Applied Ecology/Case Studies/Asian Rainforest Politics
Topography[edit | edit source]
Southeast Asia extends from the Tropic of Cancer to south of the Equator, and from the Himalayan foothills of Burma to the tropical islands of the Philippines and Indonesia, a distance of more than 6,000 km west to east. It encompasses a wide variety of habitats, and is the meeting place for species from two continents. Burma, Thailand, Indochina and most of Malaysia mark the southernmost limit for Asian species, and the islands of eastern Indonesia, including western New Guinea, lying on the Australian continental shelf, contain many Oceanian species. This warm, fertile region contains some of the wildest places still remaining anywhere in the world, both on land and in the seas.
Overview of biome: 
Dynamics[edit | edit source]
The region has long been a focus for case studies of evolution and the impact of economic growth on the integrity of tropical forests. This really began when Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913) travelled widely in the region. He was the co-publisher with Charles Darwin (1809–82) of the theory of natural selection, coming to the same conclusions as Darwin by recognising a clear-cut division of species distribution in the area.
During the last ice age the countries of mainland tropical Asia and the Greater Sunda Islands - Sumatra, Borneo and lava - were connected by dry land; they were separated as melting ice caused sea levels to rise again. Before this wildlife was able to move along the land bridges, and the islands still have plant and animal species in common with those of the mainland, characterized by tall dipterocarp trees and by monkeys, native deer and hornbills. These habitats, together with their plants and animals, fall within the Indomalayan biogeographical region.
By contrast the islands of eastern Indonesia - Irian Jaya (western New Guinea), Kai and Am - lie on the Australian continental shelf and belong within the Oceanian biogeographical region. Here there are mound-building birds, bowerbirds, parrots and birds of paradise, while wallabies take over the ecological niche of deer.
Wallace's dividing line, separating these two biogeographical regions, runs through the islands between Bali and Lombok, Borneo and Sulawesi, and Palawan and the rest of the Philippines. Still recognized as the biogeographical boundary for many families of plants, and of birds, mammals, insects and other animals, it is a reminder of Southeast Asia's dynamic geological past. On the edges of these two biogeographical regions the islands of Sulawesi, the Philippines, the Moluccas and the Lesser Sundas form a mixing ground for plants and animals from both east and west. They include many species that are found only here.
Southeast Asia was created between 15 and 3 million years ago when outlying fragments of ancient drifting supercontinents collided in the vicinity of the island of Sulawesi. Moulded by its geological past, at a crossroads for animal and plant migrations, the region has some of the most spectacular and diverse tropical habitats in the world. These range from muddy coastal mangroves and peat swamp forests to moss-draped cloud forests and shrubby alpine plant communities. There are tall, lowland dipterocarp (two-winged fruited) forests The tops of these giant dipterocarp trees do not overlap. One explanation for this "crown shyness" is that it inhibits the spread of leaf-eating caterpillars. It also allows light to penetrate through the trees, and has led to the evolution of jumping and gliding mammals and reptiles. The eastern islands have palm-thick jungles. There are tidal wetlands and multicoloured crater lakes of still-active volcanoes; craggy limestone hills with spearlike pinnacles and vast underground cave systems to harsh, nutrient-poor heathlands. The cloudy moss forest at 3,500 m in Northern Borneo is one of the wettest places on Earth, and in the highlands it is also very cold. The trees are stunted, being no more than 10 to 15 m (30 to 45 ft) high; as there is only a single canopy layer enough light penetrates to promote the growth of hanging lichens, mosses and other epiphytes, as well as ground plants. Lava and ash on a volcanic peak weather to a fertile soil, the radiating ridges and channels formed in the lava flows are colonized by wind-blown seeds, and vegetation begins to cover the mountainside.
Countries in the region[edit | edit source]
Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam
|Major protected areas||Type||Hectares|
|Alaungdaw Kathapa||NP||(160,667 ha)|
|Cat Ba||NP||(27,700 ha)|
|Cibodas||NP BR||(15,000 ha)|
|Gunung Leuser||NP BR||(792,675 ha)|
|Gunung Lorentz||NR||(1,560,250 ha)|
|Gunung Mulu||NP||(52,865 ha)|
|Gunung Niut||NR||(110,000 ha)|
|Huai Kha Khaeng||WS||(257,464 ha)|
|Komodo||NP BR||(75,000 ha)|
|Lore Lindu||NP BR||(231,000 ha)|
|Mae Sa-Kog||Ma R BR||(14,200 ha)|
|Mount Apo||NP||(72,814 ha)|
|Mount Kinabalu||NP||(75,370 ha)|
|Puerto Galera||BR||(23,545 ha)|
|Sakaerat||RA BR||(8,10 ha)|
|Siberut||NP BR||(56,500 ha)|
|Taman Negara||NP||(434,351 ha)|
|Tanjung Putting||NP BR||(355,000 ha)|
|Ujung Kulon||NP||(78,619 ha)|
BR=Biosphere Reserve; NP=National Park; Reserve; R=Reserve; RA=Research station Sanctuary NR=Nature ; WS=Wildlife
Human settlement[edit | edit source]
The region has had a long history of human settlement, and people have left their mark on the landscape. The open rolling grasslands of Thailand, east Java and the Lesser Sunda Islands, which extend from Bali to Timor, are great swathes of once forested land that was cleared for agriculture a long time ago and subsequently abandoned. Traditional peoples living at low densities were once able to practice shifting cultivation in ecological balance with their environment. The Land Dayaks of Borneo, the Muong people of Laos and the hill tribes of Burma all cleared land, grew their crops and then let the land lie fallow for several years before returning to cultivate it again. As human populations have grown and remote areas have been opened up for new settlers, more forest areas have been cleared, often on vulnerable lands with nutrient-poor soils. These fields may provide crops for a year or two, but with regular burning they cannot return to secondary forest.
Eventually these abandoned fields become a sea of alang-alang (cogon) grasslands. These are becoming increasingly common throughout tropical Asia. The tough, tall grass is difficult to supplant, has little value except for new grazing and thrives on burning. Fires sweep through the grasslands, destroying adjacent plantations of newly planted trees and eating into the natural forest.
