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Orangutan Appeal UK and Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project (OU Trop) have recently become associated to try to protect the rainforest habitat for the wild orangutans that inhabit the tropical rainforests in Central Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo.
About OU Trop
The Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project works to protect one of the most important areas of tropical rainforest in Borneo - the Sabangau Forest in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. We monitor the distribution, population status, behaviour and ecology of the forest's flagship ape species, carry out biodiversity and forestry research, and work with local partners to implement conservation solutions.
To protect the Natural Laboratory and surrounding areas, a local community forest patrol unit (TSA) was established by CIMTROP, and continues to be managed by them, with funding support from OuTrop and our partners. The TSA comprises seven people from the local village of Kereng Bangkerai, with three further plus up to 50 part-time members as required. With the full support of local leaders and law enforcement agencies, the TSA was instrumental in stopping illegal logging in the region during 2002-05, and fighting massive forest fires during 2006 and 2009. The team tackles smaller fires in the heavily-degraded ex-Mega Rice Project area each dry season. The TSA continues to (i) prevent illegal activities in the forest, such as starting fires, cutting trees, hunting protected wildlife and breaking dams; (ii) build and monitor dams; (iii) support the research teams and replanting projects; (iv) undertake socialisation and awareness activities within the local village communities; and (v) manage and maintain the Natural Laboratory base camp and trail system.
During the eight-year period from 1997 to 2005, Sabangau was subjected to intense illegal logging. To extract the timber from the forest, thousands of small canals were dug, along which cut timber was floated out of the forest into the main rivers and then downriver to sawmills for processing. These canals cause continuous drainage of the peat dome, disrupting natural hydrology and causing the upper layers of peat to dry and degrade.
The effects of drainage include lack of drinking water for forest animals, virtual elimination of fish stocks, increased tree falls, shorter fruiting cycles and, most seriously, and higher risk of fire. To counter this threat, we have built 457 dams in the Natural Laboratory since the start of this project. By retaining water and preventing leaves and other macro-organic material from leaving the forest, the dams will start to fill in naturally. This is important for achieving our long-term goal of raising the water table, to reduce the risk of fire, prevent peat degradation and ensure the continued persistence of the Sabangau ecosystem.
CIMTROP Patrol Team and Fire Attack Force
The most important part of our work in Sabangau is protecting the forest and preventing any more damage. We are proud to support the CIMTROP Patrol Team, a group of committed people from our neighbouring village of Kereng Bangkerai, paid for through the donations we receive and managed by Dr. Suwido Limin of CIMTROP at the University of Palangka Raya. These young men regularly patrol along the waterways and forest tracks of Sabangau to search for people illegally cutting trees or poaching wildlife, to deter them, remind them the area is protected and, if necessary, report the incident to the authorities.
The Patrol Team was established by our Indonesian partners CIMTROP in 2002, in response to the extensive and out-of-control illegal logging that was threatening to completely destroy the Sabangau Forest. Through much hard work, many meetings with loggers - sometimes antagonistic - and the encouragement of the forestry police, they succeeded in stopping illegal logging in the Sabangau Natural Laboratory by 2005, a fantastic achievement.
Since then the Patrol Team has merged with the larger TSA – Fire Attack Force – and continues to work for the benefit of the local community and forest conservation. They have tackled problems including over-harvesting of fruit bats, collection of small trees for posts, fishing using electric methods - which is indiscriminate and hurts fish stocks – and try to help people by setting up sustainable fish ponds and rewarding replanting in damaged forest. They help OuTrop’s restoration projects by building and monitoring dams to block disused logging channels and supporting our replanting project, and they are at their most active in the annual dry season when fire becomes a real risk.
Drained peat is extremely flammable, and Sabangau and Kalampangan forests were hard hit by the fires of 1997, 2002 and 2006. This hurts our restoration and regeneration work, by destroying it before it gets going, and burnt forest takes a long time to recover. So the Patrol Team are working doubly hard during this time, searching for hotspots and putting them out before they can establish. It has now been three years since a major fire – and we were particularly worried this year because the drought lasted longer than normal and a lot of smoke haze from other parts of Borneo and Sumatra was blowing over and cloaking us in smog.
The rains have now arrived again and the fire risk is over for another year. It’s time for the TSA to refresh and re-tool, standing by in preparation for when they are next called upon.
To find out more about OU Trop, please head over to their website at: http://www.outrop.com/