INDONESIA The orang-utan, one of human's closest relatives, may be extinct in the next 20 years if the uncontrolled destruction of Indonesia's forests continues in its present manner, according to a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). The loss of forest habitat and poaching for bush meat are leading to the extinction of the orang-utan.

The forests are being destroyed by illegal logging, fires and conversion of forest to timber and oil palm plantations. It is estimated that more than 80 per cent of orang-utan habitat has been lost in the last 20 years. Fires alone have destroyed two million hectares (ha) of forest, an area four times the size of the island of Bali, during 1997. Indonesia is the last stronghold of the orang-utan with over 80 per cent of the population living here. However, the population has declined by about 50 per cent in the last decade.

Steve Trent, campaigns director of the EIA, recently returned from remote jungles of Borneo where Trent and his colleagues assessed the damage to orang-utan habitat. "Orang-utan habitat is being deliberately destroyed by companies clearing the land to earn quick money. The situation is critical. Laws are routinely flouted by major companies and bribery and corruption are the norm," he said.

The new EIA report, "The Politics of Extinction", highlights the role played by massive corporations and a few individuals, such as ex-president Suharto's close friend Bob Hasan, in the destruction of the forests. Ranked the 107th richest person in the world, Hasan controls 3.5 million ha of Indonesian forest and owns companies accused of illegal fire starting.

The EIA has proposed a detailed International Orang-utan Conservation Action Plan to halt the decimation of the orang-utan population. It is calling on the government of Indonesia to strictly enforce laws for the protection of orang-utans and the forests, which had been neglected under the Suharto regime. The EIA is also calling on international financial institutions to attach strict environmental conditions while granting loans to the new government.

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