Open letter : Leading scientists, international NGOs and Scottish environmental groups urge ministers to act to save world’s rarest great ape


12 September 2023

Humza Yousaf MSP
Lorna Slater MSP
CC: Nancy Zhang, CCO Red Rock Power Limited 
CC: Zhu Jiwei, Chairman SDIC Power Holdings


Dear Humza Yousaf MSP and Lorna Slater MSP,


We are writing as a group of Scottish, Indonesian and International NGOs and scientists concerning Scotland's connection to the issue of the Batang Toru dam in Indonesia.

In 2017, scientists stunned the world by announcing the discovery of a new species of great ape: the Tapanuli orangutan in the Batang Toru ecosystem in North Sumatra. Numbering fewer than 800, the Tapanuli orangutan is  the world’s rarest species of great ape, threatened by a hydroelectric dam project that will slice through their habitat pushing the species closer to extinction.1 Construction has led to the death of more than 17 workers and local people.2 It threatens the unique biodiversity of the region - which is susceptible to landslides and earthquakes - and the lives and livelihoods of those that depend on it.

The Batang Toru hydrodam is being built by the Chinese State Development & Investment Corporation (SDIC Power), whose wholly owned subsidiary, Red Rock Power, is a major player in the Scottish renewable energy industry. Based in Edinburgh, they hold large stakes in the Beatrice, Benbrack and Inch Cape wind farms and were welcomed to Scotland personally by the former First Minister in 2016,3 unsuccessfully lobbying to reduce seabed rents in 2021.4

This issue has gained considerable international support, most recently at COP15.5 It has also been raised in the Scottish Parliament6 and press.7 Petitions have garnered over 8000 signatures in the UK calling on Red Rock Power and the First Minister to take action. Recent reporting in Indonesia has brought to light poor planning and financial mismanagement, whilst overinflated prices for generation indicate possible corruption.8 Locals continue to raise fears over the impact on their communities.9

There is a clear pattern of intimidation against those who challenge this project in Indonesia,10 including the death of WALHI lawyer Golfrid Siregar under suspicious circumstances.11 Most recently, a violent disruption at a public discussion on the issue has been condemned by free speech and press rights groups.12

Following the trail of profits from Scottish renewable wealth to a project mired in controversy - potential ecocide and human rights abuses - undermines both Scotland’s just transition commitments, and its position as a global leader on the protection of biodiversity through the Edinburgh Declaration.

We ask that you formally raise this issue with SDIC and Red Rock Power, and call for a meeting between the dam developers and independent scientists. SDIC must respect the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) moratorium on construction and commit to a public, independent impact assessment of the project as well as a long-term conservation management plan for the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan and the Batang Toru ecosystem. 

We would be pleased to meet with you to share more information about these issues and opportunities for action.


Kind regards,





Satya Bumi

Trend Asia

WALHI Eksekutif Nasional

WALHI Sumatera Utara

Caritas Indonesia

AURIGA Nusantara

Perkumpulan HuMa

Green Justice Indonesia

The Society of Indonesian Environmental Journalists

Pusaka Bentala Rakyat

Caritas Archdiocese of Medan

Caritas Diocese of Sibolga


Scotland's International Development Alliance

Global Justice Now Scotland

Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland

Friends of the Earth Scotland

Extinction Rebellion Scotland

Eco-Congregation Scotland

Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund


Primate Society of Great Britain

Orangutan Outreach

Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers & Thinkers

Mighty Earth


Erik Meijaard: Borneo Futures

William F. Laurance: Distinguished Professor & Australian Laureate, Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science, James Cook University

Serge Wich: Liverpool John Moores University

Ian Redmond OBE: Chairman, Ape Alliance and Head of Conservation, Ecoflix




  1. Hydropower project ‘imperils world’s rarest great ape species’,” Changing Times, 28    February, 2020.
  2. Tunnel collapse at dam project in orangutan habitat claims yet another life,” Mongabay, 21 November, 2022.
  3. First Minister welcomes SDIC to Scotland,” Scottish Government, 15 November, 2016.
  4. Chinese state-owned firm lobbied government to reduce wind farm rents,” The Ferret, 29 April 2022. 
  5. Chinese state-owned company accused of endangering rare orang-utans,” Financial Times, 19 June, 2022.
  6. Question reference: S6W-13359,” Scottish Parliament, 11 January, 2023.
  7. Nicola Sturgeon: Plea for First Minister to step in to help save world's rarest great  ape from Chinese dam project,” The Scotsman, 14 December, 2022.
  8. Poor planning causes PLN to pay more for Batang Toru hydropower plant,” Jakarta Post, 21 February, 2023.
  9. Batang Toru power plant project hits snag as orangutan conflict worsens,” Jakarta Post, 23 February, 2023.
  10. Tapanuli orangutans. Chronology of a death foretold,” El Diaro, November 17, 2021.
  11. Indonesia urged to probe death of Belt and Road project critic,” Financial Times, 31 October, 2019.
  12. Satya Bumi Public Environmental Discussion Hampered by Infiltrator,” Tempo, 9 March, 2023.

