Sunday, November 12, 2006

South-east Asia's Peat Fires and Global Warming

Press release
-for immediate release-

South-east Asia's Peat Fires and Global Warming
Joint Press Release by Ecological Internet, Biofuelwatch, Watch
Indonesia and Save the Rainforest (Germany)

November 11th, 2006

At Nairobi, governments are debating the future of the Kyoto Protocol and action to prevent the most serious impacts of climate change. So far, they appear to have ignored pleas to address one of the greatest single sources of carbon emissions: the destruction of South-east Asia's peatlands and forests. The annual emissions from annual peat and forest fires are about five times as great as the total annual emission cuts which the Kyoto Protocol aims to make by 2012, from 1990 levels.

Indonesia alone holds 60% of all tropical peat, containing some 50 billion tonnes of carbon. This is equivalent to 7-8 years of global fossil fuel emissions. Timber and oil palm plantations are draining the peatlands and also pushing local communities and small-holders into peat areas and rainforests. Once this peat is drained, all this carbon will eventually be released into the atmosphere, unless the peat is subsequently re-flooded and restored. Annual fires, many of them set deliberately by plantation owners, speed up the process.

This year's fire season has been one of the worst on record. Wetlands International warned earlier this week that the boom in biofuels is speeding up the destruction, and further that one tonne of palm oil grown on peat is linked to the release of around 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide released from that peat. Due to its low cost, palm oil is set to become the prime feedstock for biodiesel. Biofuelwatch member UK Green Party Councillor Andrew Boswell says from Nairobi: "Over 6600 people from 75 countries have emailed governments to call for real action to address the causes of the annual peat and forest fires. So far, there are no signs that delegates have listened. UNFCCC exists to prevent dangerous climate change and to stabilise levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This will be even harder to achieve unless tropical peatlands are protected and restored. Ecological Internet, Biofuelwatch, Save the Rainforest (Germany) and Watch Indonesia are calling on the Conference to agree to international assistance with fighting the fires which are still burning on Borneo, and to set up a working group which will draw up proposals for the protection and restoration of the peatlands which must report back within a year. They stress that those proposals must be developed in close co-operation with local communities and the South-east Asian NGOs representing them and must take full account of the needs of local people, and also of the need to protect those forests which are not part of the peatlands. "

Andrew Boswell, Biofuelwatch: Nairobi contact 0720833788 (until 17/11
only); from outside Kenya 254-720833788

Dr Glen Barry, President of Ecological Internet, USA:
GlenBarry@..., Tel +1 920 776 1075


1. Biofuelwatch is a UK campaign which seeks regulation to ensure that only sustainably-sourced biofuels can be sold in Britain in the European Union. See Biofulewatch

2. Ecological Internet (EI) provides the most successful Internet based environment portals, search engines and international Earth advocacy network ever, regularly achieving environmental conservation victories around the world. EI specializes in the use of the Internet to achieve environmental conservation outcomes. Ecological Internet's mission is to empower the global movement for environmental sustainability by providing information retrieval tools, portal services and analysis that aid in the conservation of climate, forest, water and ocean ecosystems; and to commence the age of ecological sustainability and restoration. On average 30,000 visits a day are made to our environmental portals. See
Ecological Internet

3. Save the Rainforest (Rettet den Regenwald e.V.) campaigns against the abuse of rainforest by industrialised countries and organises support for indigenous people in the forests. See
Save the Rainforest

4. Watch Indonesia is a German-based working group for democracy, human rights and environmental protection in Indonesia and East Timor. See Watch Indonesia

5. For a fully referenced background paper about the peat and forest fires in south-east Asia, and their contribution to global warming, see Biofuelwatch PDF

6. For the figures provided by Wetlands International, see Wetlands International

Friday, November 10, 2006

Burning Peatland is threatening the Orangutan

Burning Peatland is threatening the Orangutan

BOS Mawas, PRESS RELEASE, Friday 10th November 2006

Pandu B.Wahyono, manager of Mawas Conservation Program of The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS), is overwhelmed by this year’s fire desaster in Mawas. Since the great fires in 1997/8, Kalimantan (the Indonesian part of Borneo) has never experienced such terrible fires again.

BOS Mawas (Mawas means Orangutan) aims to convert approximately 500.000 hectares into a Mawas reservation. This land is situated in Central Kalimantan between the Kapuas and the Barito Rivers. It mainly consists of tropical swamp forest, under which precious CO2-rich peat, and even peat domes thicker then 15 meters, can be found. The Mawas area consists of many different landscapes and ecosystems. Some areas still are virgin swamp forest, home to approx. 3000 wild orangutans. Other forests have been logged for about 20 years and are therefore highly degraded. The worst destruction took place in the western part of Block AB, where a misguided governmental project had been planned. There, the ambitious million hectar ricefield project (Proyek Pengembangan Lahan Gambut, PLG), a project of the Suharto era, allegedly was to raise the economical welfare. Now, this exPLG area is drained, dead and cleared land. Furthermore, it still has major negative impacts on the neighbouring peatlands, because the drains feed on the water, which is stored in the peat like in a sponge.

In Mawas, many peat domes with a thickness up to 20 meters can be found. These peat domes grow very slowly and only under specific conditions. Over 5,000 years organic material has been accumulated under very acidic conditions to form this extraordinary carbon sink, which is highly important as a fresh water supply for the river systems. When these peat domes are logged or planted with oil palms, they dehydrate and collapse. Large amounts of CO2 are emitted because of the drainage. Annually, 600 million tonnes of CO2 are emitted in Indonesia alone by the oxidation of peat. Another 1.5 billion annually emitted CO2 result from forest and peat fires. Normally, the peat is soaked with water, but once the peat is drained, it ignites easily. Peat fires burn underground, they travel unseen beneath the surface and break out in unexpected locations.

