I am writing to you concerning the future of one of Indonesia’s most endangered and iconic wildlife species: the Tapanuli orangutan.
First scientifically described in November 2017, the Tapanuli orangutan is already the rarest and most endangered great ape in the world. Less than 800 individuals are estimated to survive in a tiny tract of forest in the Batang Toru ecosystem, Northern Sumatra, and they are separated into three subpopulations that are not independently viable in the long-term. There is significant global interest in protecting this iconic and uniquely Indonesian species, and yet it is already facing an immediate and grave threat: the construction of a hydroelectric dam in its core habitat.
The Chinese-funded Batang Toru hydropower project could serve as the singular death knell for the entire Tapanuli orangutan species. The initiative would clear major tracts of forest and flood the orangutan’s core habitat, while also further fragmenting the already critically small population. The project is planned at the exact location that links the remaining three subpopulations, and if it goes ahead, it will permanently separate them and put them at a much greater risk of extinction. Surviving forest will be disrupted with new roads and power lines, which will disrupt orangutan dispersal and their arboreal movements. The newly constructed roads will also allow easier access to the forest for poachers, illegal loggers, miners, and land encroachers. Considering these impacts, the Batang Toru hydropower project could directly result in the total extinction of the Tapanuli orangutan.
Furthermore, the dam will be located on the Great Sumatran Faultline, a major centre of seismic activity and an earthquake hotspot. This increases the risk of a catastrophic failure of the dam. Such a failure would not only be environmentally devastating, but would also have fatal implications for thousands of people downstream.
I therefore respectfully urge you to halt the ecologically and socially devastating Batang Toru project, and protect the Tapanuli orangutan and its habitat for the long-term. The fate of this entire species is in your hands.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Yours respectfully and sincerely,