Leading scientists, international NGOs and Scottish environmental groups urge ministers to act to save world’s rarest great ape

A global coalition led by Mighty Earth has sent an open letter to the Scottish Government calling for a dam project in Indonesia to be halted to protect the Tapanuli orangutan




Mighty Earth and more than 20 Indonesian, Scottish and international NGOs are today calling on the Scottish Government to convene a meeting between conservationists and SDIC, the Chinese corporation currently building the controversial Batang Toru dam in northern Sumatra. SDIC Power owns and operates windfarms in Scotland through a wholly-owned subsidiary, Red Rock Power. The construction of the dam threatens the habitat and survival of the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan, the world’s rarest ape, only discovered in 2017 and numbering fewer than 800.

An open letter, sent to the Scottish Government today, led by Mighty Earth, and signed by NGOs from Indonesia, Scotland and beyond, plus leading orangutan conservation experts, calls for a moratorium on construction of the project. The same richly diverse ecosystem it puts at risk is also home to other threatened primates, as well as critically endangered and vulnerable species like the Sumatran tiger, pangolins, tapirs and sun bears.

The letter also outlines the intimidation tactics used against those in Indonesia who oppose the project – one environmental lawyer has died under suspicious circumstances [3], while a public discussion about the project was violently disrupted. Copies have been sent to Lorna Slater MSP, whose portfolio includes biodiversity, and to the Chinese developers plus its Edinburgh-based subsidiary.


Amanda Horowitz, Senior Director at Mighty Earth, said:

“The Tapanuli orangutan’s home in the forests of Batang Toru in Sumatra is being destroyed by the construction of a wholly unnecessary and toxic dam project, which has also proved to be a danger to the local community and to workers. Calls for action are coming from across the globe and unlikely as it may seem, the Scottish Government is well placed to do its bit and convene a meeting as soon as possible between the developers and international conservation scientists. The threat is urgent and there is no time to lose if we’re to save a species, some of our closest relatives, from being wiped off the face of the Earth.”   


Monica Lennon MSP, who has taken an interest in this issue, said:

“Scotland is a key player in international development and this is a test case for our role on the global stage. Does this country champion biodiversity, environmental rights and workers’ safety, as we would like to think? Scottish Ministers may not be able stop this project outright, but the fact that the dam‘s developers operate in Scotland gives us a rare opportunity to use a little “soft power” in defence of workers’ rights, stopping ecocide and the survival of the world’s most endangered great ape.”


Andi Muttaqien, of Indonesian NGO Satya Bumi, said:

“Who benefits from the Batang Toru dam? Clearly not the Tapanuli orangutan, whose habitat is under threat. Not the local communities, who were promised employment and a reasonable price for their farmland, promises that have not been kept. Instead they are threatened by earthquakes on the Sumatran Fault, and by deadly mudslides that have already claimed the lives of locals and workers. The dam’s electricity might have been needed in 2015, but now, 8 years into construction, there is oversupply in the region, with the electricity slated to be sold at an overinflated price. At the same time, public debate and campaigning on these issues is hindered here in Indonesia.”


Serge Wich, Professor of Primate Biology at Liverpool John Moores University, said:

“The Tapanuli orangutan was only identified in 2017, but it has been estimated that the population has already halved since the 1980s. Now, there are fewer than 800 left and that is an estimate from more than 10 years ago so numbers are likely lower now due to the development of the hydro power dam and other activities in the area. If the adult population decreases by more than 1% per year—that’s fewer than 8 individuals—the genetic diversity could decline to the point of no return. So we really need to halt any development in the area to avoid further losses.”

Letter to Tempo on saving the Tapanuli orangutan, the world’s rarest great ape.

Hak Jawab untuk Tempo tentang penyelamatan orangutan Tapanuli, kera besar paling langka di dunia.

