recently got a license to clear the largest portion of natural forest remaining outside the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Jambi Province, Sumatra.

“It took scientists decades to discover how to successfully reintroduce critically endangered orangutans from captivity into the wild. It could take APP just months to destroy an important part of their new habitat,” said Peter Pratje of the Frankfurt Zoological Society. “These lowland forests are excellent habitat for orangutans, which is why we got government permission to release them here beginning in 2002. The apes are thriving now, breeding and establishing new family groups.”

The area is one of the most endangered forests on all of Sumatra, an island already suffering from what is possibly the fastest deforestation rate in the world. With this latest acquisition, APP and associated companies could convert all remaining natural forest outside the park in the province, one of the most important areas for biodiversity in Indonesia.

This unprotected forest is essential habitat for an estimated 100 of the last 400 critically endangered Sumatran tigers left in the wild. The five groups are concerned that APP could start natural forest conversion in two forest blocks early next year and sent a letter to the Ministry of Forestry, asking the agency to stop APP from logging there and to protect these forests.

“APP’s plan is devastating and it will almost certainly lead to more fatalities, since tigers and people will be forced into closer contact with each other as the tigers’ forest disappears,” said Dolly Priatna of Zoological Society of London. “Tigers struggling to survive as Jambi’s forests shrink have already killed nine people in the area this year.”

Bukit Tigapuluh is also home to around 40-60 endangered Sumatran elephants, which spend most of their time outside the national park.

“The local extinction of Sumatran elephants in the Bukit Tigapuluh area is a real possibility if APP isn’t stopped,” said Yunus of the Sumatran Tiger Conservation and Protection Foundation. “We urge APP’s customers, investors and other business partners to realize that the company is increasing its threat to one of the most endangered natural forest blocks in Sumatra and the unique species living there.”

Two minority indigenous tribes – the Talang Mamak and Orang Rimba – both live inside Bukit Tigapuluh’s natural forest and depend on natural resources from the forest and river for their existence.

“APP is stealing their livelihood, which will marginalize their lives even more,” said Diki Kurniawan of Warsi. “I have worked in this forest with these people since 1996. Is there no way we can protect them from this greedy global giant?”

Between 1985 and 2007, Sumatra island lost 12 million hectares of natural forest, a 48 percent loss in 22 years. By 2007, the island had only 30 percent natural forest cover, around 13 million hectares. The Indonesian Ministries of Forestry, Environment, Public Works and Interior, as well as the governors of all 10 Sumatran provinces, including Jambi, last year announced their collective commitment to protecting the areas of the island with “high conservation values.” The commitment was celebrated publicly at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain, in October 2008.

The natural forest slated for destruction by APP – Bukit Tigapuluh – is a prime example of the high conservation value areas that the governors promised to protect.

“These NGOs are ready to support the Jambi governor to implement his public commitment to protecting Sumatra’s high conservation value areas and halt APP/SMG’s plan and identify alternative financing that would provide money and still save the forests, such as credits in the emerging forest carbon market,” said Ian Kosasih of WWF Indonesia.

APP/SMG has already begun converting natural forest in parts of Bukit Tigapuluh. In 2008, the company completed a legally questionable logging highway through this unique natural forest ecosystem to allow easier transport of wood to its pulp mills in both Jambi and neighboring Riau Province.

Editors Notes:

  • APP is waiting for an environmental impact assessment to be finalized for a concession known as the former PT. Dalek Hutani Esa concession, where many of the orangutans reintroduced in 2002 spend their time. NGOs question the quality of the assessment study submitted by APP, as negative impacts on key wildlife and indigenous people are not considered at all.
  • APP and its associated companies have a history of controversial and legally questionable forest conversion activities in central Sumatra.
  • A new APP logging road in the Bukit Tigapuluh forest has already opened up access for rampant illegal logging practices, which the local government agency in charge of enforcing conservation laws believes has led to the increased human-tiger conflict.
  • A map of Bukit Tigapuluh area and its natural forest, distribution of reintroduced orangutans and Sumatran tigers, elephants, Bukit Tigapuluh ecosystem and APP/SMG associated pulpwood plantation (HTI) concessions, is available at www.worldwildlife.org.
  • A collection of documents published by WWF and other groups in Indonesia can be found at: http://www.savesumatra.org/index.php/link, including a joint release and investigative report published by these five organizations in 2008 on APP’s activities in Bukit Tigapuluh.