The demands of agriculture now place tremendous pressures on wilderness areas in the region. Forests are being felled by farmers who cultivate the land and then move on, for plantations, and to satisfy the world's seemingly insatiable appetite for hardwoods. Tropical rainforests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Malaysia, where an estimated 230,000 ha (570,000 acres) are cut down every year, will lose all its remaining forest during the 1990s if this rate continues.
Forests have also been lost as a consequence of war, as in Vietnam where 2 million ha (5 million acres) of forest and mangroves were sprayed with herbicides such as Agent Orange during the conflict with the United States between 1964 and 1975. In Borneo large areas have been lost to forest fires, which consumed 3.6 million ha (8.9 million acres) in Kalimantan, in the center and south of the island, and another million in Sabah in the north during the drought year of 1983. Fires started by farmers practicing shifting cultivation raged out of control and were spread by the underlying coal and peat seams; they swept through forests that had already been logged, and damaged the edges of primary forest. In 1987 east Kalimantan was a sea of fire again until the flames were quenched by the late monsoon rains.
Most countries in Southeast Asia have already lost at least half their forest cover. In densely crowded Java only 9 percent of the island remains forested. Even on Borneo, renowned for its vast tracts of tall dipterocarp and swamp forests, the forest boundaries are being pushed back farther and farther inland and every major river is congested with floating logs. Until people throughout the world become aware of the threat and there is a dramatic reduction in the use of tropical hardwoods, the destructive deforestation of Southeast Asia will continue.
Sometimes the need for conservation is understood only too well by the local people but ignored by governments and business interests, more concerned with short-term profit than the long-term cost of environmental folly. The Penan of Sarawak, hunter-gatherers who harvest wild meat and a few minor forest products for their own use, are now building blockades to halt the timber trucks of the companies that are destroying their traditional lands. Local people, struggling for a livelihood from shifting cultivation, are often blamed for starting the fires that lead to forest losses, but the areas that burn most intensely are those that have already been logged.
Many countries in the region are suffering the environmental consequences that follow the loss of natural landscapes -droughts where there was once rain, floods sweeping down deforested valleys, and erosion of coasts and hillsides. Lowland habitats, particularly on the fertile alluvial lands along river valleys, are the first to disappear. Swamps, mangroves and wetlands are drained for development and agriculture, forests are cleared, limestone hills are quarried for cement, coral reefs are burned for lime and damaged by blasting to kill the fish. As these habitats are lost, so too are the benefits they provide: natural products, fish nurseries, coastline and watershed protection.
Politics of logging[edit | edit source]
The politics of conservation in South East Asia first captured the World’s attention when the Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad threatened to boycott the 1992 United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED) in Brazil because of what he saw as "abuse" of Third World Countries from First World environmentalists. This situation was reviewed by William Steiff in the November 1991 issue of ‘Monitor’ with an article entitled Deforesting Malaysia
The original article by Steiff may be viewed from here: 
This perceived affront seemed to focus on a book published the previous year by Philip Hurst entitled Rainforest Politics: Ecological Destruction in South-East Asia. Hurst presented six case studies of the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Thailand and Burma. From personal experience of the area he set out the human and economic consequences of forest destruction. His analysis revealed that its causes are rooted in an exploitation of natural resources for western markets going back to colonial days. In addition, a range of other factors play a role including land hunger of small farmers deprived of their traditional farming lands, wrongly conceived development strategies and the pressures of foreign debt. In the 1980s and early 1990s, it was received wisdom in the development agencies that the main pressure on tropical forests came from the poor. Many NGOs put a lot of effort into demonstrating the links between deforestation, landlessness and poverty and the processes of land and wealth concentration, which were in turn driven by macro-economic forces and global trade. They called for secure tenure for indigenous peoples and participatory agrarian reforms for peasants to address the linked problems of ecological injustice and deforestation.
Subsequent studies demonstrated that forest loss caused by logging was far more than had previously been thought. NGO case studies showed how the demands of the timber, and later paper and pulp, industries were heavily simplified and degraded both boreal and temperate forests. They also exposed the corruption in the timber industry, explored the political ecology of forest loss and drew attention to the activities of migratory loggers who have been expanding their operations out of South-East Asia and posed an increasingly serious threat to the world’s forests.
WWF and World Bank Alliance[edit | edit source]
In 1997, the World Bank and the WorldWide Fund for Nature (WWF) announced the establishment of a new ‘Alliance’ to be shaped around a joint strategy designed to meet the WWF’s dual campaign targets of ‘setting aside’ 10% of all major forest ecosystems as protected areas and bringing an additional 200 million hectares of the world’s forests under sustainable forest management, both by the year 2005. The alliance brought together the WWF’s abilities to work with a wide range of ‘stakeholders’ and the financial power of the World Bank. It was important to visualise what was actually happening to forests on the ground. Improved data about rates of deforestation have also sharpened concerns about whether these targets are realisable or even too modest. Revised FAO and WRI figures suggest that forest loss at this time was still accelerating with global annual loss now estimated at 15 million hectares per year.
According to World Bank/WWF projections, by 2050 a further 200 million hectares of the world’s total 3.2 billion hectares of forests would be lost to agriculture, while to service a projected demand of 3 billion cubic metres of industrial roundwood per year, up to half of the worlds’ remaining forests will be subject to logging at an intensity of 2 cubic metres/ha/year. This may be taking logging up to the limits, as according to one study up to half of all forests are likely to remain inaccessible to logging for the foreseeable future.
An ‘Intensification Model’ was therefore put forward by the WWF/World Bank Alliance to meet market demands – a ‘model’ which corresponded closely with the Bank’s existing forest policy. Under this model, 200 million hectares of forests would still be ineluctably lost to agricultural expansion, but intensive management of silviculture and plantations, on 600 million hectares of forest yielding up to 5 cubic metres of roundwood per hectare per year, would service the global market, potentially freeing an additional 900 million hectares of forest for additional protected areas, while still leaving a further 1.5 billion hectares of forests relatively inaccessible and untouched.
This alliance and the outcomes it predicted were critically reviewed by Marcus Colchester in 2000.
A draft of Colchester’s article may be viewed from here: 
In May 2005 the WWF and the World Bank renewed their Alliance for Forest Conservation and Sustainable Use (Forest Alliance) with a programme aimed at reducing global deforestation rates 10% by 2010. The two organizations signed on to the Forest Alliance agreement for another five years on 26 May 2005, during the fifth session of the UN Forum on Forests. The programme was designed to support the establishment of new forest protected areas; more effective management of forest protected areas, and improved management of forests outside of protected areas. It will also facilitate regional cooperation and the adoption of policies in support of more effective forest management.
