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EIA, July 1998

The Politics of Extinction

The Orangutan Crisis
The Destruction Of Indonesia's Forest

The new regime has an historic opportunity to redress the balance of the last three and a half decades in favour of the environment, wildlife and civil society.

Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)
EIA-UK  EIA-US

 Introduction

The world's last remaining orangutans, now confined to the forests of just two islands- Sumatra and Borneo-are facing critical decline and possible extinction within the next twenty years. Corrupt politicians and corporate leaders have created a regime in Indonesia that has driven the rapid, unsustainable exploitation of the orangutans' forest habitat and has led the country to economic collapse. These forces have conspired with El Nino and the demands of the international marketplace to accelerate the destruction of Indonesia's forests and its abundant biodiversity.

In 1995 experts expressed profound concern that "suitable orangutan habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia has declined by more than 80% in the last 20 years" and that "orangutan numbers have declined by 30-50% over the last 10 years". The situation now is even more critical.

This report identifies the major threats to the survival of wild orangutans from habitat loss, forest degradation and fragmentation. Direct threats include logging operations, conversion of forests to commercial plantations, agricultural practices, industrial development projects, hunting for food or the pet trade and human- animal conflicts.
Widespread corruption and the failure to employ transparent and accountable practices within Indonesia's political, financial and business regime ate shown to be the driving force behind the destruction of natural forests and the on-going decline of the orangutan.
The impact of poorly regulated bilateral or multilateral investment programmes-including private, governmental and intergovernmental loans-are shown to have the potential to create further habitat loss and degradation. The compelling need for future financial and economic support to be accompanied by strict environ- mental and social conditions is highlighted. It is evident that the on-going economic crisis in Indonesia and in particular the devaluation of the rupiah and rapid inflation is likely to change the configuration of forest land use and may lead to further unsustainable forest loss and degradation.

In the light of the evidence presented in this report it is clear that Indonesia must commit itself to an urgent action plan for the conservation of orangutans and the forests upon which they depend.

The new regime has an historic opportunity to redress the balance of the last three and a half decades in favour of the environment, wildlife and civil society. EIA urgently calls upon the Indonesian National and Provincial Governments to immediately implement EIA's International Orangutan Conservation Action Plan.

The international community, particularly those nations which create the demand for timber and palm oil products, has a responsibility to ensure that Indonesia takes such action.

The developed nations together with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and private financial institutions must provide appropriate financial and technical support to implement the Action Plan. Contingent to this is the application and enforcement of wide-ranging environmental and social conditions to lending and aid.

Failure to take this action will inevitably result in the on-going, uncontrolled decline of the orangutan and its eventual extinction in Indonesia. Inextricably linked with the fate of Indonesia's natural forests, the demise of the orangutan will signal the critical failure to achieve sustainable forest management. The first years of the 2 1st century may be witness to the irreversible loss of countless species, considerable negative impacts for regional and global climate regulation and massive social upheaval.
The choices and implications are clear.

Steve Trent,
EIA Campaigns Director,
July 1998.

eof/wd/98
EIA, 1998


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