A Talk on the Wild Side.
|A Bornean orangutan in Sabangau Forest. Photo by Bernat Ripoll Capilla/OuTrop|
Fires are devastating Indonesia, threatening gibbons, orangutans, elephants and other wildlife, as well as people. The Global Fire Emissions Database reports that satellites have detected more than 117,000 active fires in 2015 through October 28.
NASA photos indicate widespread smoke and a general haze hovering over Indonesia and neighboring countries. However, within the borders of Indonesia’s Way Kambas National Park (WKNP), a small green triangle marks an area where successful fire prevention efforts have cleared smoke, offering a glimmer of hope amidst the devastation.
Photo by NASA
Since 2008, we, through the Asian Elephant Conservation Fund, have supported forest patrols and other work in WKNP. Fire prevention efforts are among the many responsibilities of these patrol teams, and over the last several weeks, they have been on the front lines fighting to save WKNP from fires that are sweeping across the country.
Rangers battle fires in Way Kambas National Park. Photo by Save Indonesian Endangered Species Conservation Fund
“Rangers have been on a 24-hour fire watch, and response teams continue to extinguish fires daily since July with equipment provided from FWS. These fires are being extinguished before they get out of control,” says Dr. Claire Oelrichs, founder of the Save Indonesian Endangered Species Conservation Fund (SIES) and long-term FWS grantee.
Dr. Oelrichs’ work is focusing on activities that will help regenerate forest habitat, mitigate human-elephant conflict, and provide sources of fresh water for both wild elephants and fire suppression.
But the fires affect much more than elephants.
“Pretty much anything that lives in those forests, and particularly animals dependent on the forests, will be suffering to some degree,” says Dr. Mark Harrison, managing director of the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project (OuTrop), another FWS grantee working in Indonesian Borneo.
|A Bornean orangutan mother and infant in Sabangau Forest. Photo by OuTrop|
OuTrop has its main research camp in the Sabangau Forest of Indonesian Borneo, home to the world’s largest orangutan population, and Harrison says, “there have been many fires around Sabangau, which sadly includes two big ones that have burnt through a lot of forest near our main research camp and in the tall-pole forest, a habitat sub-type found in the centre of the Sabangau Forest and that we believe is unique to this area”.”
He remains optimistic, but a recent OuTrop blog states, “we consider fire to be the most serious threat currently facing orangutans in Sabangau.”
Harrison says many wildlife will be affected as the fires fragment forests and stress trees, and haze cuts visibility and causes respiratory issues (for people, too). “Sadly,” he adds, “orangutans are really only the tip of the iceberg of the problem.”
OuTrop’s team is supporting firefighting efforts, while also raising local and international awareness about the impacts of these fires on habitats and animals.
|A local firefighting team. Photo by Suzanne Turnock/OuTrop|
Our hearts are heavy as we watch the Indonesian fires sweep across their lands and we thank local organizations like SIES and OuTrop for their work to mitigate these fires and safeguard Indonesia’s wildlife.