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Last Stand of the Orangutan

Conclusions and Recommendations: State of Emergency for Orangutans and National Parks


A series of national and international measures have been implemented or are evolving in response to the crisis situation in Indonesia. Most of these have a long-term rather than immediate effect. Given the extent and severity of the intrusions into protected areas and the international involvement in the theft of timber and land from these reserves, the situation must now be characterized as a state of emergency. 

This review shows that the responsibility for this situation, including the massive pollution and greenhouse gases generated from burning of forests, is shared by Indonesia and consumer countries. Protected areas are being destroyed to feed an international market for wood products and vegetable oil. 

Unfortunately, most long-term initiatives like reducing corruption and certification of timber require the substantial support of the international community including recipients of illegally logged timber. Furthermore, most responses require massive changes in management regimes and actions, long-term institutional change, financial, technical and human resources support, changes in market mechanisms and demand structures, as well as international cooperation in monitoring trade and prosecuting criminal actors including corporations. Some or all of these responses may potentially have paramount effects in the long-term, but they will generally take too much time to develop to an effective level and will fall short of the immediate crisis in securing the future survival of the orangutan and the protection of national parks.  Immediate on-the-ground action is required to back up the global-scale efforts towards sustainable wood production. 

Without direct intervention in the parks, orangutans and other forest-dependent wildlife will become progressively scarcer, until their populations are no longer viable in the long-term. Previously released scenarios suggested that most natural rainforest in Indonesia would be degraded by 2032. Given the rate of deforestation in the past five years, and recent widespread investment in oil palm plantations and biodiesel refineries, new calculations suggest that 98% of lowland forest may be destroyed by 2022. Since mature forest is being lost from such large areas, the supply of timber will decline further. This means that the incentive to log protected areas will grow. It is possible that many protected areas will already be severely degraded by 2012. 

Among the most promising and important Indonesian government initiatives is the further development, support and training of the ‘SPORC’ rapid response ranger units. However, it is essential that these units and selected parks have the necessary paramilitary training, equipment and mandate to prevent illegal loggers from operating inside protected areas. 

Protected areas including national parks form a cornerstone of international conservation efforts, including the 2010 globally-agreed target to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss. Reducing the rate of deforestation over Indonesia as a whole will also have a dramatic impact on regional carbon dioxide emissions, and thus help to prevent dangerous levels of global climate change. If the logging of national parks continues unchallenged, it could undermine the protected area concept worldwide. The Indonesian initiatives to strengthen protection of their parks therefore urgently need substantial support from the international community if the orangutan habitats and national parks are to be rescued from this growing state of emergency.


Based on these findings, it is recommended that Indonesia and countries involved in processes such as FLEG consider the following actions: 
  1. Substantially strengthening the Indonesian initiative of SPORC units to ensure the necessary para-military skills and equipment for securing national parks, including evaluation of the combined joint operations conducted in recent years between the Ministry of Forestry, police and Joint Chiefs of Staff of Navy and Army. This could include bringing in expertise from other Indonesian and international agencies in training and countering illegal activities at these scales
  2. Rapid deployment of reconnaissance units to collaborate with the relevant law enforcement and forest rangers, to secure information from the individual parks
  3. Rapid development of training units to prepare existing rangers locally for future enforcement
  4. Removal of illegal plantations, mining and agricultural development inside the national parks
  5. Strengthening surveillance and intelligence units in this work
  6. Further strengthening international programmes of law enforcement against illegal logging and activities, including support from Interpol
  7. Establishing a small, strategic cross-sectoral coordination unit, including selected international specialists, with sufficient presidential mandate to assist in operational planning and monitoring of the programme to win back the parks