A male Tapanuli orangutan

Togos, a Tapanuli orangutan. Photograph by Andrew Walmsley.

The fight for the Tapanuli orangutan continues

Protestors have taken to the trees to call for a halt to the construction of a major new hydroelectric dam.

Located within the Batang Toru ecosystem – an area of pristine primary forest – the proposed development threatens the livelihoods of over 100,000 local people, as well as the survival of the world’s most endangered great ape – the recently discovered Tapanuli orangutan. Those involved in the protest want the Indonesian government to rethink its plans to allow the dam construction to go ahead.

A group of people protest in a forest.

The tree-top protest.
Photograph by Binsar Bakkara.

A public protest against the dam was staged on Thursday 21st February, ahead of a crucial court ruling on the project’s viability on 4th March 2019. The protestors created an arboreal picket line in a community-owned forest overlooking the site of the dam in a desperate bid to stop this catastrophic development and bring the plight of the endangered Tapanuli orangutans to the world’s attention. We are grateful to Tentsile for providing the tree tents for the protestors.

A waterfall surrounded by forest.

Part of the incredible Batang Toru forest complex. Photograph by Andrew Walmsley.

SOS is part of a growing movement of national and international environmental groups standing in solidarity with the Batang Toru communities, supporting efforts to influence the Indonesian government, lobby major investors – including the Bank of China – and fighting this development through the courts.

The current plans for the dam would see it sited above the Great Sumatran Fault line. This is notorious for high levels of seismic activity, so even beginning the building work on the dam could cause a major earthquake, placing people’s homes and livelihoods at risk. Serious flaws in the original environmental impact assessment for the dam didn’t take into account the Tapanuli orangutan, which is the most endangered Great Ape in the world. The species was only discovered in 2017, and around 800 individuals remain. Twenty kilometres of roads and associated power lines already under construction will fragment and isolate the orangutans’ core habitat, dooming the species to extinction.

The dam will also change the river flow rate, with downstream communities suffering daily drought and flood conditions, which will seriously affect fisheries, rice field irrigation, and the use of the river for transport and household needs. Erosion will also change the river course with associated loss of existing agricultural land, buildings and roads.

The tree-top protest highlights the strength of feeling about the proposed dam development. We and the protestors are calling for an immediate halt to all construction activities; relocation of the dam outside the Batang Toru forest complex, and reconnection of Tapanuli orangutan habitat to improve conservation prospects for the species.

A female orangutan with a baby on her back

A female Tapanuli orangutan with her baby. Photograph by Andrew Walmsley.


A tree-top protest for the Tapanuli orangutan

Zac Mills

An adult sumatran orangutan

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