Endangered orangutans lose their homes to Indonesia forest fires

SINGAPORE - Forest fires in Indonesia have raged for close to two months now and the economic costs are staggering to the archipelago. The Joko Widodo administration estimated the cost of haze and forest fires at 75 trillion rupiah (S$47 billion), while Indonesia's reputation is expected to take a huge hit.

Reuters reported in October that Indonesia is home to the world's third-largest tropical forests but is also the world's fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases mainly due to their destruction of these forests. 

The problems caused by these forest fires extend beyond air pollution and widespread haze in the Southeast Asian region. Reports show that animals native to these destroyed territories are also being affected badly. According to Orangutan Conservancy, there are only about 40,000 orangutans remaining in Borneo and  Sumatra in 2015 - two main areas where the forest fires are said to have started. The number was about 60,000 as recent as 10 years ago.

The slash and burn practices of palm oil plantations have chased many of these endangered animals which are arboreal in nature, out of the forests.

Now when did we forget that men are not the sole inhabitants of this earth?

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) said in a post on Oct 22 that the fires have reached their centres with devastating impacts: "We now face another serious challenge with fire outbreaks occurring across our Mawas Conservation Program in Central Kalimantan. The area engulfed by fire is already estimated to have reached 15,442 hectares in Block A (12,009 ha) and Block E (3,433 ha)."

Indonesia has faced mounting pressure to curb this perennial problem that has affected its Southeast Asian neighbours such as Singapore, Malaysia and even the Philippines.

According to AFP, tens of thousands of people in Indonesia and Malaysia have sought medical treatment for respiratory problems while scientists say the pollution could surpass 1997 levels, when the haze created an environmental disaster that cost an estimated US$9 billion (S$12.57 billion) in damage.

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