Today at the UN climate change talks in Bali, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono launched an action plan to save orangutans from extinction. The Strategy and Action Plan for National Conservation of Orangutans presents the first specific, enforceable agenda to protect the nation's disappearing orangutans. In addition, it will prevent substantial emissions of carbon dioxide through avoided deforestation.
The action plan is the result of 3 years of collaboration between the Ministry of Forestry's Nature Conservation Department and national and international NGOs in Indonesia. It brings together the best knowledge on orangutan distribution and threats, and the most appropriate management solutions to ensure the survival of one of Indonesia's best known conservation icons in the wild. With the signature of the Minister of Forestry, this legal document officially endorses Indonesia's commitment to protect orangutans and their habitat.
The Nature Conservancy has worked in close collaboration with other NGOs and the government to develop the action plan. As representatives of this coalition of NGOs, The Nature Conservancy now wants to make a financial pledge to help implement it.
Today, The Nature Conservancy pledged US$1 million to support the plan. "As much as 1 million hectares of orangutan habitat scheduled for conversion to oil palm will be saved through the plan's implementation," according to Dr. Erik Meijaard, a Senior Scientist with the Conservancy and Science Advisor for Orangutan Conservation Science Program (OCSP). "This could lead to 9,800 orangutans being saved and prevent 700 million tons of carbon from being released." The Conservancy will partner with other organizations to implement the plan. This will be done through forestry programs that focus on partnerships with timber concessions implementing sustainable forestry and supporting the USAID-funded Orangutan Conservation Services Program or OCSP.
"We are thrilled with the opportunity to participate with the Indonesian government in this initiative, which represents a win-win for the environment — protecting an important species while combating the climate crisis," said Stephanie Meeks, acting president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy.
"One million hectares of planned forest conversion projects are in orangutan habitat," added Rili Djohani, director of The Nature Conservancy's Indonesia program. "Setting aside these forests is an important step for Indonesia to sustainably manage and protect our natural resources. It benefits both local people and wildlife while making a major contribution towards reducing global carbon emissions."
Scientists and Indonesian officials hope that the emerging carbon market will make such conservation financially viable.
"Forest conservation can provide economic benefits for a very long time," said Meijaard. "If payments for avoided deforestation become an official mechanism in global climate agreements, then carbon buyers will likely compensate Indonesia for its forest protection. Protecting orangutans will then lead to increased economic development in this country. Such a triple-win situation is not a dream. With some political will, it can soon be reality."
The Strategy and Action Plan for National Conservation of Orangutans commits to maintaining orangutan populations above critical thresholds at which their populations may fail to recover. A core target of the plan is to stabilize orangutan populations and habitat from now until 2017.
Other goals of the plan are to return orangutans currently housed in rehabilitation centers to the wild by 2015 and to ensure that government and businesses follow established and developing guidelines on orangutan conservation. Improved awareness and financial support for orangutan conservation are also on the agenda.
A scientific review in January 2004 showed that total orangutan populations were actually higher than previously thought — about 6,650 Sumatran orangutans and 55,000 Borneo orangutans remained in the wild — but that most local populations were small, isolated and vulnerable.
Furthermore, deforestation had directly and indirectly led to 3,000 orangutans deaths per year since the 1970's. Conservation efforts to date had lacked the legal teeth and financial backing to compete with incentives for forest exploitation.
Armed by the latest science, the 2004 forum mapped out big picture priorities to save orangutans. Ongoing workshops further shaped the plan with inputs from government, timber and plantation companies, local communities, non-governmental organizations and UN agencies.
Since 1991, The Nature Conservancy has worked in partnership with Indonesia's government and people to sustainably manage and protect the country's natural resources and biodiversity. In Borneo, Sulawesi, and Papua, the Conservancy is implementing a series of strategies to safeguard areas of ecological importance by working with the private sector and indigenous peoples to improve forest management practices and develop equitable benefit distribution mechanisms, supporting communities to manage protected forests, and safeguarding the habitats of a wide diversity of forest species through traditional protected areas management.
The Conservancy's approach which involves industry partners, local government, and communities is leading to success at the local scale. But in the face of ongoing forest destruction its present challenge is to scale up approaches to the islands of Borneo and New Guinea. The Nature Conservancy has set a goal of effectively managing 250,000 km2 of forests, or about one third of Borneo, by 2015. Scaling up is also happening in Sulawesi where the Conservancy is adding sites to its portfolio, aiming to effectively manage 20,000 km2 of forest by 2015. An exciting and ambitious forest program is currently being developed in New Guinea that will build on the Conservancy's experiences of working with local communities in Kalimantan and Sulawesi to find innovative solutions to common Papuan forest-related issues.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.