Thousands of forest fires set by palm oil companies across Sumatra and Borneo threaten not just endangered apes but the global climate.
Orangutans in the haze shrouding the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation camp on Oct. 5. (Photo: Antara Foto/Reuters)
Indonesia is on fire.
Right now, tens of thousands of small forest fires are burning across the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, the only habitats for orangutans and other rare species. Many of the fires appear to have been intentionally set by palm oil companies, which employ slash-and-burn agriculture to clear land of native trees to plant their cash crop, which is used as an ingredient in everything from food to cosmetics.
Richard Zimmerman, executive director of Orangutan Outreach, calls the conflagrations a disaster for endangered orangutans. Some of the fires are burning in important orangutan habitats, including Borneo’s Sabangau National Park, thought to hold the largest wild population of orangutans. “This is catastrophic,” Zimmerman said. He said he’s worried about how many wild orangutans have died from the flames and resulting smoke.
“The problem with fire and smoke is absolutely dire,” said Lis Key, communications manager for International Animal Rescue, which runs a rehabilitation center for more than 125 injured and orphaned orangutans in Ketapang, Borneo.