Kepada: Pemimpin Redaksi Majalah Tempo

Re: Hak Jawab Atas Artikel dan Opini tentang PLTA Batang Toru

Read in English

Orang Utan Tapanuli merupakan salah satu kekayaan alam Indonesia. Diidentifikasi pada tahun 2017 sebagai spesies baru, Orang Utan Tapanuli hanya hidup di ekosistem Batang Toru, Sumatera Utara.

Namun, penggundulan hutan telah menghancurkan sebagian besar habitat mereka. Kurang dari 800 individu Orangutan Tapanuli tersisa–membuatnya masuk dalam daftar spesies kera besar yang paling terancam punah di dunia dan menjadikannya prioritas konservasi internasional.

Kami telah berulang kali menyerukan alternatif untuk dua proyek yang paling mengancam ekosistem: Pertama, bendungan Batang Toru, yang lokasinya membelah tiga sub-populasi orangutan yang sudah terancam punah ini. Proyek itu sedang dibangun di lokasi yang ditemukan memiliki kepadatan orangutan Tapanuli tertinggi. Bendungan ini juga berbahaya bagi masyarakat dan pekerja: ledakan berulang dan tanah longsor telah menewaskan lebih dari selusin penduduk lokal dan pekerja Cina dan Indonesia. Tidak jelas tujuan bendungan itu untuk apa. Sebuah studi menemukan suplai listrik untuk masyarakat di sekitar wilayah tersebut juga sudah sangat cukup, sehingga tambahan aliran listrik dari PLTA tidak dibutuhkan.

Pada 2019, The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) menyerukan moratorium proyek yang berdampak pada orangutan Tapanuli, dan kami telah bekerja secara konsisten untuk memastikan kepatuhan terhadap seruan tersebut. Kami telah meminta perusahaan swasta yang terlibat untuk menghentikan sementara pengembangan sampai para ilmuwan yang kredibel dapat menilai dampaknya terhadap lingkungan dan merekomendasikan apa yang harus dilakukan. Namun, artikel tersebut secara keliru menunjukkan bahwa kami menawarkan "skema sindikasi pendanaan pinjaman". Saya ingin mengklarifikasi bahwa itu tidak benar (seperti yang dikonfirmasi oleh laporan Tempo sendiri dalam artikel berita yang menyertai opini). Kami bukan bank; kami adalah LSM advokasi. Kami tidak menawarkan pembiayaan kepada perusahaan. Dan kami juga bukan perantara. Sebaliknya, kami dengan bangga mendesak donor dan pemodal internasional untuk berinvestasi dalam konservasi dan energi yang benar-benar bersih.

Kami juga menyebut bahwa bendungan itu bukan satu-satunya proyek yang membahayakan Batang Toru. Ekspansi tambang emas Martabe ke habitat Tapanuli, juga mengancam ekosistem. Kami telah menghabiskan waktu bertahun-tahun untuk mengadvokasi publik agar pemilik tambang menghentikan ekspansi sampai para ilmuwan memiliki kesempatan untuk memastikan ekspansi hanya terjadi di luar habitat orangutan.

Kami telah bertemu berkali-kali dengan perusahaan pemilik tambang, telah menerbitkan artikel-artikel keras tentang ancaman tambang yang disajikan di media di seluruh dunia, dan telah mengajukan peringatan tentang hal itu kepada lusinan perusahaan yang berbisnis dengan Jardines. Pemilik tambang menanggapi dengan mengatakan bahwa mereka akan menghormati penilaian para ilmuwan tentang dampak konservasi sebelum pembangunan. Oleh karena itu, membaca artikel yang mengatakan bahwa kami “tidak terlalu peduli dengan operasi tambang emas Martabe” sungguh membingungkan. Seperti yang dapat dibuktikan oleh siapa pun yang terlibat dalam kampanye untuk menghentikan tambang, kami sangat peduli.

Implikasi artikel opini bahwa ada kepentingan bisnis yang tidak jelas di balik kampanye kami adalah tidak benar – kami adalah organisasi nirlaba independen, dan tidak menerima donasi dari bisnis yang terlibat dalam masalah yang kami tangani. Kepedulian kami terhadap Batang Toru berasal dari keseluruhan misi kami untuk melindungi Alam dan iklim. Mighty Earth, organisasi konservasi global yang saya pimpin, telah bekerja selama bertahun-tahun untuk mendukung pembangunan berkelanjutan di kawasan ini melalui konsultasi dengan banyak organisasi komunitas dan masyarakat sipil. Misi kami sederhana: melindungi alam dan mengamankan iklim stabil yang memungkinkan kehidupan berkembang.

