Open Letter to Indonesia President Yudhoyono to Save Orangutans
Dr. H. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
Republic of Indonesia
Jakarta Pusat 10110 Indonesia
We, the undersigned, have devoted much of the past half-century to the study of great apes and the advocacy for their protection. That is why we are gravely concerned about the ecological damage caused by man-made fires in Sumatra, and why we write to you today as Patrons of the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) to ask you to halt this destruction.
The fires set to clear forest land in the Province of Aceh for oil palm plantations currently threaten the Leuser Ecosystem, which includes some of the most important great ape habitat in the world. Experts believe that as many as 300 critically endangered Sumatran orangutans may perish in the fires, pushing the species even closer to extinction.
In 2005, the Government of Indonesia signed the Kinshasa Declaration on Great Apes, which articulated the need to “ensure the effective enforcement of legislation protecting great apes.”
The Leuser Ecosystem is classified as National Strategic Area for Environmental Protection under Indonesia’s National Spatial Plan, and is an important part of the country’s REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) programme. The Leuser Ecosystem constitutes the buffer zone for the Leuser Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site, as designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The Leuser Ecosystem is protected under Indonesian law, and was declared off-limits to agricultural development through a Presidential moratorium on new plantations in primary forests and peatlands that was announced in 2011 as part of Indonesia’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions, with support from the Government of Norway.
In 2011, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and GRASP published Orangutans and the Economics of Sustainable Forest Management in Sumatra, a report that called the region an “incredibly important area for conservation.” That same report indicated that the Leuser Ecosystem rose in value by 71 percent if economic benefits derived through conservation were adopted in favor of agricultural conversion.
As such, we respectfully ask that the Government of Indonesia:
- Enforce the laws that protect the orangutans and habitat of the Leuser Ecosystem
- Suspend all activities by oil palm companies on recently cleared and burned lands in the Leuser Ecosystem
- Ban further land drainage and forest clearing in the Tripa peat swamps
- Honor commitments made through the 2005 Kinshasa Declaration on Great Apes
- Honor commitments made through the 1972 World Heritage Convention
Indonesia contains some of the world’s most spectacular biodiversity, but that same biodiversity is under extreme threat, affecting issues such as the continued supply of clean water, clean air, local and regional climate stability, and other threats to life on earth.
Given the intense popular interest in the great apes and their precarious future, we believe that positive action by you and your government will be widely appreciated and warmly welcomed throughout the world. With that in mind, we therefore call on the Government of Indonesia to protect the country’s ecological heritage and halt the current destructive activities in Sumatra.
Jane Goodall, PhD., DBE Dr. Richard Leakey
Founder, Jane Goodall Institute Professor of Anthropology
U.N. Messenger of Peace Stonybrook University
Richard Wrangham, PhD. Russell Mittermeier, PhD.
Professor of Anthropology President, Conservation International
Harvard University Chair, IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group