Now the smoke has cleared

It has been a challenging few months for the conservation of orangutans and their habitat in Sabangau. A long dry season provided ideal conditions for fires to take hold in the region’s peat forest. These fires threatened to destroy the habitat, providing the most serious threat currently faced by the world’s largest orangutan population.

Photo by Andrew Walmsley/OuTrop

In response, the local Community Patrol Team conducted daily patrols to detect smoke columns, mobilise emergency-response teams and control the spread of fires. The work is intense and dangerous, but the team’s quick response, coordinated action and community socialisation work successfully prevented forest loss in CIMTROP’s Sabangau Natural Laboratory. Despite the team’s best efforts, some forest has been lost in the eastern Sabangau catchment, around the Kalampangan site, but this remains to be quantified.

The team’s overall success would have been impossible without our generous supporters. Funds were used to support the team’s patrols, fuel their boats, maintain and replace equipment, and work with local communities to improve understanding of fire prevention.

Photo by Bernat Ripoll/OuTrop

Thankfully the rains have now returned and the immediate fire threat is reduced. BUT, the 2014 fire season is a stark reminder that rest is a luxury we cannot afford. While drought is a key factor, these fires are ultimately caused by peat drainage: under natural conditions, flooded peat does not burn.

Our focus has now shifted immediately to ensure we’re even better prepared for the next dry season. This includes:

  • building more dams to block drainage channels and re-wet the swamp. Work has already started this week.
  • ongoing community socialisation and sustainable livelihood development work, Community Patrol Team capacity building and equipment enhancement.
  • investing in new drone technology for improving fire detection and forest mapping, and SMART software for improving patrol efficiency.
  • local government and community engagement to increase commitment to reduce fires in 2015, including leaflet distribution.
Member of CIMTROP's Community Patrol Team building a new dam. Photo by Suzanne Turnock/OuTrop

These actions are sorely needed to help prevent fires in Sabangau and conserve its orangutans, and we thank all our partners, emergency funders and the general public for your support in this mission.