Although BOS fire fighters are on duty in Mawas night and day, since yesterday (even supported by fire-fighting plans) large areas of peat forests were burnt. The peat swamp forest of Mawas is home to about 3000 wild orangutan. Only recently, 148 orangutans have been translocated to Blocks AB in Mawas. Now the fires are threatening the unique biodiversity of the peat swamp forest, they put one of the last wild orangutan populations into danger, and they may release the three gigatonnes of carbondioxide which are bound in the peat.

Kisar Odom, representative manager of the BOS Mawas Conservation Program and leader of the research and development team, is constantly monitoring the orangutans. “Several orangutans have tried to escape the fires, others have already crossed the Mantangai River to an area that is regarded to be safer. We are constantly monitoring the situation and, thankfully, have not yet found one dead orangutan.” Ironically, now, while observations are badly needed to monitor the situation of the threatened orangutan population, Kisar Odom and his team have difficulties observing the animals because of the thick smoke.

Three orangutans had to be saved from fires and translocated to a safer forest. Those orangutans had not long ago been introduced to a forest in Block AB which was regarded as safe. But during the last months, 17.815 hectares or 17 % of this forest has been destroyed by fire.

“Fleeing from fires or wandering around in search for food, orangutans often enter oil palm plantations and eat palm seedlings. Farmers, defending their harvest, often hit or kill the animals.” Willie Smits, the founder of the BOS Foundation, further explains that “10-15 orangutans recently died as a result of their injuries. Currently, 120 orangutans are treated in three rehabilitation centres, suffering of dehydration, acute breathing diseases, and starvings and even from wounds.”

Last month, more than 30 Orangutans had to be rescued. They were either driven out of their forest by fires, or they were desperately looking for food in plantations, because their habitat has been destroyed by oil palm plantation companies.

“At the moment we are putting a lot of energy in law enforcement. We hope that offenders and involved parties will be prosecuted. We are supporting the government’s efforts in taking action against plantation companies that are suspected of burning the forest to establish new plantations.” Hardi Baktiantoro, assistant manager of the BOS orangutan reintroduction centre Nyaru Menteng, says. Additionally to law enforcement, BOS conducts community development and education programs in Central and East Kalimantan, with the aim to prevent land clearing, illegal logging, animal abuse and forest fires.

Ironically, more and more oil palms are planted to produce “biofuel”. In Indonesia one quarter of all oil palm plantations are grown on peat land. According to several environmental organisations the establishment of oil palm plantations is not only responsible for a great loss of animal lives and biodiversity, but also for immense emissions of carbondioxide. Data from Wetlands International show that 1 tonne palm oil grown on peat land results in the release of about 20 tonnes of CO2.

Thus, the so called “biofuel” is rather responsible for unrecoverable destruction of unique biodiversity and for irretrievable release of green house gases from ancient carbon sinks than to be the renewable sustainable energy source we are searching for.

By Rita Sastrawan
BOS International

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Indonesia: Smoke and Corruption

Indonesia: Smoke and Corruption

Source: Copyright 2006, Jakarta Post
Date: November 7, 2006
Original URL

Indonesia must certainly approach this yearly problem with a high degree of seriousness. In fact, Indonesia should ratify the ASEAN transboundary haze agreement. But Indonesia also has something to tell to its neighbors -- in particular those who harbor members of the corrupt elite, who move around like smoke.

The smoke from Indonesian forest fires has created havoc not only in various parts of Indonesia, but in Malaysia and Singapore too. The Malaysians, acting to protect their interests, have made an open demand to the Indonesian government to stop the fires. They have even brought the issue to ASEAN. Singapore, while reacting less aggressively, is also unhappy with the way Indonesia has dealt with the smoke.

In an article written by Todung Mulya Lubis called Singapore Paradox (Kompas, Nov. 2), the nation-state is accused of abetting Indonesia's corruption problem. Singaporeans have argued corruption is rampant here because Indonesia has not made a serious effort to fight it. But Singapore itself is a safe haven for corrupt Indonesians. Thus, the paradox is that while Singapore claims to be one of the "cleanest" countries in the world, it provides a den for its dishonest neighbors.

Smoke and corruption have a common thread. Indonesia can argue that it does not intend for the fires on its territory to send smoke to neighboring countries. Smoke is spread by the wind, which is not under the control of Indonesian government.

By the same token, Singapore can argue it does not intend to spread corruption, since it has very strict laws in that matter. They might point out that corrupt people, from Indonesia or anywhere, can come and go to Singapore, as do other people from ASEAN countries. But the problem is, in Singapore they are not considered practitioners of corruption, but investors.

So, will the next ASEAN conference focus on smoke? If it does, Indonesia should raise the "Singapore paradox."

The problem of smoke is usually not discussed in terms of sovereignty. Since smoke is no respecter of borders, every country can demand that the country in question fix the problem. That makes sense.

Diplomats tend to view corruption, however, from the standpoint of state sovereignty. If Indonesia raises the issue of corruption in Singapore, it can be accused of interfering in Singapore's affairs and violating Singapore's sovereignty. It is the right of the Singaporean government to decide who can and cannot enter its sovereign territory.

The problem of smoke and corruption should be instead be understood from the perspective of "global public good." In her book bearing that term as its title, Inge Kaul argues that as globalization becomes intensive and extensive, the public good cannot be viewed simply in terms of one's country or region. What affects one country or region can affect countries around the globe. Pollution, for example, including global climate change and the greenhouse effect, are global concerns. So is oil policy. Global public good should overcome the constraints of sovereignty.

If clean air is a global public good, what about a "clean neighborhood"? The problem of corrupt people who move from one country to another should be tackled within that framework. "Good governance" refers to the fight against corruption at the national level, and a "clean neighborhood" policy would entail a similar effort at the regional and global level.

No country can argue that corruption is strictly a national problem. We are living in the era of globalization. Bad operators fly around the world and can move their money around the world with the click of a mouse. If one country wants to eliminate corruption, other countries must join its efforts, just as in the case of preventing global warming.

A "clean neighborhood" should be considered one of the "global public goods." It is high time to have a treaty to establish a clean neighborhood.