The following year (Mar 2006) the "Heart of Borneo" conservation initiative was officially launched today with the three Bornean governments - Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia - declaring their commitment to support it. The tri-country initiative aims to preserve one of the most important centres of biological diversity in the world, including approximately 220,000km2 of equatorial forests and numerous wildlife species. A recent WWF report had highlighted that 361 new species have been discovered in the last ten years.
Today, only half of Borneo's forest cover remains, down from 75 per cent in the mid 1980s. According to WWF, all lowland rainforests in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, would disappear by 2010, if the current deforestation rate of 1.3 million hectares per year continues. That's an area equivalent to about one-third the size of Switzerland. Forest fires, the conversion of forests to plantations, and logging are also driving the destruction of Borneo's forests.
In addition, the three Bornean governments recently announced new conservation measures within the ‘Heart of Borneo’. Malaysia declared it will protect more than 200,000ha of key forest habitat in Sabah for the protection of orang-utans, elephants and rhinos. Brunei has established two conservation areas. And Indonesia has proposed a new national park of 800,000ha.
According to WWF, the Heart of Borneo initiative spells the end of plans to create the world's largest palm oil plantation in Kalimantan along Indonesia's mountainous border with Malaysia. The scheme - supported with Chinese investments - was expected to cover an area of 1.8 million hectares and would have had long-lasting, damaging consequences on the Heart of Borneo. WWF repeatedly said new oil palm plantations should be established on degraded, non-forested land. It is a well known logging area
East Kalimantan[edit | edit source]
East Kalimantan was the first of Philip Hurst’s case studies, a region which occupies about 200,000 km2. of Borneo. In 1981 there were an estimated 173,000 km2 of forest, of which 130,000 had been designated for logging. In the 1980s Kalimantan as a whole supplied almost one-third of the country's timber exports. Despite this contribution to the economy the profits accrued to a small minority and did not generally improved the living standards of the local people. By 1984 Kalimantan had more than 10,000 km2 of 'critical lands', a dangerous situation for an agricultural region. This has been proven in the studies.
As an introduction to the politics of logging Hurst presented the case of the U.S. Weyerhauser Corporation provides a good example of logging concession politics in this region at this time.
Hurst’s story begins in the late 1960s when Weyerhauser's logging concessions in the Philippines were becoming unprofitable. Wishing to expand operations Weyerhauser went into partnership with an Indonesian company: the International Timber Corporation of Indonesia (ITCI). In 1971 ITCI gained rights to 386,000 ha of primary hill forest in East Kalimantan.
Weyerhauser could never buy out its partner because ITCI was a trust set up personally by President Suharto. On paper, Weyerhauser owned only 65% of ITCI but they provided the operations' total investment of US$32m. Both parties gained: Weyerhauser had financial control over ITCI and ITCI acquired a large working capital with no investment. ITCI's major shareholders were the top 73 Generals in Suharto's 'New Order' government. In effect the partnership was a form of pay-off from Suharto for the loyalty of Indonesia's military elite. Over the first seven years ITCI's log sales averaged US$37m annually. In 1977, output from this one concession reached 1.6m tons of logs worth US$66m.
How much of this figure was straight profit for Weyerhauser is not clear. The forest expert, Norman Myers, estimated that for a similarly funded operation the foreign shareholder gained more than US$3m profit per year.
The ‘Three Ministers Decree’ of 1980 put pressure on all logging operations to reinvest profits in processing facilities, but this did not suit Weyerhauser who pulled out of ITCI in 1984. In short, Weyerhauser was not interested in timber processing or managing the forest after they had extracted the highest value timber, an attitude typical of foreign investment in Indonesia's timber industry at this time. The concessionaires left behind an overcut forest and a tinderbox, which was revealed when during 1982-3 fires swept through 3.5m ha of the region. An estimated 20 million cu. metres of timber from primary forest and a further 35 million c. metres from secondary forest were destroyed.
In 1993 came the report of the Southeast Asia Sustainable Forest Management Network ‘Communities and Forest Management in East Kalimantan: Pathway to Environmental Stability. This was edited by Mark Poffenberger and Betsy McGean of the Center for Southeast Asia Studies, International and Area Studies of University of California, Berkeley. This report provides a preliminary discussion of selected research findings from the Indonesian members of the Southeast Asia Sustainable Forest Management Network. With nearly three-quarters of the country's land area officially under forest cover, national planners have viewed forest utilization as a vehicle to stimulate economic growth and as a land pool to absorb Java's growing population. Migrants seek forest land for farming. Businessmen see profit-generating opportunities. Non-government organizations perceive the richness of the cultural and biological diversity and hope to preserve it. Indigenous peoples view the forest as their ancestral home, the foundation of their traditions and their continuity. The East Kalimantan case studies did not attempt to justify any of these views described above. Rather, the researchers reported changes in the environment and society occurring in the provincial study sites in recent years through human forest interactions. The study found that forest utilization practices by concessionaires, developers, migrants, and local populations had led to a rapid process of forest degradation, especially in high pressure areas nearer roads and urban centres. The researchers raised the question, "How can Indonesia best manage its millions of hectares of degraded forest lands?" They concluded that while some of this area can be developed for settlements, agriculture, and fast-growing timber plantations, a sizable majority might best be left to regenerate naturally under the protection of local communities.
They found that indigenous Dayak communities in Datarban and Diak Lay both showed a deep knowledge of forest ecology and regenerative processes based on centuries of experience with long rotation agriculture. Traditional wisdom combined with more recent scientific experimentation indicates rapid regrowth can be achieved if cutting and burning are controlled. The productivity of valuable timber and non-timber forest products could be greatly increased through enrichment planting and other manipulations of the natural environment. The Dayaks, as well as the Kutai and migrant groups, were concerned about the future of their communities and the natural resources upon which they depend. The researchers concluded by urging planners, academics, and community development specialists to empower forest people with the legal custodial authority to heal disturbed forest ecosystems and make them once again ecologically rich and economically productive.
