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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

Wild fires threaten our orangutan centre in West Borneo

Wild fires in West Borneo are threatening the lives of more than 100 rescued orangutans in our rehabilitation centre in Ketapang as they rage out of control, destroying habitat, endangering wildlife and posing a threat to the health of millions of people.

According to experts, this year’s dry season has been exacerbated by the El Niño weather phenomenon, fanning the flames of fires all across the province of West Borneo.

On Thursday, 23 August, a huge fire started on land next to IAR’s centre in Ketapang where dozens of orangutans are undergoing rehabilitation.

“Thankfully the local police and the military came to help put the fire out. It took five hours to get it under control,” says Adi Irawan, Manager at our centre in Ketapang.

“We are incredibly grateful to the Police and Military departments for their assistance. Without we would never have never been able to stop the fire.”  

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics department (BMKG) in Indonesia warned last week of 798 hotspots identified in West Kalimantan (West Borneo) province alone. The air quality in Ketapang is already starting to deteriorate, with visibility reducing by the day.

Disruptions on the schedule of planes in both airports in Pontianak and Ketapang are making it difficult to travel on the island. Experts have already started issuing warnings about the risk of respiratory diseases for people in West Kalimantan if the situation with the fires worsens and the air pollution increases. “We can’t believe that we are again suffering from forest fires in this area.

It is like the return of our worst nightmare,” says Karmele Llano Sanchez, Programme Director of IAR Indonesia. “Our teams at the centre, and also the forest patrol teams are getting ready for patrolling 24h a day, but we need still more equipment such as water pumps, fire hoses and more personnel,” she adds.

“Our Orangutan Protection Unit is also patrolling full time and getting ready for the immediate rescue of orangutans that will be in trouble if the fires continue to spread.” In 2015, up to 5 million acres were burnt in Kalimantan province during the fires, and over 25% of orangutan habitat was considered lost.

Many of these fires were started intentionally by farmers clearing land or by big companies destroying forest to make way for oil palm plantations and other industrial plantations.

Our team rescued more than 60 orangutans as a direct consequence of the fires, and the desperate plight of the orangutans became even more critical. In 2016, the Bornean orangutan was uplisted to Critically Endangered by the IUCN, partly owing to the impact of wild fires on orangutan habitat and on orangutan populations.

Alan Knight OBE, IAR CEO, adds: “If we want to save orangutans from extinction, we cannot let fires destroy their habitat and the habitat of so much other precious wildlife. Our team in West Borneo are risking their lives to protect orangutans in and outside our rehabilitation centre – and they need all the help they can get from the public to give them the tools they need to keep themselves and the animals safe.”