December 3, 2019

Assessment of unburned Bornean orangutan habitat required

JAKARTA ( - It is indisputable that this year's haze-causing fires in Indonesian Borneo have once again caused severe distress for the area’s wider community and economy.

The fires also adversely affected the island's critically-endangered Bornean orangutans. These orangutans have clearly suffered due to the effects of the fires.

However, it is also critical to look at data on exactly how much Bornean orangutan habitat did not get burned so that a misleading impression of the impact of the fires on the Bornean orangutan’s habitat can be avoided.

For example, it is relevant to look at the scale of the impact the haze-causing fires have had on Bornean orangutan habitat in the  PT MPK logging concession in West Kalimantan's Ketapang regency, home to more than a thousand of these orangutans. 

The following photos, taken from the ministry's concession sealing document (Sep 24), demonstrate that less than 3% of the concession’s forested areas - one of the last remaining Bornean orangutan habitats in the world - were afflicted by fires.

PT MPK was acquired by PT IAR, a company controlled by the IAR Foundation (International Animal Rescue/YIARI), in late August this year according to a verification report from the Indonesian forestry authorities.

This logging concession, spanning an area of 37,000 hectares (after legal demarcation) or over half the size of Singapore, comprises a peat ecosystem which forms a core part of the Sungai Putri landscape.

To ensure that no haze-causing fires spread within the PT MPK concession, Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya ordered her law enforcement team to seal it in mid-September 2019.

The latest satellite data proves that more than 80% of the concession is still composed of relatively intact peat forests

While Bornean orangutans were impacted to a degree by haze from fires, their habitat among the well-covered peat forests of this logging concession was not badly affected, given that only small pieces of the forests were burned and most still exists.

The limited nature of the burning in the IAR logging concession has left a large majority of its peat forests relatively intact, an example of which is shown in the photos below taken in May this year.

More evidence

Another case in point is Central Kalimantan's Sebangau National Park - a vast peat ecosystem covering an area more than 7.5 times the size of Singapore which plays host to thousands of Bornean orangutans.

Like in the PT MPK concession, this year's peat fires in Sebangau National Park in no way engulfed the entire park. In fact, the fires only affected relatively small portions of it, even though the haze from these confined fires was distressful for the park's Bornean orangutan population.

Backed up by the latest satellite data, it is apparent now that only fairly minor parts of areas like the PT MPK concession and Sebangau National Park were burned and that they retain the vast majority of their dense, Bornean orangutan-inhabited peat forests.