Illegal logging and fire have continued to be major issues in East Kalimantan for the next quarter of a century. According to a 2006 report by Ferdinandus Agung Prasetyo and Krystof Obidzinski from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) the East Kalimantan provincial government is losing over US$100 million a year in lost business tax revenue due to illegal logging and unreported timber processing. This does not include the intangible costs of the loss of biodiversity and water services. Nor the future social cost of natural disasters and loss of jobs from forest destruction.
Demand for timber is now far exceeding the amounts that can be produced sustainably. According to the CIFOR study, East Kalimantan's timber industry has the capacity to produce about 9.1 million cubic meters of wood a year. For all of Indonesia the capacity exceeds 60 million cubic meters. This is in stark contrast to the Ministry of Forestry's allowable cut of 5.7 million cubic meters in 2004. The report takes a fairly standard estimate that the industry in East Kalimantan is working at only 60 percent of its potential capacity, which equates to the need for timber in the region being around 5.5 million cubic meters" Figures for the past five years show that the official quantity of log production from natural forest has been around 2.1 million cubic meters per year. Subtract this official figure of 2.1 million cubic meters from the 60 percent estimated output, and there is an apparent deficit of 3.3 million cubic meter of logs. This 3.3 million cubic meters of timber is being processed without any taxes being paid to the provincial government. There is also the lost revenue incurred through illegal timber smuggling to neighbouring countries. This was over two million cubic meters in 2000. . In total, undocumented timber processing and illegal logging amount to a revenue loss of Rp 856 billion a year - about $US107 million a year - half the annual revenue of the region. This is money that could be spent on poverty reduction programs, job creation schemes, new schools and health centres.
The price of timber is decreasing despite a rise in demand for wood and a decline in the legal production of timber. Given falling supply and increasing demand, economics dictates that prices should be rising. That prices are not going up means there is an oversupply of timber on the market, and this appears to be from illegal or at least undocumented sources. This timber costs less because the suppliers do not have to pay tax or meet the other financial obligations associated with legally producing timber.
It appears that the days of East Kalimantan being the main source of timber to Indonesia are over. In 1974, official government statistics listed the region as producing 6.6 million cubic meters of timber. The estimate of the Ministry of Forestry for 2004 is only 1.6 million cubic meters. The decline in output is due to a number of causes. These range from the 1997/98 forest fires and recent land use changes, through to unsustainable and illegal logging, which is also contributing to the steady deforestation of East Kalimantan. There are many issues underpinning illegal logging. One of them, but not the major one, is the lack of law enforcement. The most significant underlying cause of illegal logging is the client-patron relationship. Illegal logging is difficult to eliminate because both suppliers and purchasers benefit from the profitability of the trade, especially by evading tax.
Current timber prices are reaching as low as US$45–50 per cubic meters. These levels are bound to make legal timber production unprofitable. Another reason for the low prices is that workers involved in illegal logging earn much less than legal workers because of their poor bargaining position.
The authors of the report suggest a number of solutions to the illegal logging problem. Restructuring the timber industries, increasing the supply of timber from plantations and improving the management of natural forest would reduce illegal logging and slow down deforestation. Other solutions include making timber industry regulations more transparent and improving law enforcement practices.
Forestry is the main source of livelihood in East Kalimantan. If illegal logging is not properly addressed, Prasetyo and Obidzinski predict unemployment in the region will increase due to the short-term benefits and unequal distribution of profits from the business of illegal logging will harm the environment and the economic future of the region.
In 2005 the system for verifying the legality of timber known as the ‘legality standard’, the outcome of an MOU between the governments of Indonesia and UK, had clearly not been agreed upon by the stakeholders in East Kalimantan. However the independent parties that instigated the system – i.e. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) of America, the Department for International Development (DFID) of UK and SGS/URS Forestry (a TNC consultant) continued to attempt to spread information about it in East Kalimantan. The East Kalimantan Working Group on Forests, (Coordinator, Yoga Sofyar), the Director of BEBSiC (Ade Fadli) and the Coordinator of Working Group 30 (Public Policy Advocacy Foundation), Kahar Al Bahri. Yoga, Ade Fadli and Kahar hoped that later there would be a system which supports the conservation of the forest and takes the part of the local communities. They admitted concern for the situation of the forestry sector. Up to now, after almost 40 years selling timber, Indonesia has not yet been able to say that the timber from the forest is harvested according to law, i.e. that it is legal. “This is a very shameful situation,” said Ade Fadli on the web site ‘Illegal-logging.info’.
Meanwhile, the headline in The Jakarta Post, Feb 9, 2006, 'Illegal logging rolls on', has an air of resignation about it, as the paper reported the latest news on the logging issue:
Some 20 ships loaded with illegally cut logs and sawn timber are docked outside Tanjung Balai Karimun Customs Office in Riau Islands province. The ships were detained by the customs office while attempting to smuggle their illegal cargo into Malaysia and Singapore, the head of the office, Bambang Prasodjo, told The Jakarta Post. Eight of the ships were detained in January, carrying over 613,000 cubic meters of illegally cut timber worth an estimated Rp 3.5 billion (US$376,344). Last year, the office detained about 30 ships. Bambang claimed Monday there were no signs that the smuggling of illegal logs in the province's waters was slowing down. "It is still difficult to break up the networks smuggling illegally cut logs into Singapore and Malaysia. Complicating the situation is the fact that the under the Customs Law, the smugglers are considered to be the ones carrying (the illegal goods), in this case, the captain and crew. (Arresting) the owners of the ships is outside our authority," he said. He said smugglers carried the logs at night, even during rough weather, believing there would be fewer police patrols. In Riau Islands, five areas are believed to be the main suppliers of illegal logs to neighbouring countries. They are Tembilahan, Selat Panjang, Dumai, Tiga Island and Dabo Singkep. (JP/Fadli)
The industrial politics of the Orang-utan[edit | edit source]
To view the orang-utan crisis: 
The orang-utan - whose name, appropriately, means 'man of the woods' - is the only great ape living outside Central Africa. It is also the most arboreal of the great apes, and well adapted for life in the trees. It moves through the forest swinging by its arms from branch to branch, a style of movement that has led it to develop arms that are half as long again as its legs; when hanging loosely they reach almost to its ankles. The orang-utan's long, narrow hands and feet are, similarly, adaptations for grasping branches. On the ground it moves awkwardly on its hind legs with arms held over its head. When moving more quickly it uses its long arms like crutches, pivoting on clenched fists and swinging its body between them. Usually it lives either singly or in twos, occasionally in small groups of up to four individual animals. Old males live apart except briefly when mating. The orang-utan feeds mainly on fruit-notably the evil-smelling but pleasant-tasting fruit of the durian tree - supplemented by leaves, bark, birds' eggs, freshwater crustaceans, and insects. Females and young sleep in the trees 10 m/30 ft or more above the ground. Each female makes a nest in the form of a simple platform in the fork of a tree, put together in a matter of minutes. Nests are seldom used more than once.
