Indonesian Trade Ban on Rainforest Wood Aids Orangutans

WASHINGTON, DC, August 6, 2001 (ENS) - A rare Indonesian wood that is imported into the United States and sold as furniture, building materials, window blinds, picture frames, and pool cues will no longer be available for legal import as of today.

The government of Indonesia has banned the export and domestic trade in ramin (Gonystylus bancanus) due to continued illegal logging of this valuable tree species within several of Indonesia's National Parks that provide habitat for the endangered orangutan, Asia's only great ape.

Considered a light hardwood, ramin is in demand for furniture, interior joinery, flooring, ceiling, paneling, door and window frames, stringers and stair treads, rulers, tripods, trays, tool handles, brushbacks, toys, and plywood.

The United States is one of the world's largest importers of ramin, with over $12.3 million in ramin imported from Indonesia in 2000 and $22 million in total from all countries, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a non-profit organization based in London and Washington.


Borneo rainforest in orangutan country (Photo by Susan Thornton courtesy National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL))
In April, the Indonesian Minister of Forests enacted a domestic ban and requested the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to list the species on Appendix III with a zero quota. This listing, which comes into force today, means that consumer countries must seize any Indonesian ramin wood and products which do not have a CITES export permit issued by the Indonesian authorities.

Allan Thornton, president of the Washington branch, said today, "This is a unique opportunity for America's consumers to help save the orangutans by refusing to buy ramin products. The ban on ramin from Indonesia provides American consumers with a real chance to help save orangutans from death and extinction."

Detailed field investigations by the Environmental Investigation Agency and Telapak Indonesia have documented massive commercial illegal logging of this species, Thornton says. Telapak is an independent environmental non-profit group based in Bogor, Indonesia.

This illegal harvest is taking place in the Tanjung Puting National Park, situated in Indonesia's Borneo state of Kalimantan, home to one of the largest remaining populations of orangutans. The park occupies most of a southern peninsula in Central Kalimantan Province.

Roughly 80 percent of the orangutan's forest habitat has been destroyed in the last twenty years. Orangutans are dependent upon trees for their food, nests and for moving through the forest. In Tanjung Puting National Park where about 500 orangutans survive, the illegal logging has destroyed much of their habitat.

Orangutan numbers in the wild have been reduced by 50 percent in the last decade and habitat destruction poses the greatest threat to their survival. Indonesia is home to 80 percent of the world's remaining orangutans.

The major markets for ramin are the United States, Europe, Japan and China. The CITES listing will enable them to seize imports of Indonesian ramin under their own domestic CITES legislation.

A host of conservation groups in the United States and around the world have worked and lobbied the Indonesian government for protection of these orangutans. In March, the International Primate Protection League mounted a letter writing campaign to encourage the government of Indonesia to protect the park from miners and loggers.

A campaign has begun with the local guide association in Pangkalanbun, Kalimantan, along with many other Indonesian non-governmental organizations.


Professor Birute Galdikas with orangutans Siswi and Sampson (Photo by Susan Thornton courtesy NREL)
Canadian anthropologist Dr. Birute Galdikas takes visitors to view the deforestation and the orangutans in Tanjung Puting National Park. She spends several months a year teaching in Vancouver at Simon Fraser University, but aside from that Galdikas has been living in the rainforest among the orangutans for the last 23 years.

She co-founded the Orangutan Foundation International, which is based in Los Angeles and has chapters in Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Taiwan and the United Kingdom. Through this organization, public lectures and her teaching, Dr. Galdikas has motivated many people to lobby the government of Indonesia on behalf of the orangutans and their habitat.

Since 1971, the Orangutan Foundation has maintained a rehabilitation and care center for orangutans in Tanjung Puting National Park. An associated research center has supported the work of dozens of scientists and students including graduate students from Indonesia and North America.

"I've always wanted to study the one primate who never left the Garden of Eden," Galdikas told Barry Shell, author of "Great Canadian Scientists."

"I want to know what we left behind," she said.