ASEAN may become a pioneer as the first international organization to tackle this issue. If it can force Indonesia to deal with the smoke, it should be able to put Singapore under similar pressure to cleanse its territory of both domestic and global corruption. That would create a truly clean neighborhood.

The writer is a lecturer on globalization at the Postgraduate School of Political Science, University of Indonesia.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Borneo on Fire...

Below is a piece from BBC News online. We have worked in the field alongside these rescue teams and know how bad things are. The fires in Borneo will only get worse as more peat is cleared for oil palm plantations, meanwhile the orangutans will continue to suffer. These fires are strong evidence that Kyoto should really call an emergency meeting to bring in new measures to protect existing forest. Can we really wait till 2012?

Orangutans perish in Borneo fires
By Lucy Williamson, BBC News, Jakarta

Fires on the island of Borneo may have killed up to 1,000 orangutans, say animal protection workers in Indonesia.

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation says the animals are facing severe problems as their natural habitat is burnt away.

Rescue workers have found several dead orangutans in burnt-out areas, but have no way of reaching animals still trapped in the burning forests.

The fires have been raging across central Borneo for months.


One of those involved in the rescue effort, Pak Hardy, told the BBC that more than 40 animals had been saved after finding their way to the edges of the fires. Many have severe burns.

Others have been killed by local people after eating from the area's profitable oil palm plantations.

One of the problems, says Pak Hardy, is that erosion of the animals' natural habitat means there are few places for them to go to avoid the fires.

The teams have put up posters asking local people not to kill orangutans which are fleeing the fires and to contact them instead, but it is not working.

Four times in the last 24 hours Pak Hardy's team has been too late.

Threats to orangutans' natural habitat are largely responsible for them becoming an endangered species.

Indonesia's annual problem with forest fires is widely blamed on farmers and logging companies clearing land for oil palm plantations.
The fires routinely cause a smoky haze to settle over a wide area and have brought criticism from Indonesia's neighbours as well as from environmental groups.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Cockroach and SKY News Special

Cockroach Productions works with SKY News to tell the story of orangutans and palm oil. Exclusive footage of the impact of palm oil on the habitat of the endangered orangutan

Deforestation and Palm Oil

A look at recent documentary footage of areas of Borneo and Sumatra that have been deforested in the name of development. Some facts that ... all » show that Indonesia's local people may not benefit from this 'development' in the way we might think.

Watch and be shocked. This is Indonesia today.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


For a while now we've been thinking of how to make ape films more widely available for conservation purposes. Our friends at GAFI manage to take films back to ape native range states, so the people who live with apes can learn about apes. This is how our Orangutan films are distributed in the field. But we wanted to make our films, and others, available to anyone who had an internet connection. Last week we were at WildScreen - "The Green Oscars" - the biggest natural history film festival in the world. It became apparent that a lot of people felt similarly that there was a need to have an online resource for conservation films.

After a discussion with Ian Redmond (UNEP/UNESCO GRASP & Ape Alliance) and Richard Brock (Brock Initiative & former senior BBC Producer) we designed this site to try and help people access rich media on apes. There are live RSS feeds, online slideshows and most excitingly - we are collecting conservation videos on apes. Please come and visit, and help us make this site grow. We are also in the formative stages of setting up Films4Tigers and Films4Elephants will follow. But for now drop by:


See you there,
Nick & Evie

Producer, Orangutan Film Protection Project.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Friday, October 06, 2006

Cockroach inspire Miller Advert

One of our kit sponsors, Miller Camera Support in Australia, recently sent us this image. Taking inspiration from the production still below, the image has been touring the world in their trade fairs. Whilst the interpretation of the orangutans has obviously been subject to creative license, the camerawoman is clearly a spitting image of Evie!

Cockroach Productions Inspires Miller Advert

Investigating the camera

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Carbon Dioxide, Peat, Indonesia, Orangutans...

An Article from New Scientist in 2002, but still as relevant four years on as huge swathes of forest are cleared from peat domes, under the guise of palm oil development. It is important to note that oil palm does not grow well on peat, it falls over, machinery sinks, and the fire risks should mean that previously cleared, dry lowland should be used before opening peat swamp forests. We shouldn't even need to raise the point that peat swamp forest is one of the last refuges for orangutans!

Indonesian wildfires spark global warming fears

19:00 06 November 2002
Copyright news service 2002
By Fred Pearce

Burning peat bogs in Indonesia are releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, in a repeat of the environmental devastation that made headlines around the world five years ago.

Tropical peat bogs, such as those beneath the forests of Indonesia, are among the planet's largest stores of carbon. They release much more CO2 when they burn than when the trees that grow on them catch fire.

Now a team of scientists from Britain, Germany and Indonesia has reported that as Indonesia's forests burned in 1997, the smouldering peat beneath released as much as 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon into the air.

That is equivalent to 40 per cent of the global emissions from burning fossil fuels that year, and was the prime cause of the biggest annual increase in atmospheric CO2 levels since records began more than 40 years ago.

Deep burn

The researchers calculate that, in 1998, the atmosphere contained almost 6 billion extra tonnes of CO2, compared with an annual average for the 1990s of 3.2 billion tonnes. Researcher Susan Page of the University of Leicester estimates that the smouldering peat bogs lost between 25 and 85 centimetres in depth.

Indonesian bogs burning during this year's El Niño are again spreading smog across southeast Asia, says her colleague Jack Rieley of the University of Nottingham. "The burning is likely to be around 40 per cent of 1997 levels, releasing up to a billion tonnes of carbon," he told New Scientist.

Formed over the past 20,000 years, Indonesia's peat bogs are up to 20 metres deep. Huge areas have been drained for agricultural projects in recent years. This leaves the peat dry and prone to fires spread when farmers clear the forest, especially when the rains fail in El Niño years.

In 1997, only 4.5 per cent of the pristine swamp areas burned, compared with 70 per cent of swamp beneath fragmented forest, the study found.

Carbon credits

As much as 50 billion tonnes of carbon is locked up in Indonesia's peat bogs - the equivalent of eight years of fossil-fuel emissions. Rieley predicts that it could all be released into the atmosphere over the coming century, adding to global warming.

