June 24, 2019

Govt ramps up efforts to protect Tapanuli orangutans

JAKARTA ( - In mid-May of this year, the Indonesian Ministry of the Environment and Forestry sent an official letter to the North Sumatra Environment Agency detailing new directions derived from a ground-based verification undertaken in April 2019.

The letter, signed by Professor Sigit Hardwinarto - the Ministry’s Director General of Forestry Planology and Environmental Governance - explained various key facts, some of which are highlighted in this news report.  

The letter raised concerns about a timber exploitation permit which didn’t form an essential part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (AMDAL) document of PT NSHE, the developer of the Batang Toru dam project, leading to no specific analysis on the impact of the company’s forest clearing practices.

As previously reported by in September last year (Sep 19), Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya ordered the company to revise its AMDAL document to ensure that the area’s Tapanuli orangutans would not face extinction. This revision process is still underway.

The first of the following photos, taken from the ministry’s December 2018 monitoring report, shows a pregnant individual Tapanuli orangutan, while the second depicts another individual Tapanuli orangutan forced out from its habitat due to the hydroelectric construction project. 

The construction of the Batang Toru hydroelectric project forced some individual Tapanuli orangutans out of their habitat, parts of which overlap with or are near to the project’s location, in late September last year (Sep 26). 

Construction progress

The construction progress of the Batang Toru hydroelectric project was also touched on in the Director General’s letter. Begun in August last year, 10.3% of the project had been completed by April 2019. 

The total use of land for the construction of the Batang Toru dam is in line with the AMDAL document, as referred to in the letter, totalling almost 5.7 million m2, while existing land amounting to more than 1.5 million m2 has been used, in particular for an access road and basecamp.

The photos below, initially published by also in September last year (Sep 13), demonstrate the level of access road development by PT NSHE in the construction process of the Batang Toru hydroelectric project. 

Amendment of key permit required

The Director General’s letter also outlined location changes, including in the construction of the access road, basecamp and spoil bank, that have taken place on the ground level due to operational reasons, requiring PT NSHE to amend its environmental permit with the North Sumatra provincial government. 

The letter recommends that, in amending this environmental permit, PT NSHE should carry out a more in-depth study with respect to the Tapanuli orangutans, earthquakes and hydraulics. 

The following photos, taken from the 2018 December ministry monitoring report which covered the Batang Toru hydroeletric project location and its landscape, portray the nests of Tapanuli orangutans. 

Bank of China, as the financer of the Batang Toru hydroelectric project, has already declared that it will carry out an evaluation of the project following pressure from an NGO coalition, most notably with regard to its impact on the potential extinction of the Tapanuli orangutans, as also reported earlier by (Mar 14)

The new directions from the ministry, including the standing request that the Batang Toru hydroelectric project developer revise its AMDAL document, and also now do the same with its environmental permit, unquestionably deserve great appreciation. 

These efforts are primarily aimed at ensuring the continued survival of the Tapanuli orangutans. As reiterated by Minister Nurbaya, there must never be a story of the Tapanuli orangutans going extinct.