Tripa peat swamp facing its death
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Untung Widyanto (free translation by Adji Darsoyo)
TEMPO.CO , Jakarta–The skull of the primate simply lied under burnt tree trunk, measuring not more than 1 1/2 times of a tennis ball. Tempo took the opportunity to take picture of the burnt skull from top to bottom. Until then, nobody commented.
But, once it was lifted, two guys who was silence, firmly reminding. “Don’t remove it. It is evidence,” said Indriyanto, an activist from Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari, who has been accompanying Tempo exploring Tripa Peat Swamp of Nagan Raya, Aceh.
Indriyanto and Suratman, local community members guiding the path, were convinced that the skull belonged to burnt orangutan infant, since two weeks earlier they still saw two orangutans in that peat swamp area, that was about to be converted into oil palm plantation. At that particular time, trees were still standing within the area occupied by PT Kallista Alam and PT Surya Panen Subur.
Within 2011-2012, Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari and the Agency for Natural Concervation – Aceh have evacuated 6 orangutans from Tripa Peat Swamp. Indriyanto, together with Suratman, have evacuate those endangered wildlife to an intact forest area in Aceh Tengah.
Currently, Tripa Peat Swamp can hardly provide as healthy habitat for orangutan. As far our eyes can see, tree trunks and branches scattered and turned into charcoal. Smoke still rising in many places. To avoid sinking into collapsed peat caused by burning, one had to step on the remaining trunks and roots. In the middle of this ocean of charcoal, GPS was very useful to determine the direction. “In the past, I used to put bamboo fish trap under these trunks and roots to catch catfish,” recalled Suratman.
After crossing a drainage canal of 5 m wide separating the area of PT Kallista Alam and PT Surya Panen Subur 2, Suratman stood on the pile of roots of a fallen tree. He pulled out a binoculars and observed the far lying observation tower. “Empty,” he said. this means that we were saved to enter the hundreds hectares area that is divided into blocks through the drainage canals. In certain blocks, palm oil seedlings are seen growing up to 50 cm height.
Since last May, tens of investigators from the Central Police and from the Ministry of Environment continued to interrogate the management of PT Kallista Alam and PT Surya Panen Subur. They are in terms of investigating two cases of legal violation: clearing by burning and planting in more than 3 m deep peat.
Oil palm plantations are the source of the peat destruction in Tripa and in other sites within Aceh. Before encroachment and land conversion into oil palm plantation, in the 80s, this peatland in the west coast of Aceh has been preserving water, just like sponge. It absorbs water during rainy season to prevent from flood. Then, it release the water bit by bit during dry season to prevent from drought.
Not less important, Tripa Peat Swamp forest was a comfortable living space for Sumatran orangtan (Pongo abelii). Most of the Sumatran orangutans’ population live in this particular coastal peat swamp of Aceh full of sugar palms and rattan. The rest are distributed within the hinterland forest of Leuser Ecosystem and North Sumatra Province.
Until the beginning of the 90’s, the number of orangutans in this 62,000 ha of Tripa Peat Swamp reached up tp 1,000. Disaster occurred as the Indonesian Government of New Order era issued land concessions (HGU) to a number of private companies in 1991. Those companies cleared the peat forest and transformed it in oil palm plantations.
Now, 7 companies are in the possession of concession within Tripa Peat Swamp. Each occupies between 3,000 to 13,000 ha. Hence, the remaining peatland are around 17,000 ha. Orangutan experts considered that the remaining area is too small for around 280 orangutan estimated to survive in Tripa Peat Swamp.
According to Ian Singleton, the Conservation Director of Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, most of the burning parts of Tripa Peat Swamp forest are orangutan habitat. “Before, we found many orangutans there,” he said. On the last June 10, Ian was taken by Suratman and Indriyato to see the skull suspected to be of an orangutan. After showing its photo to a friend, a taxonomy, the skull was identified to be of a crab-eating macaque (Macaca fascicularis) or pig-tail macaque (Macaca nemestrina).
Dozens of drainage canals constructed by oil palm plantations have absorbed the water from the peat. Even if it was not burnt, the trees producing fruits for the orangutan would die due to dryness. Refered to the last year’s research, Singleton estimated that the peat swamp forest and orangutan of Tripa will vanish in 2015.
Within the past recent years, Ali Basyiah always spent the day top-less. This villager of Kuala Seumayam in the Sub district of Darul Makmur, Nagan Raya, cannot stand the heat. Even at night, his wife and children sleeps with electric fan. “The temperature increased since oil palm companies operates here,” said Ali, whose village is situated on the edge of PT. Kalista Alam’s plantation areas.
According to temperature measurement of 14 November 2007, the temperature in the surrounding of Tripa Peat Swamp has increased drastically. At 9.30 am, the temperature is already 37 degree celsius. Within three hours, it increases to 43 degree. NOw, after 5 years, Ali feels that the temperature in his village became higher.
Ali did not only suffer because of the temperature alone. His income from fishing and from collecting sweet water shells is decreasing. As Tripa Peat Swamp forest was still intact, Ali only needed to install his bamboo fish trap under a tree within the forest. At that time, he could catch on average 30 kg catfish each day and 3 sacks of sweet water shells. Those times are now history. Now, Ali can only catch te maximum of 10 kg catfish in a day. And for that he had to search to the upstream.
Executive Director of WALHI Aceh, T.M. Zulfikar, said the community experience in the surrounding of Tripa Peat Swamp in the past 5 years is the opposite to the Aceh Green programme launched by the former Governor Irwandi Yusuf after his inauguration i the beginning of 2007.
Zulfikar then revealed the data. Before 2007, forest distruction in Aceh was averagely 20,000 ha per year. After 2007, the forest destruction in Aceh increased between 23,000 and 40,000 ha per year. “The Government of Aceh appeared to have swallowed it own word,” said Adnan N.S. from the Supervisory Board of Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari.