By Angela Dewan for the Jakarta Globe
Sibolangit. A baby Sumatran orangutan swings playfully on a branch at an Indonesian rescue center, a far cry from the terror he endured when his pristine rainforest home was razed to the ground.
Now alarm is growing at a plan activists say will open up new swathes of virgin forest on Sumatra island for commercial exploitation and lay roads through a vital ecosystem, increasing the risk to many endangered species.
The plan, which Aceh authorities say aims to open up a small amount of forest for communities to develop, is set to be approved by Jakarta despite its moves towards extending a national moratorium on new logging permits.
Green groups say such policies illustrate how the ban can be circumvented to open up new areas for deforestation, threatening to boost Indonesia’s already high emissions of carbon dioxide.
“This plan is a huge threat to species living in the forest, especially orangutans, tigers and elephants that live in the lowland forests that will likely be cleared first,” Ian Singleton of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program told AFP.
Environmentalists warn that some one million hectares — around the size of Cyprus — could be opened up in Aceh province for exploitation by mining, palm oil and paper companies. Officials dispute that figure.
There are particular fears about part of the project which would lay roads through the Leuser ecosystem, an area of stunning beauty where peat swamp and dense forest surround waterfalls and mountains poking through clouds.
The area, mostly in Aceh, is home to around 5,800 of the remaining 6,600 critically endangered Sumatran orangutans as well as elephants, bears and snakes including King Cobras.
Singleton warns that cases like that of the baby ape, rescued from Leuser, would rise dramatically if the road project goes ahead, as orangutan populations need long, uninterrupted stretches of forest to survive.
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