November 7, 2006 in Nation/World

Fires threaten wild orangutans

Niniek Karmini Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Staff of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Center prepare to treat an orangutan caught by palm plantation workers after it came out of burning jungle Monday in Mantangai, Kalimantan, Indonesia.
(Full-size photo)

MANTANGAI, Indonesia – Dozens of endangered orangutans have been driven from their dwindling jungle habitat in Borneo by months of land-clearing fires that have shrouded parts of the region in a choking haze, conservationists said Monday.

Around 43 orangutans have been taken for medical treatment to centers in the Indonesian provinces of Central and West Kalimantan, said Anand Ramanathan, an emergency relief worker with the Washington-based International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Most were beaten by humans after fleeing from the burning jungle to nearby plantations in recent weeks, but several are being treated for respiratory problems and burns, he said.

Farmers and plantation companies set hundreds of land-clearing fires on Borneo and Sumatra each year, sending thick smoke into neighboring Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. This year’s are the worst in a decade.

Monsoon rains have dowsed some of the fires, but blazes continue to cause problems in Kalimantan, where visibility was less than 330 feet on Monday, forcing drivers to use their headlights in the daytime.

The Indonesian government has been criticized for failing to act against those responsible for the fires. Jakarta says it is doing all it can.

Indonesia has the highest number of threatened species of mammals in the world, around 146, according to the World Conservation Union.

Fewer than 60,000 orangutans remain in the wild in Indonesia – nearly 90 percent of their habitat has been destroyed by illegal logging and slash-and-burn farming practices. If the rate of deforestation continues, orangutans will disappear from the wild in around a decade, experts say.

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