OU TROP – KEEPING THE FIRE AT BAY

The Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project (OuTrop) is a not-for-profit NGO that works to conserve wild orangutans in Indonesian Borneo through conservation- based research and locally-led on-the- ground conservation actions. These efforts are focused in the Sabangau peat- swamp forest in southern Borneo; home to the largest remaining orangutan population in the World, numbering almost 7,000 individuals.

Among other threats, Sabangau's orangutans are at risk from dry-season fires, which can completely decimate their forest home. These fires are particularly problematic because, unlike in dryland forests, fires in peat swamps such as Sabangau actually burn away the peat substrate. Because peat takes many thousands of years to form, this effectively prevents forest regeneration following fire. The result of this is highly degraded, burnt areas, with very low regeneration potential and that are highly vulnerable to repeat burning. Preventing those first fires from taking hold is therefore essential and each dry season - which typically runs from around April/May-September - is always a time of worry. This is particularly true in years when the dry season extends longer than normal, as was the case in 2012.

The extended dry season - which lasted until the arrival of the rains in November - led to large numbers of peat fires throughout the province of Central Kalimantan. This resulted in our Sabangau orangutan study site becoming shrouded in thick, nasty smoke for most of October and November. Fortunately, the efforts of the local Community Patrol Team, plus a little luck, meant that no fires directly threatened our study population during this risky period.

Of course, as the dry season progressed through October and November, and the rains still hadn't arrived, there was much concern that the forest could catch fire, endangering these orangutans. This risk grew the longer the dry season went on. To prepare for this growing threat, the Community Patrol Team began digging a number of permanent "bores" deep beneath the peat. This is important to prepare for fires in areas far from surface water sources, where copious amounts of water must be pumped up from beneath the peat to extinguish fires. These bores - positioned around our research site - are essential for ensuring preparedness to fight fires in future years, safeguarding the forest and its orangutans.

As we move into the wet season, the Community Patrol Team focus on logging patrols - illegal logging is a wet- season activity, as loggers use canals to float logs out of the forest.

The ongoing support of the Orangutan Appeal UK is vital for ensuring that these essential conservation measures to protect this important orangutan population can continue, and we thank you for this.

Dr Mark Harrison BSc PhD CBiol MSB
Managing Director Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project