The orang-utan has a low reproductive potential; females do not become sexually mature until about ten years of age, and reproduce only every fourth year. The single young is suckled for at least 12 months and does not become completely independent for four years. There is moreover a high (40%) infant mortality rate. Thus a female orang-utan may succeed in raising no more than two or three young during her lifetime.
The Sumatran orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus abelii) differs genetically and physically from the Bornean orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus), and the population is smaller. Both species are highly endangered due to habitat loss and poaching and it is imperative that they are saved from extinction. The population of Sumatran orang-utans declined in number from over 12,000 in 1994 to 7,300 in 2003.
There may be as many as 180,000 orang-utans in Sumatra and Kalimantan, with another 4,000 or so in Sabah and Sarawak. But although these figures are higher than earlier estimates, numbers are believed to be declining at the rate of several thousand a year. The only orang-utans that can be regarded as reasonably secure are the 20,000 or so estimated to occur in established reserves; but these reserves are in need of more rigorous protection and higher standards of management. Orang-utans are a "keystone" species for conservation. They play an important part in the forest's regeneration through the fruits and seeds they eat. Their disappearance may represent the loss of thousands of species of plants and animals within that ecosystem. The Sumatran Orang-utan has been placed on the "Critically Endangered" list of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
In Sumatra, with their jungle environment burnt and logged and their food sources lost, the Sumatran orang-utan population has been forced to move into upland forest. Current estimates suggest that they could become extinct in the wild in less than 10 years. Illegal logging and the deliberate starting of forest fires in order to convert virgin forest to timber and palm oil plantations are the main factors responsible for the loss of over 80% of orang-utan habitat over the last 20 years.
Habitat destruction has arisen from the need to provide cultivated land for the constantly expanding human population, and from extensive commercialised exploitation of the primary forest in which the orang-utan lives. Fire is a further hazard: in 1983, a huge fire destroyed about 30,000 km2 of forest, including 8,000 km2 of primary forest. Most of the orang-utans in Sarawak and Sabah occur in 'forest reserves', a designation implying protection, but the term is misleading. Forest reserves are expressly earmarked for licensed timber extraction by contractors from whom the government draws a royalty. Clear felling of the forest has had the effect of splitting the orang-utans into small, often isolated, groups, making their survival difficult. Heavy losses have also been incurred in capturing orang-utans both for medical research purposes and for the pet trade. There is a lucrative market for baby orang-utans in many parts of the Far East, and the high prices paid prove an irresistible temptation to smugglers. The capture of baby orang-utans generally involves slaughtering their mothers; few of the young survive the separation. Young orang-utans are delicate animals and are susceptible to the same diseases as human beings. Captured animals are generally kept under unhygienic conditions and forced to exist on an unnatural diet, with the result that most of them die from malnutrition or disease. For every young orang-utan that survives in captivity, ten die.
Trade in young orang-utans is now illegal, with the governments of Singapore and Hong Kong prohibiting their import and export. The International Union of Directors of Zoological Gardens has also introduced stringent regulations governing the acquisition of orang-utans. Biological field stations have been established in both Borneo and Sumatra with the purpose of rehabilitating confiscated pets and smuggled orang-utans for reintroduction to the wild. Certain medical research organizations in the US have undertaken to establish their own private breeding centres in an attempt to minimize the need for wild-caught animals. These measures have succeeded in almost completely halting the illegal trade in orang-utans. But there remains the need to establish a series of large and well-managed orangutan sanctuaries, in addition to Sumatra's existing Gunung Leuser National Park (9,464 km2).
Gunung Leuser National Park is one of the biggest national parks in Indonesia (950,000 hectare). Actually, it's a collection of various nature reserves and forests: Gunung Leuser, Nature Reserve Kappi, Nature Reserve Kluet, Sikundur Langkat Wildlife Reserve, Ketambe Research Station, Singkil Barat and Dolok Sembilin. Most parts of the national park lie in the region Aceh Tenggara (SE Aceh). Other parts are situated in the region east Aceh, south Aceh, and Langkat (a part of North Sumatra). The Gunung Leuser National Park comprises more than 100 kilometres of the Bukit Barisan Mountains. It has been declared a world heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation because of its complete ecosystem. The park consists of steep, almost inaccessible mountainous terrain. The altitude ranges from 0 metre, in Kluet (South Aceh), to 3,381 metre, on top of the Gunung Leuser (Southeast Aceh). The Alas river cuts the park into an eastern and western half. Apart from mountains there are several other ecosystems: beach forest, swamp areas, lowland rainforest, alpine and mountain forest.
To view the Gunung Leuser National Park Website: 
The latest threat to this ecosystem is the rehabilitation project to rehouse the population of Aceh made homeless by the tsunami that hit the coastal region in 2005. The epicenter of the undersea quake was at Meulaboh in western Aceh. In Aceh, more than 70 percent of the inhabitants of some coastal villages are reported to have died. The official death toll is at 111,171, while more than 127,000 others remain missing. The exact number of victims will probably never be known. The Indonesian Ministry of Forestry estimated that about 8.5 million cubic metres of timber are needed to build 123,000 houses for Acehnese who survived the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster. Of the total figure, six million cubic meters will be in the form of logs and the remaining 2.5 million cubic meters will be sawn. According to the Ministry of Environment, the central government is targeting the Gunung Leuser National Park, be the supplier of the logs.
To view a newspaper article on the above project: 
The only area in Sabah to have a legally protected population of orangutans is the Tabin Wildlife Reserve (1,205 km2 / 465 sq mis). The species' prospects have been greatly improved by the establishment of the Danum Valley Conservation Area (427 km2 in Eastern Sabah, an area unsuitable to agriculture which is believed to contain a substantial number of orang-utans, as well as a group of Sumartran Rhinoceroses.
