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Conservation groups are calling on Australian company Prosperity Resources to explain any involvement in a local government plan to strip protection from a vast area of the 2.6 million hectare Leuser Ecosystem in Aceh Province, Sumatra. The Leuser Ecosystem is an area of forest located in the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, which is rapidly gaining support as a World Heritage Area. It is one of the richest expanses of tropical rain forest in Southeast Asia and is the last place on earth where Sumatran elephants, rhinos, tigers and orangutans are found together in the wild.
Perth-based minerals exploration company Prosperity Resources lays claim to 41,000 hectares of land in Aceh – including parts of the Leuser Ecosystem – through its 74-84% interests in six local mining firms. Development of its gold and copper projects has been fast-tracked through an agreement with an Indonesian firm, Atjeh Investments. As part of the deal, six other Indonesian firms will work on exploration work on behalf of Prosperity Resources. There is evidence that some of these companies are trying to operate before the plan has even been approved.
Prosperity Resources has so far declined to comment on its proposed plans to destroy key habitat inside the Leuser Ecosystem through its mining activities.
“Despite claims from Indonesian lawyers and environmentalists that a proposed local by-law (overturning Leuser’s protected status) is in fact illegal, the local Acehnese government is considering opening up much of this forest for mining, palm oil cultivation and logging,” said Wildlife Asia Director Clare Campbell. “We are calling on Prosperity Resources to explain if it has been involved in any way pressuring the local government to remove the protected status, or is currently involved in illegal mining inside the Leuser Ecosystem.”
The proposed destruction of high conservation value forests in the region not only poses an enormous threat to wildlife, but also puts local communities at significant threat. Illegal mining in the area has already raised alarm amongst local communities with the emerging threat of mercury poisoning. Local environmental groups are planning to undertake immediate water testing in affected areas to determine the level of impact, and funds are urgently required to assist with these activities.
The area contains critical carbon sinks and forests that are essential for food security, regulating water flow and mitigating climate change. In an area already prone to natural disasters, the increase in forest destruction and inevitable encroachment is an incredibly dangerous decision, and one which will invariably result in an increased loss of lives and huge economic losses to local communities.
“We would urge Prosperity Resources and its investors to reconsider their contribution to the destruction of world heritage value forest in this region,” Ms Campbell said. “Ultimately, their actions could result in the extinction of species such as the Sumatran rhino and Sumatran orangutan. For an Australian-based company to be seen as driving this is simply not acceptable.”
The news comes just a fortnight after a devastating blow to Sumatran rhino conservation with the Australian government cutting A$3 million promised to Indonesia in June last year to assist with conservation of the species.
“We don’t have the luxury of waiting for tomorrow,” Ms Campbell added. “For the future of the Indonesian people, their wildlife and in fact the people of Australia, we must challenge decisions that threaten high conservation value forests. One of the biggest environmental disasters of our time is staring us right in the face. We must act now and invest in the protection rather than destruction of forests and wildlife.”
Funds are urgently required for Wildlife Asia’s “Operation Aceh” appeal. Contributions can be made at www.givenow.com.au/wildlifeasia.