Borneo Burned, Who Are the Innocent Victims?

Indonesia is a beautiful country that has more than 17,000 islands and is placed right at the equator. It is a tropical country with a lot beautiful beaches with white sand, warm water, palm trees, and clear skies. A lot of people go to these islands in Indonesia to get away. Aside from humans, Indonesia is also a home for wildlife such as komodo dragons, tigers, rhinos, dolphins, elephants, and even orangutans.

Sadly, in September 2015, the forest in Borneo, Indonesia, burned. Indonesia is also known as the largest producer of palm oil because of Borneo1 . People need palm oil to produce many things, such as food. However, what a lot of people don't see is the place that produces the most palm oil is also a home for orangutans, and other wild animals.

There were around 20,000 wild orangutans living in Borneo at a time, and a fire affected around 8,000 of them in Sabangau Forest2.  There is no clear answer to why this happened. Different media have different arguments. Some claim it was an accident, but others say it was a foreign palm oil company who illegally burned that part of Borneo. Whatever it is, it was a human action. Study has shown that 56%, which is 2.6 million hectares, of protected lowland rainforest in Borneo was cut down. This is almost as big as Belgium. In addition, in Indonesia itself, oil production expanded to 6 million hectares in 2007. Unfortunately, very little is being done to strengthen law enforcement3.

It is very heartbreaking to hear that many orangutans were burned; some orangutans had respiratory problems, and a lot of them were migrated to different areas4.  Some orangutans that survived also wandered around because they needed to find food; so many ended up in people’s farms and ate their food. Not all the local people were happy that the orangutans stole their resources.

As a third world country, there is a large economic-gap in Indonesia. Some people who are poorer and live in the villages are often uneducated and starving. In addition, the fire affected them even more because they get less resource from the forests after the fire. Some of these people could barely financially secure their families before the forest fire even happened. Because of these factors, some of them tried to protect themselves by abusing the orangutans that were seeking refuge because they thought the orangutans were threats for their resources. In an extreme case, the local people threw big rocks at the orangutans5.

What some people don’t understand is that orangutans play a crucial role in maintaining the health of forest ecosystems because they are one of the most intelligent animals. As orangutans disappear, there is also the disappearance of other animals and plants6.  These days, we need to maintain our ecosystem because the loss of forests affects human life. Currently, Indonesia is the third largest greenhouse gas emitter. If the deforestation continues to happen, it can destroy the ecosystem and the homes of orangutans.

Even though Bornean orangutans are currently endangered, thankfully, there are some people who still care about the existence of the orangutans. Many non-profit organizations, such as, Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS) or World Wide Fund for Nature-Indonesia (WWF), have been fighting the extinction of orangutans. BOS migrated orangutans to a safer place to protect their existence. Right after the fire, BOS saved many orangutan lives by sending rescue teams to find, evacuate, and heal them7.  WWF does an amazing job with fundraising in general. They have many fundraising activities and campaigns such as “Sahabat Orangutan,” which translates as orangutan’s best friend. Sahabat Orangutan is a donation campaign that is especially made to raise money for the orangutans.

In addition to some non-profit organizations, people can also contribute to protect orangutans by paying attention to products that use palm oil. In the United States, people are using their voice to express concern about deforestation because of palm oil. People are helping by having some petitions directly addressed to the big companies that use a significant amount of palm oil, such as snack or coffee companies8.  Furthermore, many people can donate directly to BOS and WWF, or volunteer with Orangutan Foundation International (OFI)9.