Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia – A lone adult male orangutan was rescued from an isolated forest fragment in the Tripa Peat Swamp forest in the province of Aceh last year after local informants alerted conservation groups that palm oil companies planned to poison him.

Banda Aceh male orang rescue 2012. (Photo: Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme/BKSDA Aceh)

His crime? Eking out an existence eating the leafy tips of oil palm seedlings because palm oil companies had destroyed the forest around him, leaving him nowhere to go.

Veterinarian’s check Seuneam’s condition. (Photo: Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme/BKSDA Aceh)

The ape (named Seuneam after the village near where he was located), was rescued by a team comprised of veterinarians with the NGO Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP), government conservation workers and members of the local community.

Seuneam showed signs of dental damage from a poor and inadequate diet. (Photo: Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme/BKSDA Aceh)

After a health checkup, the orang was released at the SOCP’s specialist Orangutan Reintroduction Centre in the Jantho Pine Nature Reserve in northern Aceh.

Rescues are expensive, logistically challenging and dangerous, for both staff and the orangutans. There is always a serious risks of injury and even death to an animal as orangutans climb higher in the trees when afraid, and then fall after being anaesthetized. Though the procedure is to get a capture net beneath them beforehand, invariably some apes fall and suffer broken bones.

Seuneam’s rescue. (Photo: Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme/BKSDA Aceh)

The rescues are particularly frustrating in that they are occurring in an area protected under Banda Aceh’s National Spatial Planning laws. With the government looking the other way, palm oil companies have continued to clear land illegally. Two years ago, a local governor went so far as to issue a permit to a palm oil company in direct violation of Indonesia’s forest moratorium.

The permit was brought into the spotlight by local people in Aceh in late 2011 and subsequently revoked by the Aceh Governor, but a new government has just put forth a new spatial plan that would make substantial blocks of surviving lowland habitats available for logging and oil palm plantations and open up nearly a million hectares for mining exploration—driving Sumatran orangutans, elephants, tigers and rhinos further toward extinction.

Illegal fires lit by palm oil companies rage in the Tripa forest.

Recent satellite imagery reveals that burning and illegal clearing of Tripa’s peat swamp forests continues unabated and new canals are still being dug to drain the swamps in violation of environmental protection and management laws.

Indonesia’s Tripa peat forest 2012. (Photo: International Primate Protection League)

In 1990, the orangutan population in the Tripa peat swamps was almost 2,000. In June of 2011 it was estimated at 200.

Confiscated illegal pet orangutans being cared for by the SOCP team, join with people around the world calling on “President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to save their friends, save Tripa and to Enforce the Law.”

Unless the destruction is halted quickly, the local population of the Sumatran Orangutans will disappear in the very near future.

The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) is a collaborative programme involving the Swiss based PanEco Foundation, Indonesia’s Yayasan Ecosystem Lestari, and the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry’s Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation.