Can a rain forest catch fire? It sounds completely absurd and it should not be possible. However, the destruction of the rainforest ecosystem creates a risk of large fires in the remnants of the forest. Volunteers work to reduce fires and thereby avoid disasters for humans and animals. Right now, the forest school at Nyaru Menteng is shrouded in smoke from surrounding fires.
While we are enjoying the last rays of sun after a hot summer, the locals on
Borneo fear the worst. As logging and palm oil industry destroy the rainforest, the natural balance of humidity is disturbed. Fire can suddenly spread in degraded forest areas and it can ignite even the tropical forest that remains. In the protected peat forest area Mawas in the middle of Borneo, this is cause for concern, especially in the hot, dry season and late summer months before the rainy season begins.
The fishing village Batampang is home to local fisherman Atak Suraji. The village is located in Mawas, which is home to 3,000 wild orangutans. Mawas is a peat bog area that has been exposed to destructive timber and agriculture initiatives throughout the 90s. This has changed the ecosystem and made the peat dry in the summer months, where there are no monsoons. The risk of forest fires has increased, especially because the illegal industries use open fire when they want to clear the forest.
The small communities in and around the rainforest have always burned forest areas in order to establish small agricultural areas. The method is both effective at creating space for crops and fertilizing the poor soil. However, the use of this method increased dramatically after the rise of the palm industry, despite the fact that the method is prohibited in Indonesia. Many palm oil producers circumvent the law and burn the forest to make way for plantations, and they are doing it on a scale that they cannot control.
Orangutans lose their homes
When forest areas burn down, orangutans and many other animal species lose their homes and many of them do not manage to escape in time. Atak Suraji explains that he is losing a large part of his livelihood as fish are dying in the heated tributaries or disappear from the area because of the high water temperatures. When the fires grow bigger, the smoke affects all Borneo and its neighboring countries, and when the peat bog burns, huge amounts of C02 are emitted.
Nyaru Menteng shrouded in haze
The rehabilitation center Nyaru Menteng is located west of the rainforest area Mawas. Since early September, the amount of haze from nearby forest fires has increased. The center therefore needs to keep the youngest orangutans inside due to the risk of asphyxiation, and this change is not popular among the small active orangutans. There is no risk that the fire will affect Nyaru Menteng, but the smoke is not healthy for the orangutans or the staff.
Volunteer fire patrol
There are clearly plenty of reasons to support firefighting in Borneo. Following the devastating fires in 2008, Atak Suraji decided to volunteer in a fire patrol that Save the Orangutan partner, BOS Mawas, has helped to organize and provide equipment to. The patrol has established small reservoirs around the village, and monitors particularly exposed parts of the forest.
Putting out the the fires before they grow large
Today, Atak Suraji is head of the fire patrol. He and the other volunteers
cooperate with patrols in other villages. The collaboration includes working together to fight fires that are too far away to reach their own village. In that way they manage to put out the fires before they grow large and devastating. Save the Orangutan helps ensure an even better organization of patrols and provide the volunteers with better equipment to fight the devastating fires. Save the Orangutan supports the process in close cooperation with BOS Mawas and experts like Atak Suraji.
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