David Schimel of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, says the study reveals how "catastrophic events affecting small areas can have a huge impact on the global carbon balance."

Rieley is now calling for an international effort to save the bogs. He says the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which issues "carbon credits" to countries planting new forest to soak up CO2, should be extended to allow countries to claim credits for protecting key carbon stores such as peat bogs. Selling the credits to polluters could finance conservation projects, he says.

Journal reference: Nature (vol 420, p 61)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Morrisons to Join RSPO

Congratulations Letter Writers and Postcard Senders!

Morrisons have just announced that they are joing the RSPO, which means together we have managed to get that huge step forward in the campaign by getting all FIVE of our target supermarkets in the UK to sign up to principles of sustainability on palm oil. Next job: we need to get some politcal will-power in SE ASIA to only pursue sustainable palm oil production. More news on that will be coming soon. Meanwhile here is Morrisons' press release:

Morrisons to join Roundtable on palm oil

2nd August 2006

Morrisons has announced its intention to join the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), to further demonstrate its commitment to the responsible sourcing of this ingredient and to help promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil.

The company will continue to work with its suppliers to make progress in ensuring that any palm oil used in own brand products is from verifiable, sustainable sources.

“We have always been in accord with the aim of the RSPO and to address the issue, we focused on working directly through our supply chain”, said Corporate Affairs Director, Chris Blundell. “Given the global nature of the palm oil market there is the need for collective action on an international basis and the Roundtable process provides the best means of achieving this.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Palm Oil Advert in British National Newspaper/s

Palm Oil Advert

Cockroach Productions' Orangutan Film Protection Project supplies the photo for Friends of the Earth's newspaper advert campaign.

Friends of the Earth said:

"We have already been contacted by Morrisons, who wanted to know if there was a specific reason why we felt we had to take the advert and also what we wanted to achieve by it. They appeared to be unaware that they were the last notable UK supermarket who hadn't joined the RSPO after Tesco announced they will join last week."

Certainly we, at the OFPP, have personally spoken with Morrisons on three or four occassions in the last few months urging them to develop a policy on sustainable palm oil, and was met with litle interest, or signs of proaction on their part. They had a fair warning that this issue would be likely to bring them some negative publicity if they did not act.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Momentous Breakthrough in Campaign!

TESCO Joins the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, finally!!! Thank you to all our letter writers for your continued support and the pressure you have put on TESCOs - you have been successful.
And here is their press release:


Tesco today announced that it will join the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil to help the industry identify ways of sourcing this widely used ingredient more responsibly.

Announcing the move, Group Corporate and Legal Affairs Director, Lucy Neville-Rolfe said:

"We are deeply concerned about the loss of rainforest - and the orangutans it supports - and believe that we can make a real contribution to work in this important area.

"It is a complex problem and our technical team have learnt a lot about the issue over the last two years and we hope that by sharing our knowledge and ideas, we will make a positive contribution and help to make a difference.”

Stanley Jonhson, former MEP and senior advisor to United Nation's Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP) welcomed the statement:

"This is tremendously good news. Given the enormous range of products containing palm oil marketed by Tesco in stores across the UK, it is vital that Tesco should join the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil – as they now have. And given Tesco's increasing international operations, constructive participation from Tesco is likely to be even more important in the future."

Tesco House, PO Box 18, Delamare Road, Cheshunt, Herts EN8 9SL
Press Desk - Tel: 01992 644645

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

OFPP back in the field

We're back off to Indonesia tomorrow for a month's filming to complete the conflict mitigation training video. This video will show plantation workers what do when they encounter an orangutan - showing how to best ensure their personal safety and the safety of the orangutan. We will be working the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation to create a number of reconstructions to complete the training video. We'll try and keep you up to date while we're away.

We should remain in email contact periodically - so please drop us a line at
We will return to the UK on the 9th of July. We plan to have the video completed by mid-July

Wish us luck!

Friday, May 12, 2006

BBC1 16:30 Really Wild Show, Weds 17th May

Palm Oil story reaches a Younger Generation

Those of you in the UK keep your eyes peeled for the Really Wild Show on the BBC this Wednesday (May 17th) at 4:30pm. The show will feature a special report on the palm oil industry and its negative implications for the protection of rainforests and biodiversity in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Some of the footage shot by Cockroach Productions on location in Borneo and Sumatra will be included in the report, including rare film of a captured baby sun bear, a baby macaque being kept as a pet in a palm oil plantation in Central Sumatra, and an unusual shot of a (completely arboreal) gibbon running bipedally across cleared forest land.

Hopefully the show will inspire a new generation of budding conservationists to join the campaign.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Orang-utan campaign heads to Westminster

Tuesday, 02 May 2006 08:35 Copyright

Orang-utan campaign heads to Westminster

Leading members of Britain's campaign to save endangered orang-utans are to lobby MPs at a Westminster reception this evening.

Hosted by Lib Dem MP Norman Baker and organised by Friends of the Earth, the event will be attended by prominent orang-utan campaigners including celebrity actress Joanna Lumley.

They will attempt to highlight the plight of the orang-utans, whose rainforests are being steadily destroyed by Britain's demand for palm oil, in an attempt to gain changes to the company law reform bill currently passing through parliament.

"Demand for palm oil is threatening the survival of these fantastic creatures and it is shocking that our demand for cheap food and other products is behind this," Mr Baker, the party's environmental affairs spokesperson, said.

"I believe we must take this opportunity to use the company law reform bill to ensure that UK companies take more responsibility for the impacts they have on the environment."

At present British supermarkets including Tesco, Somerfield and Morrisons are refusing to subscribe to an agreement on the "sustainable use" of palm oil, showing a disinterest the bill could forcibly change.

"The growth in demand for palm oil is putting pressure on precious areas of rainforest in Borneo and Sumatra, threatening the survival of the orang-utan," Friends of the Earth oil campaigner Ed Matthew said.

