1/13

Surviving in Sumatra

Fifteen percent of Sumatra is still covered with peatland rainforest, but the area is shrinking at a fast pace. A recently published report - Status of Peatland Degradation and Development in Sumatra and Kalimantan shows that only 4 percent of the peatland on these two islands remains intact, 37 percent is under a varying degree of degradation. Remaining peatland rainforest has become a more than important refuge for endangered species like the Orang-utan and the Sumatran Tiger.

The entire tropical peatland ecosystem in this region is in great danger from the destructive logging methods that have been used for decades. Methods of drainage, slash-and burn and mosaic plantations have had an enormous impact on the biodiverse forest system. When the peatland rainforest is transformed into plantations, channels are carved into the landscape to drain the boggy land to make it suitable for acacia, eucalyptus and palm. This method also has immediate knock on effects in the surrounding area as water streams and lakes become acidified. The situation makes the entire rainforest vulnerable to accelerated peat decomposition. The addition of catastrophic fire episodes pumping gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere makes Indonesia the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.

Within fifty years the Sumatran orang-utan population has dropped from 100,000 to less than 6,000. Because of the space they require to live, many fear they are now on the brink extinction. At the Frankfurt Zoological Society centre located in the park they take care of confiscated illegally held orang-utans, mostly orphans. Teaching the orang-utans to be re-introduced in to the wild, the centre also hopes it can achieve support for park authorities to safeguard the area as illegal deforestation actions continue within the park boundaries.

The Sumatran orang-utan is critically endangered and according to Peter Pratje from the zoological centre, the remaining population are likely to be the first of the great ape species to be extinct. Simply, because there is nowhere left for them to go. Orang-utans are also killed as pests as their habitat disappears. Fruit crops on the forest edge become an important source of food for orang-utans forced from their habitat, unknown to them this source of food is a cash crop and costs money, money they don't have. Around two thirds of the park has been logged and it is under constant threat from continued illegal forest clearance.

Once an ecosystem is destroyed it can not be rebuilt, the logging and wholesale conversion of forest to agricultural land is stripping Sumatra of it’s diversity.