Indonesia’s toxic haze affecting Borneo’s orangutans

JAKARTA (AFP) – Massive forest fires in Indonesia that have caused a toxic haze to spread as far as Singapore and peninsular Malaysia are also seriously affecting endangered orangutans and their habitat, a rescue foundation said on Tuesday.

Jakarta has deployed thousands of troops as temporary fireman and deployed dozens of water-bombing aircraft to battle blazes that are turning pristine forest into charred landscape in Sumatra and Borneo islands.

The fires – usually started by illegal burning to clear land for farming – have unleashed a choking haze across parts of Southeast Asia.

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation said on Tuesday that the haze was affecting hundreds of great apes in its care at rescue centres and wildlife reintroduction shelters. “The thick smoke does not only endanger the health of our staff… but also it affects the 355 orangutans we currently care for”, the foundation said in a statement, referring to just once metre in Kalimantan

“As many as 37 young orangutans are suspected to have contracted a mild respiratory infection,” it added.

Conditions were so bad at their Samboja Lestari facility in East Kalimantan that outdoor activities for the animals had been restricted to a few hours a day. Orangutans have been particularly vulnerable to commercial land clearances and have seen their natural habitat shrink dramatically in the last few decades.

The population of orangutan in Borneo has plummeted from about 288,500 in 1973 to about 100,000 today, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Smoke billows from forest fires in Kahayan Hilir, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. PHOTO: AP