"MPs have the power to do something about this and we urge them to take this chance."

Palm oil, harvested from the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra, can be found in one in ten products sold in Britain's supermarkets.track
The Orangutan Film Protection Project Team from Cockroach Productions will be attending this event and showing a video report from Indonesia, highlighting the plight of orangutans and local people in the face of the growing palm oil industry. Our hope is to rally British Government support for the sustainable sector of the industry, being led by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

Find out more at

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Orangutans WILL go home!

Subject: RE: Press release - Orangutans will go home!

53 of 61 smuggled orangutans will be sent home soon

April 23, 2006

On Saturday the 22nd of April 2006, officials from Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants announced their decision to allow 53 smuggled orangutans to go back home to the forests of Indonesia. The decision was made during a meeting between Thai and Indonesian officials in Bangkok. A large group of NGO's worldwide campaigned hard to have the Apes repatriated after two and a half years being kept in sub-standard conditions at Safari World, Bangkok and wildlife breeding centers in Thailand. The pressure of the campaign, which was stepped up only six months ago, finally bears fruit.

Although the Thai authorities still want to check DNA of all the orangutans to verify that the animals originate from the Indonesian part of Borneo, scientists and experts believe all but two are from this area. Two of the orangutans might be Sumatran orangutans and therefore also Indonesian. The Indonesian authorities have agreed to allow the second DNA test so long as it does not delay the repatriation process. The animals will be returned to Indonesia before the results of the DNA check are available. Two years ago, DNA tests, financed by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) in cooperation with the Thai Forestry Police, were conducted to prove that these same orangutans were not born of the legal orangutan stock at the zoo.

The 53 orangutans will all be moved to the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, run by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. It is expected that the first half of the orangutans will be shipped back to Indonesia within the next eight weeks; a second group should follow within four weeks after the first. Due to the level of care required for each individual animal, transporting too large a group at one time will be too stressful for the animals.

Veterinary and orangutan experts from BOSF and the Indonesian government will soon begin a thorough health assessment to check all the orangutans for zoonotic diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis, as well as the presence of parasites, bacteria and fungi. Local Thai universities such as Chulalongkorn and/or Mahidol might be asked for assistance with this process. If animals are not 100% healthy, the stress of transportation might be detrimental and, in some cases, fatal. The healthiest ones will be returned with the first lot.

At Nyaru Menteng, all facilities are ready to welcome the orangutans back home; a quarantine area and new living quarters have all been constructed in the past two years awaiting the return of these orangutans.

The fate of eight additional orangutans held by the Thai authorities confiscated from Lopburi zoo and two slaughterhouses in 2003 is not yet known.

For more information and pictures:

Edwin Wiek
Monitoring unit for cross-border illegal wildlife trade
Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation
Wildlife Friends of Thailand (
Tel +6690600906 (Thailand 0906-00906)

Dr. Willie Smits
Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation / Gibbon Foundation

Lone Droscher Nielsen
Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rehabilitation Center
Tel: +62-8125154702 (Indonesia 081-25154702)

All photographs Copyright Nick Lyon & Evie Wright
The Orangutan Film Protection Project
Tel: +44 (0)1823 451 790

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Better Late than Never

Well done Sainsburys for joing the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil! After an announcement at the end of January, Sainsburys have finally filed their application for the RSPO and, in doing so, joins the likes of ASDA, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer in the growing list of retailers that recognise the importance of taking responsible action on sustainable sourcing of products.

This announcement follows shortly after the publication of a scientific study of latent extinction hotspots that identified the Indonesian-Malaysian forests as being under the greatest threat in the world. Sustainable Palm Oil means an end to conversion of high conservation value forest. Please do your part to support the retailers who take up this innitiative.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Mega Plantation Border Project!

Demand for palm oil triggers massive expansion in Borneo

Source: Friends of the Earth: Apr 12 2006

A new report released today (Wednesday 13 April) reveals how the Indonesian government could develop up to three million hectares of oil palm plantations on the island of Borneo, threatening wildlife and local livelihoods to cater for international demand for cheap palm oil [1].

One of the justifications given for this huge plantation project is the increasing international demand for palm oil to be used in food, feed and biofuels.

The report reveals how earlier plans to develop a two million hectare plantation on the Indonesian side of the border with Malaysia, are not yet off the table. Indonesia's initial proposals to develop the border area had met with international protest. The Indonesian president Yudhoyono acknowledged there were conservation concerns to be taken into account. But the Indonesian Ministry of Public Works appears to have responded to this in January 2006 by simply enlarging the area defined as the "border zone". In this broader area, up to 3 million hectares of oilpalm could be planted, according to the Ministry.

The project still threatens mayhem, damaging wildlife including threatened populations of orang-utan and elephants, and the livelihoods of local people in the Kalimantan region. Friends of the Earth Indonesia (WALHI) and local palm oil organisation Sawit Watch ('Oilpalm Watch') are calling on the Indonesian government to officially cancel the border mega-plantation plan.

The new report reveals that the area deemed suitable for oil palm includes forests used by thousands of people who depend on them for their livelihoods. In new larger border zone, a special regulation (Presidential Decree No. 36/2005) would allow the government to take land away from communities that do not want oil palm plantations in the name of 'public interest'. The report shows that those communities who are aware of the new proposals are strongly opposed to the plans.

Evidence shows that in the last decade, many areas have been deforested supposedly to make way for oil palm plantations but have then been abandoned after the timber has been sold. In East Kalimantan alone, 3 million hectares of forest disappeared for oil palm concessions. Of those, only 300.000 hectares have actually been planted with oil palm.

Sixty per cent of the forests converted into oil palm plantations in 2004-2005 were still good forests, despite the commitment made by the Indonesian government in 2000 that no more forests would be converted to palm and pulp plantations.

"Communities should not be forced to change their livelihoods simply for the benefit of oil palm companies and consumers overseas. They have not been consulted on these proposals and certainly have not agreed to abandon their land," said Rudy Lumuru of Sawit Watch, in the Netherlands to present the report.

