October 8, 2015
The Orangutan Conservancy is a longtime supporter of the work being done by Dr. Anne Russon of the Orangutan Kutai Project in Borneo. Here, Dr. Russon along with colleagues Purwo Kuncoro and Agnes Ferisa offer an eye-opening assessment on what the 2015 El Nino weather system could mean for this already dangerously dry environment. Indeed, reports coming in these past two weeks confirm that 2015 appears to be one of the worst years ever for fires across Indonesia – the home of orangutans.
by Anne E Russon, Purwo Kuncoro, & Agnes Ferisa
At our orangutan research site in Kutai National Park’s Mentoko area, signs of an extreme drought have been evident since July, 2015. We recorded very low rainfall in July, only 30.5 mm, and in August less than 3 mm, our lowest August rainfall since we began research at this site in 2010. Small streams have almost dried up and water levels in our part of the Sangatta River are already so low that we can hardly travel by boat. In the forest, leaves are wilting and falling in large numbers so the forest floor is covered by a thick layer of dead leaves. Other parts of Indonesia have been experiencing similar conditions, making water shortages major features of the nightly national news. El Niño is almost certainly causing this unusual drought. Most people living in East Kalimantan probably know something about El Niño and those who don’t probably will soon because they will experience one in 2015-16, the first since 2009-10. For Kutai NP and surrounding areas in East Kalimantan, questions are what to expect from this El Niño and how it will probably affect the area, including its forest and its wildlife.
El Niño, along with La Niña, are related but opposite climatic events that can cause extreme weather, especially droughts and floods and especially in the tropical Pacific region. Conditions swing back and forth between these two extremes in an irregular, multi-year natural cycle called ENSO, the El Niño Southern Oscillation. The cycle is currently ca 2.5-7 years.
El Niño generally causes prolonged droughts In Indonesia and these are strongest in East Borneo. The worst of these El Niño long droughts on record, in 1982-83 and 1997-88, were famous worldwide because they set the stage for the Great Fires of Borneo. These fires were human-caused but were started and spread easily because of the severe drought. Results in East Kalimantan were widespread and extremely heavy damage. About 50% of Kutai NP’s forest was burned in 1982-83 and about 90% in 1997-98. That damage is a major reason for the common belief that Kutai NP was so badly damaged that it is unrecoverable as a natural area. Continue reading »
posted by: Tom