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PR Newswire
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As COP21 Gets Under Way, Rescuers Release New Images of Their Work Saving Orangutans From Fires in Indonesia and Call for Urgent Action to Prevent a Repeat of This 'Ecological Disaster'

LONDON, November 30, 2015 /PRNewswire/ --

In the last few months, a team International Animal Rescue (IAR) has been working round the clock to save orang-utans from burning forests in Ketapang, West Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo.) "Thus far our Rescue Team has rescued more than 20 orang-utans from burnt forest and we are still rescuing more. What is worse is that we don't know how many orang-utans have perished before we were able to rescue them. This is by far the largest number of rescues IAR has had to conduct in the area since we opened our orang-utan centre in 2009 and it is a deeply worrying indication of the plight of orang-utans in Indonesia," says Tantyo Bangun, Chairman of IAR Indonesia.

Indonesia's National Space and Aviation Agency (LAPAN) reports that more than 2 million hectares of land in Indonesia have been burnt in the past few months. It is still not known what devastating and perhaps irreparable damage these recent fires have had on Indonesia's tropical rainforests and already rapidly declining orang-utan populations.

IAR's Human Orangutan Conflict (HOC) team is monitoring orang-utans stranded in burnt areas. The animals are suffering from starvation and malnutrition after the fires have destroyed everything around them, leaving a landscape with few trees and no food sources. The HOC team tracks down, captures and translocates orangutans that stand no chance of survival without human intervention and is assisted by local people who raise the alarm when an orang-utan is spotted in the area.

"The saddest image you can think of is a magnificent orang-utan that should be travelling in the top of the canopy but instead has to drag itself on the ground, struggling even to find a standing tree suitable to make a nest," says Gail Campbell-Smith, Programme Manager of IAR Indonesia. "An extra concern is that, as habitat is wiped out, instances of human- orang-utan conflict increase and the animals are in danger of being killed by farmers as they enter farms looking for food."

While IAR's team is working round the clock to save these animals and their forest, COP21, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, launches in Paris on 30 November. Governments from all around the world will gather to discuss an agreement to reduce carbon emissions and slow down the effects of climate change.

The fires that have spread out of control in Indonesia this year have been exacerbated by the extended dry season, caused by the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon. These forest fires are responsible for massive carbon emissions, severely aggravating the effects of climate change, and have a devastating effect on human health. Similar fires in 1997 emitted between 0.81 and 2.57 gig tonnes of carbon (Page et al, 2002) and resulted in an estimated 20 million people suffering respiratory problems, with 19,800 - 48,100 premature deaths (Harrison et al, 2009).

The Indonesian Institute for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics (BMKG) has predicted another severe drought for next year, as the effects of this year's El Nino continue in to the spring of 2016. While the belated monsoon has given a break to the forest fires, the risk that this will happen again next year is of profound concern. "If preventive measures are not taken, funds are not invested in fire prevention, and those companies and individuals who start the fires are not prosecuted, this ecological disaster (already called one of the worst ecological disasters of the century) could return again next year," says Bangun.

Karmele Llano Sanchez, Programme Director of IAR Indonesia, adds: "We are still dealing with the devastating effects of the previous fires and our team is working really hard to save the lives of as many orang-utans as possible. Now we also need to start trying to restore and reforest the burnt areas. The thought of the humans and animals of Borneo and Sumatra experiencing it all again next year is too much to bear."

The graphic photos and footage released by IAR show the devastating effects of the fires on the orang-utans. The images convey the helplessness of animals left stranded in the debris of forests burnt to the ground by the fires. Most poignant among those rescued are mothers with their tiny babies clinging to them. Only weeks ago the heartbreaking photo of Mama Anti and her baby shocked and moved people across the globe. The images of Mama Novia and baby Noval, who were among the latest series of rescues, are equally heart breaking. "This is not very different to the devastating effects of a war and it should be considered a world crime," says Sanchez.

Just a week ago the IAR team celebrated the release of six of the rescued orang-utans in Gunung Palung National Park in West Kalimantan. This release operation involved 15 members of IAR's team and 25 local people carrying the transport cages on foot to the release site - a trek that lasted four hours - and has been one of the few happy moments in the last few months. "We are glad these orang-utans have been given a second chance. There is no doubt that all of them would now be dead if it was not for us," says Campbell-Smith. The National Park authority, The Agency of Natural Resources Conservation (BKSDA) of Gunung Palung, granted permission to IAR to conduct these releases in the National Park.

Sanchez adds: "We are ready to continue working flat out to save the lives of animals that stand no chance of survival without our help. But that is not a lasting solution to the problem. It is vital that serious action is taken to prevent further outbreaks of fires. There is no future for the orangutan unless all parties involved can make a commitment to conserving sufficient habitat to ensure their survival and implement measures to reduce carbon emissions and reduce the likelihood of further El Nino climatic events. We hope that determined actions will result from this Climate Conference because we are running out of time."

Link to photos and captions: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/9cnqzes620xmzmf/AABQ275Jd6XID9sPDuPXg0sta?dl=0

Link to photos and footage of orangutan rescues: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/ytbwowil915l8an/AACUC488m9lYMEMn89jt0yCTa?dl=0

Link to photos of the releases:https://www.dropbox.com/sh/x0chm6zm9acxp6y/AADbTKbUW3QptNmJOikpUs-Za?dl=0

References:

Harrison, M. E., Page, S.E. & Limin, S.H. (2009). The global impact of Indonesian forest fires. Biologist, Vol. 56, pp. 156-163.

Page, S.E., Siegert, F., Rieley, J.O., V. Boehm, H.D., Jaya. A. & Limin. S. (2002). The amount of carbon released from peat and forest fires in Indonesia during 1997. Nature, Vol. 420, pp. 61-65.

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