'European importing countries should not increase their imports of palm oil until environmental and social issues are solved,´ added Anne Van Schaik of Friends of the Earth Netherlands. 'This also means we should be very hesitant to embrace palm oil as a biomass-solution to the current energy crisis. To start with, companies and governments should ensure that palm oil used in food and feedstock is in line with the criteria laid out by the so-called Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil as soon as possible," said Van Schaik.


[1] The Kalimantan Border Oil Palm Mega Project (PDF)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Marks & Spencer Join the RSPO

Thank you Marks & Spencer for taking a positive step forward for orangutan conservation by signing up to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

M&S are following in the steps of other major retailers such as ASDA and Waitrose to show concern for SE Asian environmental impacts and moving towards not purchasing unsustainable palm oil that leads to forest conversion. We hope this is the first step in a number of measures that can be taken by companies to minimise their impact on our endangered red cousins.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Cockroach success at the Celtic Film and Video Festival!

Falmouth, March 2006

Cockroach felt a burst of pride when Nick took part in the live pitch competition at the Celtic Film and Video Festival in Falmouth, Cornwall, last week and won.

Our pitch – for Radio Gibbon, 99.5 FM a film about Radio Kalaweit and the gibbon sanctuary run by Frenchman Chanee in Central Kalimantan – was voted the winner against 5 other live pitches (and these 5 had already been selected from a much greater number of entries in the selection phase).

Kalaweit Logo 2

Radio Gibbon
won a landslide victory in the audience vote. The audience to the competition was made up of industry professionals, producers, commissioning editors, and festival delegates, as well as being webcast live. The event was preceeded by a three-day long pitching course run by Christina Burnett from Wide Eye Pictures, during which Nick had the opportunity to really fine tune and perfect the pitch. We’re hoping the exposure and insight which the event gave us will help to get the film commissioned.

Here’s an extract from the pitch:

Radio Gibbon is a journey through the cultural, musical and natural heritage of Borneo with an amazing and charismatic man who has made his life here on the frontiers of conservation.

In 1997 a young Frenchman, Aurelien Brule, applied to the Indonesian government in Jakarta to found a radio station in Central Kalimantan. Less than a decade later Radio Kalaweit is the most popular radio station in Borneo. Through the story of this radio outpost, its listeners, and Brule’s gibbon sanctuary island, we explore the most remote parts of Borneo – areas where radio is a vital link to the wider world.”

If you are interested in finding out more about our idea for the film contact us at: or telephone +44 (0)1823 451 790
Or if you would like to help our friends at Kalaweit go to:
and donate generously!!!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Cockroach Productions wins National Recognition

Cockroach Productions' Orangutan Film Protection Project has won a Special Commendation from the British Environment and Media Awards for their media work on the Orangutan and Palm Oil Story. Through national and international news broadcasts the team at Cockroach, with the support of their friends in the Ape Alliance, have reached an audience of 86,000,000 people worldwide with the story. Further national broadcasts on mainstream terrestrial televison are scheduled for the coming months.

OFPP logo v.2

Alistair McGowan presented the awards at a dinner ceremony, where other attendees included the BBC, Channel 4, The Independent, The Sunday Times and Friends of the Earth. We were pleased to see our 'Orangutan Friendly Palm Oil' logo come up on screen - re-enforcing the message to a captive audience of fellow environmental reporters. We also took advantage of the evening to spread the word on the orangutan and palm oil crisis, and hope we can keep the story in the forefront of people's minds in the coming months.

Alistair McGowan presents the BEMAs

Sunday, February 19, 2006

On the trail of the Tiger

Saturday 6th August 2005

The last two weeks in Sumatra have been exhausting but exhilarating. We left Jakarta early one morning, accompanied by Pak Wald and Pak Daniel of the Sumatran Tiger Conservation Program, and began a four-day journey up impossibly bumpy roads to the forests of central Sumatra. En route we took in a ferry journey passing Krakatoa in the distance, stopped over at the elephant training centre in Way Kambas, and passed through the concrete skyscrapers that dominate the villages where bird’s nest soup is the primary industry. After three days circumnavigating the many potholes of the trans-Sumatran highway, we eventually arrived at the office of the STCP. That evening we were introduced to the rest of the team and were shown a small sample of the thousands of photos they have collected from their camera traps in the forests, including tapir, clouded leopards, porcupines, deer, elephants, and, of course, tigers. Pak Wald and Pak Yunus, the STCP field manager, then showed us some of the STCP’s recent confiscations – tiger and leopard skins, bones, and teeth.

BTNP, Sumatra

The next day we traveled to some of the palm oil plantations that surround the borders of the forest where the STCP’s Tiger Protection Units run their patrols. Approaching one plantation we managed to get some shots of a huge illegal saw mill just off the road, and talked to a rubber-tapper and his family whose livelihood is threatened by the continuous expansion of palm oil monoculture. Arriving at another plantation still being established nearby, Pak Wald was shocked to find how quickly the forest had been cleared – the area had still been forest when he had last visited, just weeks earlier. On our way out of this plantation we encountered two workers carrying an Argus Pheasant that they had recently captured on the outskirts of the plantation. The Great Argus is a CITES Appendix-I listed endangered species. The unfortunate bird we met had its eyes stitched closed to “keep it calm”. The workers expected to make around £14.50 from selling it. We resisted the temptation to buy this bird from them in order to set it free – our doing so would only mean that word would get round that foreigners were paying for animals and would compound the problem.

Great Argus Frame 3

Later, in yet another plantation, we came across a baby macaque being kept as a family pet and tethered by the neck on an extremely short rope. It is likely the macaque faces a bleak future – a macaque is almost certain to be killed by others in the group if released into a wild population. It felt like every way we turned there were animals that faced similarly uncertain futures as their forest disappears to make way for palm oil.


The next couple of days were spent more happily. We traveled to the STCP base within the forest borders and from there we were able to film siamang whooping through the treetops, and witness the spectacular site of hornbills swooshing and honking overhead. We spent a couple of days trekking the jungle trails with the team, filming the set up of the camera traps and looking for snares set by poachers. We were lucky enough to come across some tiger prints, including some left fairly recently by a tigress and her cubs.

