The seven orangutans lived on palm oil plantation in Aceh Tamiang, Aceh province, Sumatra, Indonesia
Charity is worried other orangutans who remain on plantation will be harmed or even killed during clearance work
They may look miserable being led away on stretchers from their home, but these orangutans are now living a much safer life thanks to a charity’s speedy action.
Living on a palm oil plantation in Aceh Tamiang, Sumatra, Indonesia, the seven Sumatran orangutans, including three mother and baby pairs, faced losing their homes as bulldozers moved in.
But they were rescued by the Sumatran Orangutan Society and have now been safely released back to the Gunung Leuser National Park.
The plantation is managed by a company called PT. Sisirau and when one of their workers saw a great ape in the forest, the clearance work was halted and the Orangutan Protection Centre were called.
Their sister organisation, the Sumatran Orangutan Society, took cages into the plantation and captured the animals, which are considered endangered.
They sedated them to make the move less distressing, carrying them out on stretchers due to their weight.
Over the past nine months they have rescued seven of the orangutans- one of the animals they took out was found to have two pellets in her neck, although it is unclear who shot her.
But during the evacuation, the charity workers caught sight of other orangutans living on the scrub land and informed the company of their existence.
They could not rescue them as they did not have enough cages - only mother and baby can be put in a cage together.
Now with work resuming on the plantation, they are worried that these animals are in danger and could be harmed or even killed.
Helen Buckland, Director of Sumatran Orangutan Society, said: ‘The company knows that there are orangutans on their land, the estate manager has even joined the team on rescues, yet the bulldozers continue to tear down the last remaining trees.
‘We are calling on PT. Sisirau to immediately halt all clearance and operations in the area, and for the RSPO to make an example of this company by terminating their membership.’
‘The idea that this company could ever be allowed to be certified as producing ‘sustainable’ palm oil in the future is ludicrous. The RSPO’s credibility is really on the line here.’
The company is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an industry group which regulates certified sustainable palm oil according to a set of principles developed by palm oil companies,traders, buyers, retailers, banks and social and environmental organisations, designed to limit negative environmental and social impacts of the industry.
ButPT Sisirau argues that the company did everything in its power to ensure the welfare of the orangutans.
A spokesperson said: ‘The company at all times acted in respect to the welfare of the orangutans and when they discovered that orangutans were on the land (which they have held a licence to cultivate as a plantation on for nearly 20 years) they immediately halted all work on the site and sanctioned the Sumatran Orangutan Society to come on the land to humanely move the orangutans to a conservation area that would be more suitable for them.’
The expansion of land being cleared for oil palm plantations across Asia is recognised as a leading threat to critically endangered species including orangutans, elephants and tigers.
Palm oil is an ingredient found in up to half of processed foods, and is also increasingly being used as a biofuel in petrol tanks and power stations.
Panut Hadisiswoyo, Founder and Director of the Orangutan Information Centre said: ‘As more and more forest is replaced by oil palm plantations, more orangutans become isolated in farmlands.
‘They are at serious risk of starvation or being killed if they wander into plantations in search of food.
Yet even palm oil companies which are supposed to be committed to sustainable production continue to destroy what little habitat remains.’
More information about the Sumatran Orangutan Society can be found at www.orangutans-sos.org
THE CRITICALLY ENDANGERED SUMATRAN ORANGUTAN
The Sumatran orangutan has been classified as critically endangered by the IUCN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
The latest data estimates that there are now only around 6,600 remaining in the wild, a drastic drop from the estimated 85,000 in 1900.
Orangutans were historically found in forests across Sumatra but are now restricted to just two provinces: North Sumatra and Aceh.
There are less than 864,000 hectares of orangutan habitat left on the island. Experts suggest that they could be the first Great Ape species to become extinct in the wild.
The greatest threats to their survival are habitat loss and the illegal pet trade. Sumatra lost 48% of its forests in the 20 years prior to 2007.
Large areas of orangutan habitat have been lost or degraded due to the spread of oil palm plantations into their forest homes.
Human-orangutan conflict is now frequent in agricultural areas, as orangutans are forced out of degraded forest fragments in search of enough food for survival.
For farmers, raided or damaged crops means that this critically endangered species is often considered to be an agricultural pest and killed.