—For immediate distribution—

 Alert scientists urge indonesian president to conserve tapanuli orangutan (in english)

Download PDF

10 July 2018

President Joko Widodo
Presidental Palace
Jakarta, Indonesia

Dear Mr President:

We are writing to you as some of the world’s leading scientists with a special concern about one of Indonesia’s most critically endangered and high-profile wildlife species.  

As you well know, Indonesia is a nation of almost boundless environmental and biological wonders.  Among the most crucial of all locales in Indonesia is northern Sumatra—the last place on Earth where orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinoceros still survive together.  

The Tapanuli Orangutan
Northern Sumatra is also home to an entirely new species of orangutan that was scientifically described just last year—the Tapanuli orangutan.  This species differs from the Sumatran and Bornean orangutans in terms of having a very distinctive genetic composition, and a different body and head shape, behavior, vocalizations, and fur texture.  It is, in short, a unique—and uniquely Indonesian—species of great ape.

The Tapanuli orangutan is only the seventh species of great ape known on Earth and is clearly among the most imperilled, with fewer than 800 animals surviving in a tiny tract of forest less than one-fifth the size of the greater Jakarta region (Jabodetabek).  

Being one of the most critically endangered of all great apes, there is enormous national and international interest in conserving the unique Tapanuli orangutan.  Its tiny population is already broken into three separate forest fragments, and it is vital that these isolated forests be protected from further degradation and also relinked to one another via forest-restoration efforts.

Batang Toru Project
Just as crucially, the Chinese-funded Batang Toru hydropower project could be the death knell for the Tapanuli orangutan, by flooding a key expanse of its habitat and, even more crucially, by slicing up its remaining forest home with new roads, powerlines, tunnels, and other built facilities.  Roads are a particularly insidious threat because they open the ape’s habitat to poachers, illegal loggers, miners, and land encroachers.  A recent scientific analysis shows that the Tapanuli orangutan survives only where roads are amost entirely absent.

The Batang Toru project will create a massive disturbances in the heart of the Tapanuli orangutan’s only remaining refuge, including:

• A large (10-meter-diameter) tunnel that would cut through 13 kilometers of rugged primary forest, where there will be more than one million cubic meters of soil and rock debris
• An inspection road for the tunnel along this primary forest
• High-voltage power lines cutting through the primary forest
• Construction of a hydro-reservoir on North Sumatra's earthquake epicenter, very close to a major tectonic fault-line

Key Actions
Therefore, with all due deference and respect, we urge you to:

1.    Halt further developments in the last remaining habitat of the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan

2.    Recommit all remaining habitat for the orangutan to a status that provides effective protection and management, including clear demarcation of the forest, patrolling, and anti-poaching efforts.

3.    Take urgent steps to reconnect the remaining habitat blocks via forest corridors (an entirely feasible action given that the fragments are separated only by small distances).

4.    List the Tapanuli orangutan as a high-profile protected species on the Indonesian protected species list.

Mr President, we know well of your strong background in forestry and business and your leading efforts to reduce the spectre of destructive fires in Sumatra.  We appeal now to you to help conserve one of the most unique and high-profile wildlife species in all of Indonesia.  The Tapanuli orangutan is rightly taking its place alongside the mountain gorilla, chimpanzee, and Sumatran and Bornean orangutans as some of the most iconic wildlife species on Earth.

An action of this nature would bring you the enduring gratitude of many Indonesians and overseas citizens eager to see global conservation leaders emerging in our increasingly self-interested world, at a time when leaders of many other nations seem to have lost sight of the importance of a healthy environment for our citizens and children.

We thank you for your kind consideration of our perspective and appeal.


Associate Professor Onrizal Onrizal
Faculty of Forestry
Universitas Sumatera Utara

Professor Jatna Supriatna
Professor of Conservation Biology, Universitas Indonesia
Indonesia Chair, U.N. Sustainable Development Solution Network
Chairman, Indonesia's Environmental Scholar Association
Member of Indonesia Academy of Science

Distinguished Professor William F. Laurance
Australian Laureate & Prince Bernhard Chair in International Nature Conservation
Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science
Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Siences
Director of the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science
President (Emeritus), Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation
James Cook University

Dr Gabriella Fredriksson
Knighted ‘Order of the Golden Mark’ by the Netherlands
Founder, ProNatura Foundation
Medan, Sumatra

Professor Thomas E. Lovejoy
Environmental Advisor to three U.S. Presidents
Fellow of the American Association for Arts & Sciences
Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
Department of Environmental Science and Policy
George Mason University
Virginia, USA

Associate Professor Martine Maron
ARC Future Fellow
Deputy Director, Theatened Species Recovery Hub
University of Queensland

Professor John Terborgh (Emeritus)
Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences USA
MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award Winner
Director, Center for Tropical Conservation
Duke University
Durham, North Carolina, USA

Professor Priya Davidar
Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences
Dean (Emeritus), School of Life Sciences
University of Pondicherry
Pondicherry, INDIA

Professor Philip Fearnside
Fellow of the Brazilian Academy of Science
Winner of Brazil’s National Ecology Prize, the UN Global 500 award, the Conrad Wessel Prize, and the Chico Mendes Prize
National Institute for Amazonian Research (INPA)
Manaus, BRAZIL

Dr Mohammed Alamgir
Institute of Forestry and Environmental Sciences
University of Chittagong
Chittagong, BANGLADESH

Dr Erik Meijaard
Director, Borneo Futures Initiative
Center for International Forestry Research

Associate Professor Alice Hughes
Chinese Academy of Sciences
Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden
Xishuangbanna, CHINA

Dr Francisco Dallmeier
Director, Center for Conservation and Sustainability
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
Washington, D.C., USA

Professor Pierre-Michel Forget
President, Society for Tropical Ecology
President (Emeritus), Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation
Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle

Associate Professor Susan G. Laurance
President (Emeritus), Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation
ARC Future Fellow
Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science
College of Science and Engineering
James Cook University

Dr Nandini Velho
Royal Bank of Scotlands ‘Earth Heroes’ Award
Wildlife Service Award: Sanctuary Asia
Columbia University, New York, USA
Indian Institute of Science Bangalore

Dr Cagan Sekercioglu
Whitley Gold Award Winner
Department of Biology
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, USA

Professor James Watson
Interim Director, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science
University of Queensland

Dr Jean-Philippe Puryvaud
Director, Sigur Nature Trust
Tamil Nadu, INDIA

Dr Thomas Struhsaker
Adjunct Professor
Department of Evolutionary Anthropology
Duke University
Durham, North Carolina, USA

Dr Mahmoud Ibrahim Mahmoud
Director, Remote Sensing Unit
National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency
Associate Professor Craig Morley
BP Gold Award Winner
Waiariki Institute of Technology

Dr Jedediah Brodie
Craighead Endowed Chair of Conservation
Division of Biological Sciences & Wildlife Biology Program
University of Montana
Montana, USA

Professor Corey Bradshaw
Fellow of the Royal Society of South Australia
Australian Ecology Research Award Winner
Founder of ConservationBytes.com
Flinders University

Dr Mason Campbell
Field Director, Asia-Pacific Program
Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science
College of Science & Engineering
James Cook University

Dr Carol X. Garzon-Lopez
Founder of Verde-Elemental.org
Universidad de Los Andes
Vegetation Ecology and Physiology