Oleh karena itu, menjadi perhatian utama ketika proyek yang tidak perlu mengancam ekosistem alam dan membahayakan masyarakat sekitar karena dibangun di atas patahan gempa sehingga rentan terhadap bencana. Proyek semacam itu tidak bisa disebut energi bersih.

Pemerintah dan sektor swasta Indonesia berulang kali menunjukkan bahwa mereka dapat memberikan kemenangan besar dalam melindungi lingkungan dan menumbuhkan ekonomi. Indonesia memiliki beberapa keberhasilan terbesar di dunia dalam mengurangi deforestasi. Deforestasi untuk kelapa sawit, kertas, dan karet semuanya menurun lebih dari 90%. Secara keseluruhan, meski masih terlalu banyak hutan yang tumbang, pemerintah Indonesia berhasil menurunkan deforestasi ke level terendah dalam sejarah. Dengan demikian, negara memposisikan dirinya untuk menciptakan lapangan kerja dan pertumbuhan ekonomi di dunia di mana investasi mengalir ke negara-negara yang berada di garis depan dalam konservasi dan penyebaran energi bersih. proyek-proyek yang mengancam ekosistem Batang Toru menggerogoti kemajuan Indonesia yang telah diraih dengan susah payah.

Pada akhirnya, selain mengembangkan alternatif bendungan dan menghentikan perluasan tambang, perlindungan orangutan Tapanuli dan ekosistem Batang Toru membutuhkan rencana konservasi dan restorasi yang komprehensif. Ada ratusan ribu hektar lahan di sekitarnya yang dapat direstorasi untuk menyediakan habitat bagi orangutan ini dan satwa liar lainnya, sekaligus memperkuat reputasi Indonesia sebagai juara konservasi. Kami siap bekerja sama dengan pemerintah dan masyarakat sipil untuk membantu mencapai visi tersebut.

Hormat kami,

Glenn Hurowitz

Pendiri dan CEO Mighty Earth


Letter to Tempo on saving the Tapanuli orangutan, the world’s rarest great ape.

Right to Reply to Tempo on saving the Tapanuli orangutan, the world's rarest great ape.

To the Editor:

Re: Right to Reply re Opinion article about Batang Toru hydropower plant (17 July 2023).

Read in Bahasa

The Tapanuli Orangutan is one of Indonesia's natural treasures. Identified in 2017 as a new species, the Tapanuli Orangutan only lives in the Batang Toru ecosystem, North Sumatra.

However, deforestation has destroyed the vast majority of this amazing animal’s habitat (and that of the many other creatures that compose Batang Toru). Fewer than 800 individual Tapanuli orangutans remain. It is the most endangered great ape species in the world, making it an international conservation priority. 

We have repeatedly publicly called for alternatives to the two projects that most threaten the ecosystem: First, the Batang Toru dam, whose location means that it would further divide three sub-populations of this already endangered orangutan.  It is being built in a location that was found to have some of the highest densities of Tapanuli orangutans. This dam is also dangerous for communities and workers: repeated explosions and landslides have killed a total of seventeen community members, Chinese and Indonesian workers. It is unclear what purpose the dam serves. A study found that the supply of electricity in the area is sufficient, so that additional electricity from the PLTA is not needed.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature called in 2019 for a moratorium on projects that impact the Tapanuli orangutan, and we have consistently worked to ensure adherence to that call.  We have asked the private companies involved to pause development until credible scientists can assess its impact on the environment and recommend what should be done. However, the article erroneously suggests we somehow offered a “syndicated loan funding scheme.” I want to be clear that is untrue (as confirmed by Tempo’s own reporting in the news article accompanying the opinion piece). We are not a bank, we are an advocacy NGO. We do not offer financing to companies. And we are not brokers either. Instead, we proudly urge international donors and financiers to invest in conservation and truly clean energy.

The dam is not the only project that endangers Batang Toru. Potential expansion of the Martabe gold mine into Tapanuli habitat also threatens the ecosystem. Just as with the dam, we have spent years publicly advocating that the mine’s owners pause expansion until scientists have the opportunity to ensure expansion only happens outside orangutan habitat.

We’ve met multiple times with the company that owns the mine, have published hard-hitting articles about the threat the mine presents in media around the world, and have filed alerts about it with dozens of companies that do business with Jardines. The mine owners have responded by saying they will respect scientists’ assessment of the conservation impact before development. It was therefore perplexing to read the article saying that we “don’t bother too much about the operation of the Martabe gold mine.” As anyone involved in the campaign to stop the mine can attest, we bother very much indeed.  

