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Archive for September, 2009

Fire roars across landscape in eastern part of Tanjung Puting National Park

Fire roars across landscape in eastern part of Tanjung Puting National Park

Fire and smoke on eastern boundary of ParkFire rages on eastern boundary of Park
OFI rangers fighting fire on eastern side of Tanjung Puting Nationa Park

OFI rangers fighting fire on eastern side of Tanjung Puting National Park

Fire rages on eastern side of Tanjung Puting National Park

Please note that all photos are copyright OFI.

They say that a photo is worth a thousand words. Here is the equivalent of a few thousand words: photos of the fires that OFI is facing and fighting in 2009. The extreme droughts that enable human-made fires to blaze throughout Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) and Sumatra seem to be much more frequent than they ever used to be. The last El Nino was in 2006 when over 50 of our OFI assistants fought the fires for almost two months before the fires were brought to a stop.

Some scientists believe that the increasing frequency of El Nino years is related to global climate change. Having lived in Borneo for several decades I suspect that this belief is true.

The eastern part of Tanjung Puting National Park, which is directly next to palm oil plantations, burned in 2006, making it particularly vulnerable to fire again in 2009. It is in this critical area of double jeoparty that the above photos of OFI rangers fighting the fires were taken. Once forest is repeatedly burned, secondary succession is deflected and it is very difficult for the tropical rain forest to return.

At least one thousand of the six thousand wild orangutans in Tanjung Puting National Park and its vicinity live on the eastern side of the Park where the fires are currently burning. It is crucial that these fires be stopped for the sake of wild orangutan populations and all wildlife in the area. OFI is doing all it can to make this happen but we need help and funding.

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Please take a look at the map in the previous post! You will see that only one post on the boundary on the eastern side of the Park is threatened by fire. Our guardposts are the little blue figures while the red spots need no explanation. Those are the fires burning at the end of August 2009.

The fire near our guard post is on the verge of being eliminated. Notice that the fires burn where we do not have guardposts. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

The map tells the story. Words are not that necessary.

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Hot spots in  and around the vicinity of Tanjung Puting Park as of the end of August 2009

Hot spots in and around the vicinity of Tanjung Puting Park as of the end of August 2009

The fires are blazing again in Kalimantan! I sit weary and exhausted in front of my computer but not nearly as weary as the OFI (Orangutan Foundation International) assistants who have been fighting these fires for several weeks now since the end of August. We were warned that 2009 would be an El Nino year for months but the persistent rains which fell in July belied the situation. It wasn’t until mid-August that the sun took on that deadly red glow as it hung in the grey sky, the glow that tells us this will be no normal dry season. When the sky takes on the colors of a Japanese print we know. We know that it is going to be a long severe season of drought.

The Park is ablaze but not where the tourists go. They may smell the smoke and see the haze in the sky but Camp Leakey and the forests around it remain untouched because we are there and have been for 38 years. It is where the farmers work and where the enclaved villages are located within the Park that the fires burn out of control. It is also on the Park boundaries next to the palm oil plantations that the worst fires burn.

In 2006 during the last El Nino year OFI and its partners battled fires that ultimately destroyed about 15% of Tanjung Puting National Park. We are now trying to prevent the same. We are fighting the fires shoulder to shoulder with our partners in the Forestry Department and we need all the support that we can get.

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