The reports published by anti-oil palm plantation NGOs, either Indonesian groups or transnational groups, often make headlines with their claims on how wildlife, especially endangered species, face the threat of extinction because of the development of oil palm plantations. Endangered species such as orangutans, Sumatran tigers, Sumatran elephants and other indigenous wildlife are often reported to be near extinction as their habitats are destroyed. In general, such NGOs’ reports attribute the establishment of oil palm plantations with the destruction of wildlife habitats. This accusation is made purposefully to gain sympathy from the global community and with to achieve the global rejection of palm oil products.
Such NGOs make tendentious claims that oil palm plantations push endangered species such as orangutans, tigers and elephants toward near extinction. Butcan their claim be substantiated?
Indonesia is unlike the Western countries that cleared all primary forests, including their wildlife, at the onset of development. From the start (see Myth 9-01 to Myth 9-06), Indonesia realized the vital importance of conserving wildlife and vegetation. The prevailing laws (such as the Forestry Law, Environment Law and Spatial Planning Law) stipulate that a minimum of 30 percent of total lands must be designated as Conservation Zones (protected forest and conserved forest) to serve as a “home” for natural biodiversity.
According to the Ministry of Forestry Statistics 2015, the total area of protected forests and conserved forests in Indonesia stands at 41.5 million ha. Conservation areas include Natural Preserves, Wildlife Sanctuaries, National Parks, Natural Recreational Parks, Grand Forest Parks, Game Hunting Parks and other facilities to house natural biodiversity. Protected/conserved forests are the natural habitat (in situ) of orangutans, tigers, elephants, bears, rhinoceroses and other indigenous wildlife. The designated locations for protected/conserved forests are not selected randomly, but are based on the natural habitat for these species.
In compliance with the law, wildlife habitats exist within protected/conservation areas, the function of which is not convertible for other purposes. Areas that may be converted are those within the cultivation Zone, which includes production forests. The expansion of residential areas and farms/plantations, including oil palm plantations, must take place within the Cultivation Zone. Wildlife and oil palm plantations, as well as residential areas and farms, are in different spaces that do not overlap. That said, why is wildlife found outside their habitats, entering residential areas as well as oil palm plantations in the Cultivation Zone?
Wildlife tends to remain within their customary territories, as per their natural behavior. Communities of wildlife will remain in their traditional habitat for generations. If they leave the habitat, it means that their “home” is no longer comfortable or is under threat. How can this be?
There are three main reasons that wildlife feels threatened and forced into entering a Cultivation Zone. The first reason is the massive illegal logging in the protected/conserved forests that encompass the wildlife habitat. From the 1970s until the present day, the protected/conserved forests have been the target destination for both legal and illegal logging. Millions of cubic meters of natural wood have been extracted every year from the home territory of wildlife. The Forestry Statistics reports that hundreds of illegal logging cases are uncovered annually. The figure is the tip of an iceberg, with estimates indicating many more cases yet to be revealed. The people who live around the forests are familiar with the massive illegal logging activities.
Second, besides illegal logging, the threat upon wildlife also comes from illegal hunting, which is increasing. Every year, the Forestry Ministry reports the arrests of hundreds of poachers. Again, the number of those who have not been caught is much higher. The discoveries of elephant carcasses with the tusks cut off or the carcasses of skinned tigers in protected forests, as well as the high number of endangered animals being smuggled out of the country from various regions indicate a dire problem.
The third reason is the fires that break out yearly in Conservation Zones. The Forestry Ministry records that 3-5 million ha of protected/conserved forests, Nature Preserves, Wildlife Sanctuaries, National Parks, and Natural Recreational Parks are burned down every year. All three factors –uncontrolled legal and illegal logging, poaching and forest fires– that threaten the lives of indigenous wildlife indicate the poor management of protected/conserved forests that is home to Indonesia’s flora and fauna.
The government’s next task is to improve the management system. It must take a firm stance in stopping any activities in Conservation Zones that house the natural habitat of wildlife. The “homes” of wildlife that have been destroyed by fire and logging must immediately be restored. Placing the blame on oil palm plantations in Cultivation Zones as a factor that threatens wildlife habitats is not only unsubstantiated, it also diverts from the real problem, which is the poor management of wildlife habitats in Conservation Zones.