Indonesian Forest Fires - A Closer Look

Indonesian Forest Fires - A Closer Look

Posted by Connor Whelan on 3rd Nov 2015

Over the past few weeks we have kept you updated with regards to the fires which have been raging in the forests around the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Rescue Centre in Indonesian Borneo. Unfortunately it is not just the immediate area around Samboja that is in danger from the blaze as Indonesia as a whole is infamous for its peat fires, so we wanted to take the chance to delve a little deeper into why this is such a problem in a country where the wildlife is at real risk from this issue.

Indonesia Forest Fire

For decades now Indonesia has been an advocate of the “slash and burn” approach to farming. This means that Indonesian farmers have been intentionally setting fire to areas of rainforest to create room for farmland, and this then means that they can grow highly profitable produce such as palm oil which is used in hundreds of everyday foods and cosmetics. The countries small scale farmers are legally allowed to burn up to 2 hectares of land, although the enforcement of this law is lax, and many burn much more than this in an illegal attempt to grab extra land. Many of the farmers in the area are so poor that they will do anything to try and ensure extra income even though it is illegal and has the potential to harm the wildlife in the local area.

Whilst these fires are often done in a controlled way by the farmers, they can often unintentionally spiral out of control. This is down to the face that a lot of Indonesia’s soil is peat; a mixture of decaying leaves and branches which when dry is highly flammable. Fires in these peat-lands can continue to grow for weeks until they are out of control. All the while these fires are burning they are releasing huge amounts of toxic carbon dioxide and other fumes into the air. Once these fires have taken hold, the only real way for them to be extinguished is through heavy rain. That is why the fires this year have been so prominent and destructive. Indonesia has been suffering from a lack of rain at the exact time the fires have taken hold. Nigel Sizer, the Global Director of the forests programme at the World Resources Institute said: “In many years, these fires might only last a week or two. This time they’ve lasted almost two months.” This quote alone shows the devastating impact that these fires have had on the country, and as a result the wildlife in it.

Indonesia Forest Fire

This photo shows the amount of smoke coming from the peat fires in Indonesian Borneo. (Credit to Nasa Earth Observatory)

As the fires continued to gather traction and ripped through the rainforests in the country, the Orangutans and other animals which call them home began to feel the effects. Many became displaced and homeless as a result of these fires, and an area which was once a safe haven for many different species of animal is now razed to the ground. The fire itself is not the only worry for the local wildlife. The smoke and toxic air that have been create due to the flames is perhaps the biggest threat to animal lives in the forest. There is no escape from the fumes, and the Orangutans, amongst other creatures, have been inhaling them and suffering greatly as a result. These animals are becoming very ill or even dying. Thankfully for the animals help is at hand. BOS Foundation (together with the Central Kalimantan BKSDA) have rescued and confiscated 8 Orangutans who were forced to leave their forest homes because of the fires.

Whilst it may seem like there is no clear way to solve this complex issue, thankfully the Indonesian government has recently taken steps to lower the risk of forest fires. Last week the countries president Joko Widodo introduced new policies to try and prevent the fires from happening again. He announced that Indonesia needs to stop allowing development on peatlands, meaning that if it is strictly enforced fewer fires would be created due to fewer sections of rainforest being set alight to clear for farmland. Widodo also stated that he was pursuing a “one map initiative.” This would clarify land ownership throughout Indonesia and resolve conflicts which are already taking place over who is allowed to profit from the land. These conflicts are often the cause of the fires, so by eliminating this as a problem the likelihood of fires being as commonplace is drastically reduced.

The fires in Indonesia this year have claimed lives, both human and animal, and unless these changes are implemented and the attitudes of people in the country start to adjust to what is needed, things will never change. The government has begun to tackle the problem, and we need to hope for the residents of Indonesia, both those causing the fires and those who are suffering from them, that they follow through on their plans and make the changes required now.

Indonesia Orangutan

Thankfully the fires around Samboja Lestari are extinguished now and the Orangutans are safe, but the Sanctuary is still recovering. They need your help, so if you can donate to aid their recovery then please do just that! If you want to visit the Samboja Lestari Centre and help with the rehabilitiation of the Orangutans who reside there, then you can do so by visiting the project site and finding out more information here ! Help by volunteering now!


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