BTNP with Hornbill Flight

Members of the tiger team are recruited only after rigorous jungle training, and although by now fairly acclimatized to the 33 plus degree heat, we found it hard to keep up with the speed with which they move through the forest. They decided we looked like Ninja Turtles due to the big camera cases we were heaving around on our backs, and I think that our obvious discomfort kept them entertained during the periods of time when we needed to stop and take a rest.

That evening we went to meet and interview a man who is known locally as Pak Harimau – Mr Tiger. This man, a small wiry 70-odd year old, claims to have killed 182 tigers over a long career of poaching. On five occasions, the tigers fought back. As his many grandchildren crowded round to listen, Pak Harimau told us the story of how the last tiger to do so dragged him 150 metres by his head. He showed us the horrific scars he bears from this encounter. Nevertheless, although he is now reformed, you get the impression that despite his age and his terrifying experiences he would resume his old career without a second thought if it became legal. He was quite a formidable character.

Tales of Tiger Hunting

Life with the Talang Mamak

Monday 15th August 2005

The next day brought with it another early start as we set off for a Talang Mamak village deep within the forest. Accompanied by Pak Yunus, Andi from the Department of Forestry, and four of the STCP – Pak Muji, Mario, Toto and Hendra, we set off by 4x4 on a deeply gullied track. Luckily Mario, Toto and Hendra had their motorbikes, because we were not long into the journey when the car gave up. It was then a case of ferrying the eight of us, plus food, camera equipment, a generator and gasoline deeper into the forest before all signs of a track disappeared. The team took everything in their stride and with great humour. Everyone had a good laugh at Nick’s expense when he was pitched off the back of the bike as it reared up a particularly nasty rut. With a huge rucksack on his back he got wedged in a gully in the road, legs waving in the air. After hiding the bikes in the forest we continued by foot.

Hornbill at dusk

We arrived at the village just as the light was beginning to fade, after a long and hot five hour walk. The villagers are familiar with the tiger team now – the patrols pass through regularly – although Pak Yunus tells us that the first time he came here a woman ran away screaming when she saw him, thinking, due to the military-style clothing warn by the Unit, that he was part of an invading army. The village is still very isolated and the villagers almost completely self sufficient. They survive on what the forest has to offer them, and they manage to do so sustainably. Yunus tells us that the first time he visited the village there was not really any concept of money. Everything cost 5,000 Rp – one fruit cost the same as ten of the same fruit. With a growing involvement in life outside the forest, money has become more important and villagers can now raise some hard currency by selling the sap that they collect from a rare and particularly valuable sort of rattan that grows locally. A villager is taxed if they kill the plant when they harvest, and fined one goat.

Talang Mamak Hunter

We spent a few days staying at a house in the village that, confusingly, had no walls but did have doors and windows with padlocks and shutters. When we asked why there were doors and windows but no walls, the team laughed and admitted they had not noticed this before. During our stay we got to know several of the villagers including the chief, his son, and the teacher. We swam in the beautiful and pristine river that passes by their doorsteps, and ate what tasted like delicious feasts cooked up by Mario, although they mostly consisted of supernoodles, kecap, and edible bracken picked from the forest. Pak Muji was asked to fix the village’s new TV, the first and only one, powered by the village’s one generator. We understand that someone had inadvertently killed the colour with on of the dials. When the colour was successfully returned, Pak Muji was hailed as a healer. The village now has a school, which Pak Yunus was instrumental in setting up a few years ago, but as yet literacy is still very low. Yunus told us that everyone in the village smokes, except one person, and we even saw very small children smoking. Life expectancy here is well below the national average.

We made the journey out of the forest by dugout canoe, traveling downstream for two days with Pak Yunus, Andi, and the Chief and his son (Mario, Toto, and Hendra traveled out of the forest on foot). The chief displayed his amazing knowledge of the local area and ecology – he was able to name every subspecies of Meranti, and knew every ladang (small forest clearing) by name. Meanwhile Andi entertained us with enthusiastic renditions of virtually every Phil Collins song ever written (during- and post-Genesis) as well as sharing his anecdotes of his time working at Tanjung Patung National Park in Kalimantan, where he was stationed during the making of the now fairly infamous Julia Roberts Orangutan film.

BTNP, Sumatra

Pak Ari, an STCP driver, picked us up in the jeep further downstream where the river meets a track. The journey back to the main road was not plane sailing once we were back in the jeep however – unfortunately, although perhaps quite suitably – a palm oil truck was stuck in the mud and had blocked the road. It seemed a fitting conclusion to our final day of shooting.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Waitrose Ltd. Join the RSPO

After months of campaigning British supermarkets are beginning to agree with conservation groups that the future of the orangutan and sustainable palm oil is the responsibility of the entire supply chain. Waitrose have now followed ASDA in signing up to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. For those of you who have been kind enough to support our work through writing letters to the supermarkets you can now stop writing to these two companies, or perhaps you may want to write to them to thank them for taking this positive step.

We are still waiting for Morrisons to write replies to all the letters that have been sent to them. Not one of the many people who have written to all the major supermarkets have let us know of a reply from Morrisons. We are also still waiting for Tesco to join the RSPO. Tesco are the biggest supermarket in the UK and with expansion across the globe, an announcement of this kind would send a big signal to producers in Malaysia and Indonesia. The RSPO is working hard to make sustainable palm oil a reality, we need to do our part to help the industry realise this. We are not talking about sustainable palm oil as a niche product. We want non-destructive palm oil to be the only type available on the market. The RSPO is the best mechanism to allow this to happen.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A film that could save lives



"The great apes are our kin... Sadly, however, we have not treated them with the respect they deserve, and their numbers are now declining, the victims of logging, disease, loss of habitat, capture, and hunting... Great apes cannot be conserved for free... We need ordinary people in their millions to love an protect them. We need governments and companies to 'adopt' them and the places where they live. We need to turn the tide of extinction that threatens our nearest living relatives."

