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Borneo Wetland Revival with The Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project

The Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project was founded in 1999 and aims to raise awareness of orangutan wildnerness areas, particularly Sabangau and other peat-swamp forests, as well as helping to protect and restore the habitat of the endangered orangutan. Orangutans are a flagship species and protecting them will help protect the vast array of other wildlife found in Sabangau. This project has global reach because peat re-wetting and fire prevention substantially reduce carbon emissions, contributing to the fight to combat climate change.

The 600,000 hectare Sabangau Forest’s peat soils are a globally important carbon store. It provides clean water and sustainable forest-products for local communities and is home to a wealth of biodiversity including gibbons, hornbills, clouded leopards and sun bears. The ecosystem remains threatened by two key processes: the long-term effects of peat-swamp drainage that began before the forest was protected and continued pressure for timber and other forest products by the neighbouring large human population.

Originally, the area had a sustainably-managed logging concession; however, uncontrolled illegal logging became rampant at the end of the 20th century. Illegal loggers dug channels into the peat to float timber out, which subsequently have drained the normally waterlogged peat; placing the whole ecosystem at risk. Dried peat decays and subsides, causing localised tree collapse and creates a high risk of forest fires. Action is needed to close these canals, re-wet the swamp, prevent further illegal activities, raise local conservation awareness, and to improve fire-fighting capacity to defend against the annual fires that occur on the forest margins.

The local fire-fighting teams have used the Taronga Field Grant to send patrols out every day along the Sabangau River, searching for smoke plumes and extinguishing new fires to help protect the rainforest habitat. The normally-flooded peatland can be extremely dry at the end of the long drought seasons, which poses a large risk to the survival of Orangutans in the area. The program has also helped restore the hydrology of the area, with more water and forest litterfall being retained in the ecosystem. 26 dams have also been built, which will be available for potential intervensions in case of fires during the dry season. 


The Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project works in partnership with the Indonesian research institution CIMTROP to improve its understanding of the ecosystem and undertake effective protection and restoration activities. It aims to raise local conservation awareness, improve fire-fighting capacity and defend against the annual fires that occur on the forest margins. Dams will be built on canals to slow swamp drainage and restore flooded conditions while local community patrols will protect Sabangau Forest against illegal activities and fires.

What can you do? 

Think then ask before you buy: Our daily decisions have impacts on a much broader scale than is immediately obvious. Choose to live a conscious life – make decisions that protect and promote wildlife and their habitats by buying certified FSC timber products and MSC certified seafood. Think, then ask before you buy – will what I buy affect wildlife?