Under intense international pressure, the Indonesian government has virtually abandoned plans to convert large areas of ancient rainforest in the “Heart of Borneo” that are a prime habitat for the endangered Orangutan. The original plan called for a massive oil palm plantation to be built on 1.8 million hectares (nearly 7,000 square miles or 18,000 sq. km) of mainly native forests along the Indonesia-Malaysia border.
In an abrupt about-face, the Agriculture Minister (formerly an advocate for development) last week announced only 180,000 hectares are deemed suitable for developing, effectively reducing the project’s expanse by 90 percent. International protest via e-mail bombarded the Indonesian government and may have been responsible for the turnaround. . .
Ecological Internet, a non-profit group, launched a major Internet campaign and their largest e-mail protest to date, lobbying the government with several hundred thousand e-mails by their network of grassroots activists. The group’s global network grew by over 20 percent as the campaign moved individuals across the Internet.
“Those that participated in the campaign must celebrate; because of their action, millions of year old ancient rainforest treasures have been given a reprieve,” says Dr. Glen Barry, President of Ecological Internet.
Several other organizations carried out letter-writing campaigns. The area is one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth. According to the World Wildlife Fund, some 361 species of animals have been discovered on the island in the past decade, including a mysterious fox-like creature spotted last year.
“Our next immediate priority is to continue protesting China’s plans to log other Indonesian rainforests for Olympic construction.”
The announcement does not mean vital orangutan habitat has achieved meaningful permanent protection. Ecological Internet says it will organize a protest against any oil palm development in primary rainforest areas, remain vigilant against a resurrection of this project and monitor illegal logging in the area. And, Indonesia’s informal commitment announced in April to fully protect the “Heart of Borneo” along with Malaysia and Brunei will continue to be supported.
Dr. Barry notes “this successful international protest shows what is possible when grassroots organizations seek an end to ancient forest destruction.” And, he is hopeful that the age of industrial development of ancient forests is over, “Even governments and loggers are getting the message.”