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Last Stand of the Orangutan

Illegal Exploitation of National Parks


Illegal logging occurs in 37 of the 41 national parks of Indonesia, but is most severe in Gunung Palung, Kutai, Danau Sentarum, Gunung Leuser and Tanjung Puting (Ministry of Forestry 2006b). Several of these parks host priority populations of orangutans and form part of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

Figure 6: Loss of critical orangutan forest in the Leuser Ecosystem, Sumatra from satellite (Landsat 1989 and ASTER 2006).

Satellite imagery confirms that in the worst cases, up to half the protected area has been exposed to heavy logging (Curran et al. 2004). Illegal mining is also a major threat in national parks. The miners frequently employ their own security companies and guards, which makes monitoring and enforcement difficult for rangers with very limited equipment, mandate and arms. Illegal hunting occurs in virtually all protected areas, but to varying degrees. It is highest in the areas with the fewest rangers. Projections for 2005–2010 from the Ministry of Forestry indicate that the situation will continue to deteriorate.

Assessing pressures and threats in National Parks

The WWF Rapid Assessment and Prioritization of Protected Area Management Methodology (Ervin 2003) was used at a 2004 workshop organised by the Ministry of Forestry to assess the pressures that have affected national parks over the last five years, and future threats to their integrity (Figure 7, 8). An index of Degree of Pressure (or Threat) was produced, with a scale of 1 to 64.

The index multiplies scores for:

  • the extent of the pressure (or threat...) over the national park, from (1) localized to (4) widespread;
  • the impact of the pressure, from (1) mild to (4) severe;
  • and the permanence of the pressure, from (1) <5 years to (4) permanent.

A value of 1 would indicate a short-term, mild, pressure affecting less than 5% of the national park. To be allocated a value of 64, the pressure must affect more than 50% of the park AND be severe in impact AND be permanent. Detailed guidelines are provided for allocating and analysing the scores (WWF 2003).

Source: Ervin (2003). WWF: Rapid Assessment and Prioritization of Protected Area Management (RAPPAM) Methodology. WWF, Gland, Switzerland.

Case Studies

Figure 8: Illegal logging, mining and poaching in national parks. Source: Ministry of Forestry (2006b).   Figure 7: The extent of illegal logging and mining in national parks, Indonesia. Source: Ministry of Forestry (2006b).
Figure 9: Cumulative forest loss within the Gunung Palung National Park boundary (yellow) and its surrounding 10 km buffer. Forest classifications are based on a Landsat Thematic Mapper time series are shown (1988 (A), 1994 (B), and 2002 (C). The well-defined degraded forest area that appears northeast of GPNP in (B) has been clear-felled for an oil palm plantation. (D) Industrial land uses – areas formerly allocated to timber concessions (green) and current plantation allocations (dotted red) account for most of the degradation within the buffer area (Curran et al., 2004).
After the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998, central management of protected areas was compromised. In the following few years, Tanjung Puting National Park was amongst those to suffer from illegal logging and mining. Logs were floated from the park down the Sekonyer River; the park offices in Kumai were destroyed; and rangers were unable to keep control. This exploitation was difficult to control until early 2003, the first ‘Operasi Wanalaga’ enforcement operation was carried out in the west of the park, involving police, military and forestry officers. Twenty-nine boats transporting around 20 000 m³ of illegal timber from the park were confiscated and over 35 km of logging rails and numerous logging camps were destroyed (EIA/Telapak 2003). Logging in the east of the park continues, and oil palm development within the park is also an issue.

Figure 10: Deforestation in Tanjung Puting, one of the 37 national parks affected by logging and oil palm plantations.

Gunung Palung National Park contains highly diverse lowland forest, hosting 178 bird species and 72 mammal species (Curran et al. 2004). In 2003, after many years of gradual encroachment into the park (Figure 9), illegal loggers reached the research station – one of the last untouched areas deep within the park.  Several illegal logging crews began actively cutting down trees, including many that had been continuously monitored for over 20 years. The illegal loggers posed an immediate threat to safety, so the Gunung Palung Orangutan Programme/Yayasan Palung (GPOPC) was forced to shut down operations.

Now, after intensive conservation efforts in the area by the GPOPC as well as other organizations and the intervention of the national government, a major percentage of Gunung Palung National Park has been cleared of illegal logging activities. It is now safe to return to the park and a consortium of national park stakeholders has developed an agreement for the re-opening and management of the park going forward and the research station will be re-built in mid-2007.