May 18, 2009

Construction In Indonesia Is Wiping Out Orangutan Population

A national park in Borneo Island, which is home to hundreds of endangered orangutans, has been partially turned into a development zone complete with an airport and brothels, The AFP reported.

The Center for Orangutan Protection (COP) said in a statement that almost 600 of the longhaired apes have disappeared from Kutai National Park, East Kalimantan province, over the past seven years of unchecked construction.

Hardi Baktiantoro from the Center for Orangutan Protection (COP) told AFP that the number of orangutans in the area, which was 600 individuals in 2004, has fallen to only 30 to 60 individuals at present.

The COP said the East Kalimantan administration was granted permission from the national Forestry Ministry in 2002 to build a 37.2-mile road through the park.

However, commercial and residential development spanning some 58,569 acres of forest was also allowed to flourish alongside the road.

This resulted in seven new villages springing up almost overnight.

COP habitat campaign manager Yon Thayrun said in a press release: "The Kutai National Park has been changing into a city, complete with an airport, gas stations, marketplace... a bus terminal and prostitution complex."

He's urging the national government to investigate local authorities for corruption despite the fact that the development in the forest has been subsequently legalized.

Thayrun suggested the root of the problem involving the Kutai National Park was a breach of duty committed by officials to get political and financial advantages.

"They gave away land spaces to people to win their votes in the local administration elections. They also mobilize people to seize the national park area," he said.

But others say the forest had been badly damaged and Forest Ministry spokesman Masyhud has accused conservationists of exaggerating the impact the road has had on native orangutans.

He said the road development had not sacrificed the national park and like in many countries a national park "isn't meant to be completely sterile" of social and economic development.

"Its scale is not as dramatic as they have said," he added.

Masyhud acknowledged that the road development had affected the orangutan habitat, but suggested it was only temporary and that the apes had adapted to it.

"We have also implemented some conservation programs involving local communities," he said.

The Nature Conservancy estimates there are only 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans left in the wild, of which some 80 percent live in Indonesia and 20 percent in Malaysia.


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