Veterinarians with the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) lift a male orangutan in April 2012 after he was tranquilized to be relocated to a protected reserve.
Nicknamed Avatar, the great ape is one of 6,600 critically endangered Sumatran orangutans remaining in Indonesia. He's also one of more than 200 orangutans that live in the Tripa peat forest, an area being illegally burned, drained, and cleared to make way for palm oil plantations, conservationists say. (See pictures of the ten most threatened forests.)
Tripa, located in Aceh Province on the northwestern coast of Sumatra (map), is home to the highest density of orangutans in the world and lies within the Leuser Ecosystem, designated by the Indonesian government as a strategic conservation area for its rich biodiversity.
Yet despite a moratorium that prohibits further deforestation in the primary forest and peat lands for new plantations, companies were still granted permits in restricted areas. While these companies are currently being challenged in court, the slow legal process allows them to continue draining and burning the forest.
While SOCP's conservation director Ian Singleton acknowledged that the government is taking the issue seriously, he said that "the problem is that the legal system in Indonesia is corrupt and slow, and hence well known for its complexity."
The Indonesia Department of Forestry and the Indonesia Ministry of Environment did not respond to email requests for comment.