To view Project Borneo: 
Sarawak Lanjak-Enomau National Park was created primarily for the protection of the orang-utan in 1983, with the proposed Batan Ai National Park adjoining the Lanjak Entimau Sanctuary's southern border. This wildlife sanctuary in southwestern Sarawak lies adjacent to the international border with Indonesia and falls within the Sri Aman, Sibu, Sarikei and Kapit divisions. It covers an area of 187,000 hectares and originally created as a protected forest in 1940. It was gazetted as a wildlife sanctuary in 1983, primarily as an orang utan reserve. It comprises rugged and steeply dissected terrain with hills and ridges that are commonly over 300m. Steep slopes with narrow V-shaped valleys predominate the area. The sanctuary has three peaks, namely Bukit Lanjak (1,284m), Bukit Entimau (975m) and Gunong Spali (966m). The region is an important water-catchment area and is drained by the Ensirieng, Mujol, Poi, Ngemah, Katibas, Bloh, Apoh and Kanowit rivers.
Through biodiversity surveys, the sanctuary is now known to contain 2,807 species of vascular plants, 218 species of medicinal plants, 158 species of jungle fruits, 108 species of jungle vegetables, 500 species of fungi, 42 species of lichens, 6 species of primates, 48 species of small mammals, 235 species of birds, 73 species of reptiles and amphibians, 82 species of fish and 1,053 species of insects.
In 1990, the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) recommended that the Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary to be developed as a Totally Protected Area. This development is crucial to the conservation of tropical biodiversity because of the richness of its flora and fauna and its close links to the Bentung Kerihun National Park in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Other than biodiversity conservation, the project also aims to support sustainable livelihoods among local residents living on its periphery. Therefore, in 1993, the Sarawak government embarked on a cross-border cooperation with the Indonesian government to develop and establish the Lanjak-Entimau/Bentung Kerihun as a Totally Protected Area, in which ITTO acts as a catalyst and facilitator. In Sarawak, the project began in 1993. On the Indonesian side, the first phase commenced in 1995. This combined areas of 1.1 million hectares is not only the region's first tropical forest transboundary biodiversity conservation area (TBCA) but and also one of the world's largest. This TCBA constitutes the most important sanctuary in Borneo for about 3,000 orang utans, perhaps 10% of the world's remaining wild population of the species, and other rare and threatened plant and animal species.
To view TCBA Sactuary: 
An effective survival programme for Sumatran orang-utans is imperative because they have been neglected for a long time and have received almost no international help for years. Deprived of their forest cover, they are increasingly confronted by ever-expanding human populations. The search for food forces them to stray into farms and palm oil plantations where they are often killed or fall victim to poachers. The only hope for these orang-utan refugees, and for orang-utans taken captive and kept as pets both in Sumatra and abroad, is rescue and re-introduction into the wild.
Although there are several active rehabilitation centres for Bornean orang-utans, until 2002 Sumatra had only one, the Bohorok Orangutan Centre (BOC). Unfortunately, the BOC was forced to close its doors to new arrivals in 1996. Essentially, the centre had too many orang-utans and no place to put them. These reasons, coupled with the tourist explosion in the 1990s at Bohorok, left Sumatra without a working centre. The latest conservation strategies recommend against the re-introduction of ex-captives into wild populations, due to the threat of disease. This eliminates the vast Gunung Leuser National Park, adjacent to the Bohorok centre, as a viable relocation site. Despite this, the orang-utans living at Bohorok still remain and need to be cared for.
People and the forest[edit | edit source]
In his case study of the impact of logging on indigenous peoples, Philip Hurst reported in 1990 that than 2,000 km2 of Sarawak's forests were being logged annually. Along the Baram river alone more than 30 logging operations were working on approximately 400 km2 of forest. This highlighted the relations between the longhouse communities in the upper reaches of the Baram and Limbang rivers and the logging companies which had been deteriorating since the mid 1970s.
Since the 1960s, the timber industry had profoundly disrupted the lifestyle of the Penan people and only half of the 10,000 Penan continued to live their traditionally nomadic life style in the forests. Most settled Penan had relocated in government resettlement schemes.
View the history of Penan and the logging of the rainforest:
In response to deforestation the Penan have generally attempted to avoid the logging companies by moving towards the Kalimantan border. By the mid 1980s, however, logging roads extended so deep into the interior that even the most remote Penan groups could no longer avoid logging concessions. As a result there have been constant problems, with logging operations scaring away wildlife, causing the silting of rivers, killing fish and contaminating drinking water supplies. The environmental damage forms the crux of opposition to logging in these districts, but the logging companies' attitude has undoubtedly exacerbated the situation.
Conflict[edit | edit source]
Hurst quotes one example of the conflict between Limbang Trading and Along Sega, a Penan headman from Long Adang ('Long' is the local term for 'Longhouse'). The 1,000 km2 Limbang concession was owned by Datuk James Wong, the Tourist Minister for Sarawak. The trouble started in 1985 when Limbang Trading destroyed the graves of Along Sega's parents and five other relatives. It was one of the first cases in which a more militant stand began to emerge. The logging camp manager offered Along a MS$100 (US$40) note as compensation, which Along refused.
In his own words:
I told him, even if I have to die of any cause I shall not trade the bodies and souls of my parents and relatives to save mine because our bodies, dead or alive, are not for sale. I refused the money and pleaded with him also that if you have so much money already please don't come here to take our land. But he just shook his head, laughed and replied; 'We have been licensed to work on this land. There is no such thing as your land in the forest because forest belongs only to the government. Take this money or you get nothing.' I still rejected the money.
The Penan, however, are not the only tribal group to be angered by the timber industry. In 1981, 500 Kenyah from Long Apoh on the Baram river approached the Sam Ling Timber Company logging camp and demanded compensation for damage to their land. Previously they had sent a number of petitions asking the company to enter into negotiations over compensation proposals for their longhouse. All these had been ignored and when there was still no response to their suggestion of MS$40 (US$16) compensation for every ton of timber extracted they threatened to burn the camp. The Kenyah leaders were promptly arrested.
