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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 February 2007, 22:37 GMT
Orangutans 'face greater threat'
Orangutan  Image: AP
The outlook is bad for orangutans, the report says
Illegal logging is destroying forests in South-East Asia quicker than had been feared, with dire implications for orangutans, a UN report has said.

The practice threatens many other species in the region, the United Nations Environment Programme says.

If no action is taken, the report says, 98% of forests on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo may be gone by 2022.

This would have serious consequences for local people and wildlife including rhinos, tigers and elephants.

"The situation is now acute for the orangutans," the authors wrote.

"The rapid rate of removal of food trees, killing of orangutans displaced by logging and plantation development, and fragmentation of remaining intact forest, constitutes a conservation emergency."

The rate of loss has accelerated in the past five years. The present projection of 2022 for the disappearance of most suitable orangutan habitat outstrips a Unep report which came up with an estimate of 2032.

'Smuggled timber'

Unep blamed a shadowy network of multinational firms for increasingly targeting Indonesian national parks as one of the few remaining sources of commercial timber supplies.

Indonesia made a plea for Western consumers to reject smuggled timber.

"We are appealing today to the conscience of the whole world: do not buy uncertified wood," said Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia's environment minister.

He said illegal logging was ravaging 37 of his country's 41 national parks, and now accounted for more than 73% of all logging in Indonesia.

"It is not being done by individual impoverished people, but by well-organised elusive commercial networks," said Achim Steiner, head of Unep.

Indonesia's government has deployed its military on at least three occasions in recent years to confiscate timber and chase loggers out of its parks - and has begun training quick response ranger teams to police protected areas.

Habitat loss

But experts say the new units remain crippled by a lack of funds, vehicles, weapons and equipment, and face a huge threat from ruthless loggers, who are often protected by heavily armed militia commanded by foreign mercenaries.

Combined with forest fires, encroachment by farmers on their dwindling habitat and poaching, illegal logging is having a devastating impact on orangutans, which once numbered hundreds of thousands across South-East Asia.

The UN report, compiled using new satellite images and Indonesian government data, said orangutan habitat was being lost 30% quicker than was previously feared.

It was estimated in 2002 that there were about 60,000 of the primates left in the jungles of Borneo and Sumatra. Some ecologists say the number has now been halved.

A month ago, the European Union and Indonesia agreed to negotiate a pact aimed at ending illegal logging by providing guarantees forest products imported to the EU are verified as legal. The EU is the third largest market for Indonesian timber after China and the US.

The US and Indonesia signed a similar pact last year. But experts say the amount of investment in the logging companies from the industrialised world vastly outstrips donor efforts to help Jakarta combat the illegal practice.

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