From: Alister Doyle, Reuters
Published June 11, 2007 12:00 AM

Logging May Wreck Orangutan Forests in a Decade, UN Says

THE HAGUE -- Illegal logging could destroy the last forest strongholds of orangutans within a decade and the world should do more to help Indonesia halt smuggling both of apes and of timber, a U.N. report said on Monday.

Burning of forests, sometimes to clear land to grow palm oil for biofuels, was adding to threats to endangered orangutans which live on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, according to a report issued at a U.N. wildlife conference.

"Indonesia cannot and should not have to deal with this issue alone," Achim Steiner, the head of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), said in a statement. He urged more funding for wardens and a global customs crackdown on illegal trade.

"It is very clear ... that there is a highly organised structure of illegal trade in orangutans," said Willem Wijnstekers, Secretary General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

China was the main destination for illegally logged timber from orangutan regions, mainly in Indonesia, but much of it also ended up in Japan, the European Union and the United States, according to UNEP.

Hundreds of orangutans were believed to have been exported, often caught as they fled loggers. Young orangutans had been spotted in zoos in Thailand and Cambodia.

"Satellite images, together with data from the Indonesian government, indicates that illegal logging is now taking place in 37 out of 41 national parks and that suitable forest habitat (for orangutans) may be gone in as little as a decade," it said.

A United Nations report in 2002, which raised alarm about the plight of the apes, had projected that most of the habitat suitable for orangutans would be lost by 2032. In February, UNEP had put the date at 2022.

"We are bringing the date forward again," said Christian Nellemann, a lead author of the report. "The rate of decline of the forests is the fastest we have seen anywhere in the world."

UNEP praised Indonesia for cracking down on loggers by seizing 70,000 cubic metres of processed wood, enough to fill 3,000 trucks, in East Kalimantan province and arresting several people in the past few weeks.

But UNEP's Steiner said: "This must be set against the fact that by some estimates illegal logging is clearing 2.1 million hectares of forest in Indonesia annually worth an estimated $4 billion.

"This may equate to several hundred thousand truckloads -- corresponding to a continuous line of trucks from Paris to Bangkok," he added.

UNEP estimated there might be between 45,000 and 69,000 orangutans in Borneo and 7,300 in Sumatra.

Source: Reuters

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