Later that year 80 people from 22 longhouses descended on the Lamat logging camp demanding MS$2 (US$0.80 cents) per ton of timber extracted. The longhouses had applied for their own timber licenses a number of times but had been refused and the 68,000 ha concession had gone to Lamat.187 Another incident occurred in the Niah area where a camp manager was stopped and forced to pay MS$7,000 (US$2,800) as compensation for damage caused by logging. The local longhouse had earlier been promised compensation, but it never arrived. Once again those involved were arrested.
In 1983 the Ulu Nyalan logging camp in Niah was threatened by a small group of Iban demanding MS$100,000 (US$40,000) as compensation and MS$10 for every ton of timber extracted.189 They threatened to burn down the camp and were arrested two days later. In October of that year several blocks of living quarters in the Batu Niah logging camp were burnt to the ground. In January 1984, 200 Iban barricaded a timber road with logs at Lubok Lalang in Sungai Medamit. They demanded MS$2m (US$790,000) in compensation from another company owned by Datuk James Wong, to no avail.
In other cases, however, compensation has been agreed although the sums that change hands are clearly inadequate for the loss of resources. At Long Piah, in the Baram District, loggers drove roads through swidden fields without permission. According to the local people the sites are now useless as all the top soil has been scraped or washed away. They did not bother to take the company to court for this illegal damage on Native Customary Land, as they could only claim the maximum MS$5 per metre compensation for the damage.190 There is a general mistrust in the justice handed out from the courts within Sarawak's Dayak community. This has built up from a number of cases in which logging companies have broken the law but received no punishment.
The law can, however, even act against tribal people attempting to stop logging on land they own. In 1985, Laeng Wan, a Kayan from Long Miri, was arrested for building a fence across a logging road leading to his land. He was charged with unlawfully restricting a trespasser from encroaching on his own land. In 1977 he had signed an agreement leasing his land for ten years to a timber company. In 1983, however, when the initial cut had been completed, the timber company moved out and was replaced by a new contractor, and logging continued without Laeng Wan's permission or any offer of compensation for the extra damage caused. It was then that Laeng took matters into his own hands and built the barricade. Due to the extremely intimate relationship between government officials and timber concessionaires, many longhouses complain that the authorities are not interested in their problems. One example, in late 1986, from Long Tepan on Ulu Tutoh, a major tributary of the Baram, illustrates this lack of concern.
The Dayaks described their experiences when some government officials took the unusual step of visiting an area where complaints had emerged.
"As we are not able to write we were happy that they [government officers] came, so we told them about our problems which are mainly caused by the logging activities of Samling Timber Snd Bhd, which started operations about six years ago in Sungai Puak. They wrote all what we told them down and we were assured that they would take the necessary action to protect our land as requested. But merely two weeks after they left the bulldozers roared mercilessly around us. Then we realized it was just another empty promise from the officials. Samling Timber gained their logging rights direct from twelve longhouses by giving them MS$2,000 (approximately MS$7 per person; US$3) in return for allowing timber contractors to clear the land."
View representation made by Penan to the Malaysian Timber Certification Council: 
Blockades[edit | edit source]
In March 1987,12 major logging roads were blockaded by more than 2,000 people from three ethnic groups, the Penan, Kayan and Kelabit. The Penan formed the majority although most sites were located on Native Customary Land controlled by the other groups. Nine timber companies were affected, including: Samling Timber, Limbang Trading, Wong Tong Kwong, Merlin Timber, Sarsin Lumber, Marabong Lumber and Baya Lumber. The sites formed a 150 km swathe across the upper Baram and Limbang rivers.
The authorities immediately sealed off the areas and arrested those whom they thought were instigating the trouble. Several members of SAM were charged under the Internal Security Act and held in prison for up to one month. The blockades, however, remained in place.
One primary aim of the blockades was to publicize the problems and this strategy proved to be successful. In East Malaysia, however, the national papers are directly owned by the various political parties, all of whom are involved in logging. The ruling Sarawak National Party (SNAP) claimed that outside agitators had incited the Penans and that a lawyer from Kuala Lumpur had visited the areas just before the blockades to stir up local people.
In June 1987 a delegation of Penan headmen went to Kuala Lumpur to appeal to the King and Prime Minister. They saw neither but gained considerable press coverage, and sympathy was developing abroad as international press agencies picked up on the story.
Deforestation as an anti-development issue[edit | edit source]
As outside support developed, the press within Sarawak began to show less tolerance. A few reports attempted to turn the blockades into an anti-dvelopment issues, claiming that SAM and other groups supporting the cause wanted to keep the Penan as museum pieces.
Those who choose to maintain a traditional way of life depend utterly on wild game, fish and edible plants. Sago, supplemented by a wide range of fruits, nuts and berries, forms the vegetable base to their diet, while boar, lizard, monkey, various birds and fish provide the major protein source. The Penan establish a camp in an area for three to six weeks, moving on when food becomes scarce. The social groups are small, 20 to 30 individuals, and material possessions limited. Their rough, open shelters, constructed entirely from forest produce, quickly deteriorate and are reclaimed by the forest after abandonment. This life style restricts them to a few material possessions that can be carried, such as metal cooking implements, large machete-type knives (parangs) and a few Western consumer items, such as watches and radios are all bought by trading forest produce.
In the 1990s blowpipes were still in use, although rifles were more popular. Only the older Penan men continued to wear the traditional loincloth, 'T' shirts and shorts were more common. The women usually wore some form of sarong, a single piece of material wrapped around the body.
The nomadic lifestyle is undoubtedly hard; life expectancy is low at 40 years. For many years the government has attempted to restrict the Penan's movements and to establish them in settled villages in order to provide basic health care and education. The other side of this seemingly benevolent policy is the claim that the Penan are a threat to the development of the timber industry. In physical terms they have an absolutely minimal effect on the forests, it is their political influence that creates a challenge to the authorities. The timber industry destroys their forest environment and consequently their culture and lifestyle. The interests of the two groups are entirely incompatible. Clearly, the Penan feel seriously threatened by the type of development to which they have been exposed. As nomads they can make no legal claims over the forest land they use because it has not been cleared; they are, therefore, trespassers on state-owned land. The Penan in the government plantation settlements live in an atmosphere of grudging acceptance rather than in hope for an improved lifestyle.
