Fires pose threat to the jungle animals of Borneo

Borneo's forest fires are wreaking havoc on the local wildlife. our correspondent in the Kutai National Park says the blazes threaten to turn the jungle into an ecological desert.

When it comes to the local wildlife, Pak Poniman is anything but sentimental, though even he becomes a little pensive when you ask him about the orang utans. "They got on my nerves because they used to eat the plants," he says, pointing up at a cocoa tree in his small plantation, "but now that they're gone, it's not the same ... In the morning, you could hear them calling and playing together, and they would come with their babies and teach them to climb around the small trees on the plantation.

"Some of them weren't afraid of humans - you could almost touch them. But I haven't seen or heard them for a month, and I feel very sad."

Twenty feet above his head among the branches of the cocoa trees is a rough nest of sticks which, until the beginning of January, was the daily haunt of a family of Borneo's most famous and best loved ape. Clearly visible on the next hillside a few miles beyond is the reason why the nest has been deserted - columns of grey smoke rising from the brush and forest fires which are burning all along this stretch of road in the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan.

"We used to get hornbills and parrots here," says Poniman, "and normally at this time of year you see cobras and other snakes. But they have all gone."

Of all the victims of the forest fires in Borneo, none have been hit so directly as the island's unique wildlife. Apart from the orang utan, the Kutai National Park, on whose fringes Poniman lives, is home to gibbons, long-tailed macaques, proboscis monkeys, sun bears and countless amphibians, insects and birds.

Many were already threatened by the steady incursion into their jungle habitat of hunters and farmers. But the forest fires, which began last summer and resumed in the new year after a brief respite, threaten to accelerate the process dramatically. Apart from causing irreparable damage to the jungle's delicate eco-system, they represent a potential holocaust for some of the world's most vulnerable species.

"Only birds and the larger mammals can escape from fires like these," says Ron Lilley of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Jakarta. "Everything else gets burned to a crisp. We've put out insect traps in areas that have been burned and there's nothing, even in areas that went up 15 or 20 years ago. Once an area of primary forest has gone, that's it. It's not coming back."

"Population sizes are going to decrease and it's certainly going to have an impact on endangered species," says a spokeswoman for the WWF in Samarinda, the capital of East Kalimantan. "It was bad enough last year, but this has the potential to be the same again or worse."

In the Kutai National Park, home to about 2,500 orang utans, 1,500 of the park's 200,000 hectares are ablaze or burned out. Rangers of the Forestry Protection and Natural Preservation Department believe some of the apes must have died. The rest have fled into untouched primary forest in the centre of the park. Their concentration in one area puts pressure on its food resources. After last year's fires in the Tanjung Puting park in Central Kalimantan, the river margins became refugee camps of displaced apes. Those who wander into human settlements face the risk of being killed or captured for sale.

The fires have indirect effects which will be felt long after the blaze is extinguished, as an internal WWF report, prepared by an scientists in its office in East Kalimantan and obtained by The Independent, points out. Trauma and starvation can cause females to miscarry or become infertile. Smoke haze reduces the temperature and the amount of sunlight, effecting plant growth and the abundance of forest food. The absence of birds, bats and insects makes it less likely that flowers and plants will be pollinated and that seeds will be dispersed. In several spots in Borneo underground peat has caught fire, destroying not just the jungle but the very soil in which it grows.

"We are talking about hundreds of hectares reduced to biological desert," says the author of the WWF report. "Fire which destroy trees upstream, can cause soil to slip into rivers and even have an impact on coral reefs tens of kilometres away. Nothing like this works in isolation."

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride