Monday, January 13, 2014

Palm Oil Company fined Millions as Indonesian Court delivers historic ruling against illegal destruction of Tripa Peat Swamp Forests.

Indonesian courts have found palm oil company PT Kallista Alam guilty of illegally burning forests within peat swamps. The ruling is a huge milestone for those working to protect native wildlife within the peat swaps, and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s palm oil team is excited for this legal precedent to be set. Read the full story below. 

January 9th, 2014
[Banda Aceh / Indonesia] Setting a landmark new precedent, Indonesian courts yesterday found palm oil company PT Kallista Alam guilty of illegally burning forests within the Tripa Peat Swamps, part of the  protected Leuser Ecosystem, resulting in a fine of 114 billion Rupiah, approximately 9 million US dollars.  
“This is a clear message to companies working in Aceh who think they can destroy protected forests and get away with it” said Muhammad Nur, Chairman of WALHI Aceh (Friends of the Earth Indonesia).
According to Senior Judge, Rahmawati SH, PT Kallista Alam was found in breach of National Law No 32/2009 on Environmental Protection and Management, for illegal use of fire to clear forests, and ordered to pay Rupiah 114.3 billion (approx. USD 9.5 million) as compensation and Rupiah 251.7 billion (almost 21 USD million) for restoration of the affected forests.
Kamaruddin, a lawyer working with communities in the Tripa region reiterated, “This decision should serve as a wake up call to any company thinking of investing within the Leuser Ecosystem, a National Strategic Area, that they could suffer the same fate as PT Kallista Alam. It should also be a reminder to others who deliberately burn forests or allow forest burning within their concessions, regardless of whether or not they are working inside the Ecosystem’s boundaries, that they could also be prosecuted. The Judge’s decision in this case clearly illustrates a move towards improved law enforcement against environmental offenders in the region.” He added.
The company, PT Kallista Alam, first came to international attention in August 2011, when former Governor of Aceh Province, Irwandi Yusuf, issued a new 1,605 ha oil palm concession permit within the legally protected Leuser Ecosystem, an area renowned for hosting the highest densities of orangutans found anywhere on earth, sparking an international outcry.
Subsequently, over 1.5 million people signed online petitions calling for greater protection of Aceh’s Forests, currently under enormous threat due to a controversial new spatial planning law issued by Aceh’s Parliament on December 27th. These petitions are further supported by some of the world’s leading scientists and conservation experts, who have written to Aceh’s present Governor, Zaini Abdullah, urging him to nominate the Leuser Ecosystem as a World Heritage Site, due to its unique and irreplaceable biodiversity. The Leuser Ecosystem is the only place on earth where tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans can be found living together in the wild and was listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as one of the ‘World’s Most Irreplaceable Protected Areas’ in an article in the journal Science, in November 2013.
Dr Ian Singleton, Director of the Sumatran Orangutran Conservation Programme, highlighted the critical importance of the area. “Tripa is one of only 3 remaining peat swamp forests left containing orangutans in Sumatra and its impossible to overstate the importance of protecting every last hectare of each of them. Orangutan densities can reach as high as 8 per square kilometer in these areas, compared to an average of around only 1 or 2 per square kilometer in dryland forests. These peat swamps have justifiably been referred to as the ‘orangutan capital of the world’. The Leuser Ecosystem too, offers the only real hope of survival for Sumatra’s other key iconic megafauna, the Sumatran tiger, rhino and elephant, as well as its orangutans. Yesterday’s ruling is of course extremely welcome, but the level of interest in Tripa and the Leuser Ecosystem worldwide shows clearly just how seriously concerned the international community is right now about  the fate of these forests and their globally important biodiversity”, he emphasised.
“The Leuser Ecosystem provides countless locally and globally important environmental services too”, explained Graham Usher, Landscape Protection Specialist with the Swiss based PanEco Foundation. “For Aceh alone these have been valued in excess of 400 million dollars per year, and the region’s contribution to mitigating climate change, through its carbon sequestration function probably stretches into billions of dollars. It is very encouraging that companies and decision makers destroying these services in Indonesia are finally being held accountable for the economic damage their illegal activities cause, and all credit is due to the Ministry of the Environment for their efforts in prosecuting this case. The court’s decision is indeed a huge victory, and represents one significant step in the right direction. But I think many more such steps are needed before we will really see a change in the behaviour of companies and officials.” added Usher.
“Aceh’s Parliament is right now pushing a new spatial land use plan which they recently legalised with a new Provincial Government Regulation, known locally as the Qanun RTRW Aceh”. Explained Muhammad Nur. “The Qanun completely ignores the protected status of the Leuser Ecosystem, simply so they can open up large areas of protected forests for road building, mining, palm oil and timber concessions. This will, in effect, end Aceh’s chances for long-term sustainable development, as it will cause further destruction of critical watersheds, leading to ever more frequent flash floods, landslides, and other environmental disasters. The companies lobbying for this new plan, and the Aceh Government themselves, should be held accountable for all the damage that will ensue. We hope yesterday’s result will serve as a strong warning that if you destroy our forests, we are not afraid to fight back” he stressed. “We thank the judge for delivering a just and fair verdict in this case, and all the people around the world who have been calling for enforcement of National Laws protecting the Leuser Ecosystem. This will be a long battle, but it is one we simply cannot afford to lose, no matter what the cost.” He concluded.
Yesterday’s groundbreaking verdict is the result of just one of several civil and criminal prosecutions underway against PT Kallista Alam and four other oil palm companies with concessions in Tripa, namely  PT. Surya Panen Subur II, PT. Dua Perkasa Lestari, PT. Gelora Sawita Makmur and PT. Cemerlang Abadi. Each faces the possibility of serious financial consequences as a result of their illegal clearance, burning and drainage of Tripa’s unique peat swamp ecosystem. Some of the company Directors and senior management also face the prospect of prison terms in cases against them for their actions on the ground.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Traveling to Indonesia: Part Two

We are now well rested and caught up from being gone for over two weeks, but we wanted to share a few highlights from the rest of our November Indonesia trip.

Dina planting a tree at OIC.

Our first stop during this portion of the trip was near Besitang.  We visited an area that once was clear cut for palm oil trees and has since been reclaimed for reforestation. The reforestation site has changed greatly since we last saw it two years ago; it has been mostly left alone to grow, and the trees are getting tall!  Due to the success of this site, reforestation efforts have now grown and moved to nearby areas. The project is run by an organization called OIC (Orangutan Information Centre).  OIC staff has reported seeing elephants and orangutans using the reforested area, which is a true sign of success for this project.

Tracey planting a tree at OIC.

We were lucky that the timing of our visit to the reforestation site allowed us to see drone technology being used to help monitor deforestation. Researchers are programming drones (Styrofoam airplanes that are about four feet long) with GPS, grid routes, and cameras built in to map and monitor forest areas. They are also using the drones to count orangutan nests (to gather population data) and check for forest encroachment, deforestation and fires. We were able to watch drones take off and talk with the researchers involved with the drone project, which was very educational.  Learn more about conservation drones at:

Drone plane about to take off.

Our next destination was Bukit Lawang. There we saw five wild Sumatran orangutans – two mothers, two older offspring and one baby. The most exciting sighting was spotting a mother, – who we’ve been able to observe on two previous trips to Sumatra. Her daughter, Catherine, was also with her. This area –Bukit Lawang –is very important because it is the most successful ecotourism area involving the Gunung Leuser National Park.  Unfortunately there has been encroachment in many other areas of the park, but there has been almost no encroachment of the original park boundaries near Bukit Lawang.  This is most likely because the local people have economic incentive to keep the forest and ecosystem intact.


The highlight of our trip to Indonesia, and our next stop, was a visit to an orangutan reintroduction site in Jantho, north Aceh which was established by SOCP (Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme).  Many of the orangutans that are released at Jantho had lost their homes due to deforestation and non-sustainable palm oil production.  After spending time in a quarantine and rehabilitation center the healthy orangutans are released at sites like Jantho.  The project’s base camp was in a very remote area, so it was about a 1.5 hour 4-wheel drive adventure just getting there.  On a forest hike at the release site, we saw two juvenile orangutans very high up in a tree and were glad to see that they had no interest in coming down to see us.  This was living proof that they are thriving and are not reliant on humans.  We also saw a variety of other wildlife around camp such as wild pigs, long-tailed macaques, a family of four white-handed gibbons, fruit bats and hornbills flying overhead, and Sumatran tiger tracks! 

Sumatran tiger footprint in Jantho.

Upon returning to Medan, Indonesia, we were able to tour the location where a really exciting conservation project will be created in the next several years: Orangutan Haven.  Not only will it provide a more natural home for non-releasable orangutans, but it will also be a wonderful place for Indonesians to make a connection with these critically endangered great apes and hopefully inspire them to take action to save them.  To learn more, visit

On the last day of our trip we met with a sustainability specialist from a palm oil company that is very involved with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). We talked about the reforestation and sustainability practices of the large company he works for, and the logistics of being on an RSPO task force.  We hope to get more involved in the RSPO by joining a working group or task force.

Harvesting fruit bunches.

During our journey we accomplished several of our goals – voting at the RSPO General Assembly which included a very important resolution on requiring palm oil growers to map their plantations boundaries. This resolution, which was passed, is very important because it keeps RSPO grower members accountable for activities that happen on their land and ensures they are not expanding beyond their property boundaries. (i.e. National forest).  We were able to discuss important sustainability topics with other Zoos and environmental conservation organizations as well as representatives from the palm oil industry from various points along the supply chain. We visited reforestation sites, saw wild orangutans and furthered our knowledge of certified and non-certified palm oil plantations. Upon returning to Colorado, we are continuing our mission to inform Zoo guests about the importance of supporting RSPO plantations, companies and manufacturers by purchasing their products. To download the sustainable palm oil Smartphone application, or to learn more about the palm oil crisis, visit