By July the Peoples Mirror of Sarawak was running a general smear campaign against the Penan and the blockades. One reporter described the Penan and their lifestyle thus:
A society without doors - a life of mere existence with no material possessions. . .. Children with phlegm-smeared faces tug to their mothers sarongs [Malaysian dress]. Sucklings and toddlers - children -could very well be their only possession and no doors can keep them safe ... if the Penans are not ready for change now, then when will they ever be? ... The Penans, being a very simple people are being easily swayed. The truth is that logging does not deprive them of their food and water supply.
The blockades stayed in place until October 1987 when an amendment to Sarawak's Forest Ordinances made it a criminal offence - even for the land owner - to block any logging road. Forest Officers were empowered to arrest without warrant, and conviction brought a MS$6,000 (US$2,400) fine and up to two years in prison. There were 42 arrests at the blockade sites as troops were used to end the protests.
Since the publication of Philip Child’s account of the bad relations between the Penan and their government, the situation that caused the blockades has not changed in the last quarter of a century.
An immense quantity of statements have emerged from the people involved and one, signed by 61 tribal leaders, clearly presents the Dayak view of their situation: Some people say we are against 'development' if we do not agree to move out of our land and forest. This completely misrepresents our position. Development does not mean stealing our land and forest. . . . This is not development but theft of our land, our rights and our cultural identity. Development to us means:
- recognizing our land rights in practice;
- putting a stop to logging in our lands and forests so that we can continue to live;
- introducing clean water supply, proper health facilities, better schools for our children.
This kind of development we want. Why don't you give us this development and progress?
View 'the final chapter for Sarawk's primary forests': 
The Government viewpoint[edit | edit source]
The internet is full of the websites of organisations presenting the view of forest peoples, and urging western folk to lobby and boycott aimed at supporting the likes of the Penan. On the other side the Malaysia government makes statements that it continues to strongly support international efforts to promote and ensure sustainability in forest management. Its long term view is that, if the global community wishes to halt deforestation and improve forest management and conserve biodiversity it should be willing to share the cost entailed. Some additional US$125 billion a year is estimated to be required to achieve the necessary improvement in forestry management practices world wide. Since UNCED in 1992 the additional resources pledged by the developed nations to assist Third World countries in this field are still not forthcoming. On these ground tropical forests are undervalued. In particular, the international community which values tropical forests for their biodiversity as a carbon sink is still unprepared to pay for these services.
In Peninsular Malaysia alone the estimated cost of implementing sustainable forest management is about RM1.7 billion which will have to be financed through royalties and levies imposed on forestry products .The achievement of sustainability cannot be attained overnight nor are the goals static . The whole process is dynamic and evolving. Malaysia says it remains committed to ITTO's Objective Year 2000, definite steps are already in place to pave the way towards this direction, notwithstanding the lack of transfer of resources, as promised, from the developed North.
In the view of Y.B. Dato' Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik, Minister of Primary Industries of Malaysia the package of measures that have been agreed upon and are being implemented represents a comprehensive and concerted effort by all segments of the community and stakeholders towards sustainability. In other words, Malaysia is confident that it will achieve sustainable forest management within the given time frame and that Malaysia will remain "green " for future generations to come.
View the statement on sustainable forest management by the Minister of Primary Industries: 
Human impact on forest primates[edit | edit source]
The human impact of people on forest primates ranges from the outright destruction of their arboreal habitat, through felling or damming river systems, to the isolation of small populations in isolated pockets of forest, which are below the threshold required to maintain a viable population. Apart from logging and clearance for agriculture, other impacts are removal of primates as agricultural pests, as food for human or pet consumption, as bait, and the taking of live animals as pets or for laboratory research.
In most parts of the primate habitat of Asia, habitat disturbance commonly takes the form of commercial logging as well as shifting cultivation. The effects of logging on primate survival are tied to the type of logging practices and the requirements of the animals. One key factor in survival is whether or not timber sought by loggers is also their food resource. In this respect it has been shown that Malaysian primates in a given area can survive the destruction of up to half of the forest. Also, high densities of some primates can be reached in surviving ‘islands’ in a ‘sea’ of monocultures. These situations only apply to a limited number of species.
Hunting of primates is not as great a problem in Asia as in Africa or South America because three of the major religions there (Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism) have proscriptions against eating primates. Nonetheless, hunting by aboriginal groups is common in Indonesia, and Chinese hunt all species of monkeys in China and in other Asian countries in which they live. In Asia, the major direct threat to primates is that they are traded commercially. The commercial use of wild monkeys for biomedical research is responsible for the decline in macaques, an Asian genus.
Although non-timber products provide a justification for the conservation of forest, if the markets for them are successfully developed, the result could be overexploitation, leading to clear-cutting for areas of commercial cultivation. Understory clearing, often for fodder for domestic animals or for plantations of shade-loving crops, destroys seedlings, and with them, the possibility of the regeneration of canopy trees.
Shifting cultivation increases the proportion of secondary forest at the expense of primary forest. In Asia, this change favors cercopithecines at the expense of colobines. In peninsular Malaysia, the primate biomass in primary forest is dominated by colobines (Presbytis spp.), whereas secondary forest, riverine swamp, domestic orchards, paddy fields, and so forth commonly host cercopithecines, particularly long-tailed macaques. For open-country monkey species like most macaques (Macaca spp.) and the Hanuman langur (Presbytis entellus), any kind of disturbance that results in landscapes such as the meadow like communities created by clear-cutting, grazing, and crop planting mimics the forest edge or savanna to which they originally were adapted. It has been argued that the rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatto), which prefers feeding on ground herbs that occur in disturbed sites, has spread with the disappearance of the forests of Asia during the Pleistocene glaciations and that continues to prosper in the face of the human colonization of forestlands.
Despite the Indo-Pacific’s unsurpassed biological richness, many species other than primates are in immediate danger of extinction. The number of current extinctions globally and regionally, in fact, rivals that of the end of the Age of Dinosaurs. Given the increasing scale and scope of current threats such as logging, agricultural expansion, and increasing demographic pressures on natural resources, new conservation strategies and fieldwork with local governments and communities are clearly necessary if biodiversity in the Indo-Pacific is to be protected.
To view the work of the Indo-Pacific Conservation Alliance: