Tue, Nov 07, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Choking haze threatens Indonesian orangutans

AP , MANTANGAI, INDONESIA

Dozens of endangered orangutans have been driven from their dwindling jungle habitat in Borneo by months of land-clearing fires that have shrouded parts of the region in a choking haze, conservationists said yesterday.

Around 43 orangutans have been taken for medical treatment to centers in the Indonesian provinces of Central and West Kalimantan, said Anand Ramanathan, a relief worker with the Washington-based International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

Most were beaten by humans after fleeing from the burning jungle to nearby plantations in recent weeks, but several are being treated for respiratory problems and burns, he said.

Farmers set hundreds of land-clearing fires on Borneo and Sumatra each year, sending thick smoke into surrounding areas and neighboring Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. It has caused billions of dollars in business losses and in some cases health problems.

"Pristine jungle areas are being burnt," said Jennifer Miller, a relief worker with IFAW, which is helping Indonesia's Borneo Orangutan Survival group to recover and treat wounded orangutans. "It's extremely, extremely threatening."

"There is nothing worse than seeing an animal with a burnt face, blind and fleeing," she said ahead of a 9-day trip to Borneo.

Monsoon rains have dowsed some of the fires -- the worst in a decade -- but blazes continue to cause problems in Kalimantan where visibility was less than 100m yesterday.

The Indonesian government has been criticized for failing to act against those responsible for the fires. Jakarta, which has been pressured by its Southeast Asian neighbors to sign a regional anti-haze treaty, says it is doing all it can.

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