Orangutans and humans threatened by thousands of forest fires

29-10-2015

Last week was over 1,400 new forest fires registered on Borneo and the fires threaten some of the orangutan last habitats. Over the last few months have over 17,000 km2 of rainforest (equivalent to over a third of Denmark) gone up in smoke, and thus can the fires have catastrophic consequences for life on Borneo, says Executive Director of Save the Orangutan, Claus Staunstrup Nilsson.

Last week was over 1,400 new forest fires registered on Borneo and the fires threaten some of the orangutan last habitats. Over the last few months have over 17,000 km2 of rainforest (equivalent to over a third of Denmark) gone up in smoke, and thus can the fires have catastrophic consequences for life on Borneo, says Executive Director of Save the Orangutan, Claus Staunstrup Nilsson.

Due to the global weather phenomenon El Nino, is the drought in Borneo extra bad this year and some experts estimate that the weather phenomenon will continue until Spring 2016. Despite the fact that some provinces have declared disaster, and the Government of Indonesia has invited over 5,000 soldiers and policemen to fight the fires, still thousands of new fires occur every week.

"The forest fires have catastrophic consequences for humans and orangutans on Borneo, and right now it looks more like the situation is getting worse rather than better." explains Executive Director of Save the Orangutan, Claus Staunstrup Nilsson.

The English NGO supports the world's largest rehabilitation center for orangutans, and is also working to restore and conserve Borneo's rainforests. And it is needed.

Unique rainforest goes up in flames

During the last decade, a rainforest area with the size of half of England has been cleared in Borneo (6 million hectares). It is mainly due to the planting of oil palm, whose oil is used in many of our consumer goods.

“Forest fires have always existed on Borneo, but the forests previously had greater resistance towards the devastating fires, and it is therefore of outmost importance that we shoulder the responsibility and help to extinguish the fires” explains Claus Staunstrup Nilsson.

According to Global Forest Watch did over 8,000 forest fires occur in September, and over 1,864 forests were registered only last week. Together are there fires responsible for over 1.7 million hectares of burned and ruined forests.

English NGO sends firefighting equipment to Borneo

This is partly why the English NGO Save the Orangutans recent years has trained local volunteer fire squads, and the organization has, thanks to money collected from our donors recently sent fire hoses and other fire-fighting equipment down to the troops on Borneo.

"Save the Orangutan has already sent firefighting equipment down to our local partner on Borneo, but they need all the help they can get, if they are to act effectively against the fires." says Claus Staunstrup Nilsson.

Fear the worst environmental disaster in this century

Several experts fear a repeat of the unprecedented El Nino in 1997/98, which caused 12 million hectares of forest to literally go up in smoke. The country accounted for 25% of the global CO2 emissions that year as a result of that a large part of Borneo's rainforests are peat lands, which contains up to 20 times more CO2 than normal rain forests. A third of the, at that time, orangutan population disappeared.

"If we do not do something about the current fires, then we risk being left with the greatest environmental disaster in this century." says Claus.

Harmful smoke

The smoke from the fires has already spread to neighboring countries Malaysia and Singapore and it leaves several closed, as visibility sometimes is less than 20 meters. You measure smoke density through a pollution standard index (PSI), where between 150 to 250 on the scale is considered unhealthy for people and above 350 is considered hazardous levels. I some areas on Borneo, including Borneo's capital Palangkaraya, have PSI levels been measured up to 2000 some days.

The smoke is also harmful to the orangutans, and we therefore make sure that all the orangutans at Nyaru Menteng gets extra vitamins during this hazardous situation. Especially the smallest are at greater risk for respiratory infections of the smoke and are therefore kept indoors.

Read the precautions that are taken at Nyaru Menteng >>

What causes the fires?

The fires occur because there are several unfortunate circumstances on Borneo at the moment. The global weather phenomenon El Nino is exceptionally strong this year, creating greater drought than usual. And while large parts of Bornean rainforests are destroyed is there also a tradition to prepare the ground for harvesting with fire. Borneo is also covered with large area of peat land, peat land areas which now often are dried out due to exploitation, which makes the fires difficult to extinguish. This unfortunate cocktail creates an unusually high number of fires.


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