Kofi A. Annan
Secretary-General of the United Nations
World Atlas of Great Apes and their Conservation, 2005

If you’ve been following our site, you will already know that orangutans are under serious threat when they are found in oil palm plantations. The Sumatran orangutan is vying for the unenviable position of being the first great ape likely to go extinct within our lifetimes. We need companies to do their bit for great ape conservation - one way they can make a huge difference is to back the project we are proposing below, an idea the orangutan conservation organisations who would be involved are desparate for us to make.

We are developing a training video that will inform plantation workers what to do when they encounter an orangutan in their plantation. Working in collaboration with the Sumatran Orangutan Society and the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation we plan to make a health and safety style training video which we will be shown to workers in the oil palm plantations. The video will be an easy and effective way for plantation workers to learn what to do when encountering an orangutan.

The majority of plantation staff are migrant workers from Java or Sumatra, so unlike the native Dyaks, they are not familiar with the orangutan (Orangutans in Sumatra are restricted to such small ranges now that few Sumatrans have encountered them). Many workers have a false impression of the orangutan as a ferocious animal that poses a direct threat to their safety – a hangover, according to Dr. Birute Galdikas, stemming from the popularity of the original King Kong movie in Indonesia which will no doubt be exacerbated by the recent remake of the film.

The safety video will work to introduce workers to the orangutan in its true colours. It will include simple step-by-step instructions of what to do when an orangutan is spotted on a plantation, emphasizing the point that the workers should NOT try to capture or tie down the orangutan in any way. The reason that many orangutans are already seriously (often fatally) wounded before the rescue teams can reach them is that, despite having taken steps to alert the rescue team to the presence of the orangutans, the plantation workers have nonetheless undertaken to capture the animal themselves prior to the arrival of the team. A mature orangutan is immensely strong – it is almost impossible to tie up or capture an orangutan without first beating it unconscious. In order to stop this happening, the safety video will focus on giving clear instructions of which rescue centre to contact – these will be location specific – and will then recreate what will happen when the rescue team arrives. It will also provide information and images regarding the potential transmission of diseases between humans and orangutans should they come into contact with each other.

We intend that the video be made as a reconstruction of an orangutan rescue, filmed using members of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation rescue team as well as plantation workers. Karaoke is very popular across Kalimantan, and so DVD and VCD players are very common – distributing DVD and VCD copies of this simple film across the plantations offers a straightforward, effective, and relatively inexpensive means of preventing the many pointless and tragic deaths of orangutan on the palm oil plantations.

We are currently looking for UK-based businesses to help fund and support the production of this film.


Orangutans in oil palm plantations

Sometimes orangutans are in the oil palm because there is literally none of their forest habitat left, in which case they will require rescue and relocation. Sometimes orangutans are only passing through as they move between their well known feeding grounds. These orangutans may have been moving between these feeding areas for decades. A new oil palm plantation cutting into their established routes proves a dangerous place to travel. Whilst these orangutans could pass through the plantation to their feeding areas they are often seen as a threat. Some plantation managers have put bounties on orangutans because they see them as crop raiders, but orangutans generally pose little threat to the oil palms. Whilst out on a rescue we found the path made by one cheekpad male. There were a few young palms that had been pulled up, but these were in a straight line between two forest patches – it was clear the orangutan was just passing through and was not a crop raider. Oil palm plantations need to develop wildlife corridors that will allow these orangutans safe passage through their plantations. This will save the few palms that might otherwise get damaged and it will make the orangutans safer allowing them to move through the trees (their natural preference) rather than across the ground.

If you are interested in finding out more please contact us.

Nick & Evie @ Cockroach Productions
Tel: 01823 451 790 / 07816 755 128

Friday, January 06, 2006




Conservationists have received good news after a hard year of campaigning on behalf of our South East Asian cousin - the orangutan. The supermarket giant ASDA, second only to Tesco, have taken a positive step forward in corporate social and environmental responsibility by signing up to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

The 3rd meeting of the RSPO held in Singapore at the end of November 2005 saw the members adopt the Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production. In effect this means that there are finally a set of guidelines "…ensuring that production is economically viable, environmentally appropriate and socially beneficial" - see

Palm oil is present in 1 in 10 supermarket products and demand is rapidly growing in the wake of the transfatty acid scare in the food industry and the growing desire for biofuels.

The Ape Alliance and Friends of the Earth recognized palm oil as the single greatest threat to the future of orangutans in the wild in their September 2005 report The Oil for Ape Scandal.

With all signs indicating that the Sumatran Orangutan could be the first Great Ape to become extinct, it has been British supermarkets that have been the target of environmental campaigns.

The team from Cockroach Productions filmed in Indonesia documenting the palm oil story, where they witnessed first hand the rapid rate of destruction caused by conversion of rainforest for oil palm plantations. On their return filmmakers Evie Wright and Nick Lyon joined the campaign by making an open letter to supermarkets available through their website (

In a pleasing reply to our letter campaign Andy Bond, president of ASDA, wrote "… as a direct result of your letter, we have engaged in discussions with two major organizations - namely Friends of the Earth and the World Wildlife Fund. We hope to assist them over the coming months in identifying the source of this issue and encouraging the development and use of sustainable palm oil."

ASDA are now joining the RSPO following in the footsteps of the Co-op and Boots Ltd. who have already signed up. With three major players on the high street leading the way there is good reason to be hopeful that the British retail sector is listening to the demands of its customers, who do not want to be contributing to tropical deforestation and the demise of the orangutan. With continued consumer pressure we can reasonably hope that the other major retailers will follow suit.

Cockroach Productions has broadcast quality motion footage and high impact still photographs illustrating the palm oil story and the plight of the orangutans. We are also available for interview, having recently returned from several months on the ground in Indonesia following the story.

Contact: Nick Lyon or Evie Wright @ Cockroach Productions
Tel: 01823 451 790
Mobile: 07816 755 128