Fire-fighting Project Update

The dry season in Central Kalimantan, in Indonesian Borneo, has begun once again. This means that the risks of forest fires have increased. The water levels in the forests are dropping which leaves the ground dry and enables fires to spread more easily. The neighbouring regions of West Kalimantan and South Kalimantan already have fires blazing and have called an emergency situation.

The Sabangau Forest in Central Kalimantan is home to the world’s largest population of orangutans with an estimated 6,900 individuals living there. This makes it one of the most important sites in Borneo for orangutan conservation but fires pose a big threat.

Orangutan Appeal UK is continuing long running support of the teams on the ground that monitor and control the forest fires. We have been helping to fund the work of Borneo Nature Foundation (BNF) since 2012. BNF train and equip teams of local fire-fighters so that they are ready to respond to emergency situations.

The fire season in autumn 2015 was absolutely devastating. In order to minimalize the risk of a similar event occurring this year it is critical that the teams are prepared for the worst. The community teams have been carrying out regular patrols on foot to detect fires and prevent illegal activities. As we enter the dry season, the teams are once again on high alert.

This year, as well as supporting two existing fire-fighting teams, two new ones have also been established, trained and fully equipped.

BNF are also working to restore the peatland conditions by keeping them waterlogged and reducing the fire risk. They do this by building dams on man-made canals which have previously been dug in the forest by loggers.  They also have an outreach programme to help make local people aware of the effects of fires and the need to protect this valuable eco-system.

At the end of July, one of the patrol teams spotted the first fire of the season upstream on the Sabangau River.  According to the patrol team members, ‘someone must have started the fire, but it is unclear who the perpetrators are.’ The location of the fire was on the edge of the river so the patrol team extinguished the fire by using the water from the river. Fortunately, there have been no more fires spotted in the region since this incident but the teams are always on stand-by and ready to act.

It is ever more critical to protect this remarkable ecosystem and its globally important population of vulnerable orangutans.

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