The opinion article’s implication that there is some vague business interest behind our campaign is untrue – we are an independent non-profit organization, and do not accept donations from businesses involved in the issues we work on.  Our concern about the Batang Toru comes from our overall mission to protect Nature and climate. Mighty Earth, the global conservation organization that I lead, has worked for many years to support sustainable development in the region in consultation with many community and civil society organizations. Our mission is simple: to protect nature and secure a stable climate that allows life to flourish.

It’s therefore a major concern when unnecessary projects threaten natural ecosystems and endanger the surrounding community because they are built on earthquake faults making them prone to disasters. That kind of project cannot be called clean energy. 

Ultimately, in addition to developing alternatives to the dam and stopping the expansion of the mine, the protection of the Tapanuli orangutan and the Batang Toru ecosystem require a comprehensive conservation and restoration plan. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of land nearby that could be restored to provide habitat for this orangutan and other wildlife, while bolstering Indonesia’s reputation for championing conservation. We stand ready to work with the government and civil society to help achieve that vision.


Glenn Hurowitz

Founder and CEO Mighty Earth


Media Statement: Norwegian Pension Fund Excludes Chinese Company Over Orangutan Extinction Concerns

Amid concerns about the company’s role in driving the extinction of the world’s rarest great ape, the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global has officially moved to exclude investment in Power Construction Corp of China Ltd (PowerChina).

PowerChina is a Chinese multinational that owns Sinohydro Corporation, the company building a massive dam in the heart of Tapanuli orangutan habitat. The Norwegian Pension Fund’s review determined that this project will “have a destructive and permanent impact on the environment, which will pose a serious threat to the survival of this orangutan species as well as other critically endangered species.”

In response to this development, Mighty Earth Senior Director for Asia Amanda Hurowitz released the following statement:

“Last year, the world committed to a Global Biodiversity Framework to urgently address the ongoing destruction of nature—and the mass extinctions of wildlife that follow. Today, the Norwegian pension fund has demonstrated what it means to take these commitments seriously."

"The Batang Toru project will fracture the delicate habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan, scattering the small population that remains and dooming them to extinction. Anyone who looks closely will come to the same conclusion reached by the Norwegian pension fund: investing in this project means funding the destruction of one of our closest relatives in the natural world. It’s unconscionable."

"Norway was right to abandon the Batang Toru dam. It’s long past time for China and Indonesia to do the same.”

Body count rises to sixteen at controversial Batang Toru dam in Indonesia after tunnel collapses.

This latest tragedy during the construction of the Batang Toru hydroelectric dam, brings the number of workers and families killed, in less than two years, to sixteen. In the latest incident on Sunday (21st August 2022) a Chinese construction worker was crushed when part of a tunnel collapsed.  

Responding to this latest tragedy, Amanda Hurowitz, Mighty Earth’s Senior Program Director for Southeast Asia said:  

“Our thoughts are with the family and co-workers of the latest victim to lose his life in such tragic circumstances. But the question is: How many more lives are going to be lost, or workers injured, in the construction of this ill-conceived and unnecessary dam before the project is stopped in its tracks?”  

“The Batang Toru ecosystem is wholly unsuitable for this project. This dam is located in a highly sensitive area, home to the Tapanuli orangutan, the world’s most endangered Great Ape. Repeated landslides have killed fifteen individuals, and now a tunnel collapse has claimed yet another life. It seems like this project is just cursed, and it’s time for its backers to cut their losses.”  

“This project has recently been bought for $277mn by China’s State Development and Investment Corporation. The Chinese government involvement conflicts with China’s role as the host of the Convention on Biological Diversity later this year. The optics for China on this one are bad. It can’t claim to the world to be protecting biodiversity if it pushes ahead with this dam, threatening a whole species of orangutan with extinction. We hope that China will instead use its influence to protect Batang Toru and its iconic wildlife, as part of its many efforts to support an ecologically harmonious civilization. Changing the direction of this project  would show China is serious about realizing its commitments to Nature and climate.” 


  • This ill-conceived Chinese backed Indonesian dam project came to worldwide attention in 2017 when scientists identified a new species of great ape living in the forests of Batang Toru. The Tapanuli Orangutan, numbering only 800, is the most endangered species of ape in the world. The dam and associated infrastructure by bisecting their habitat threatens their very existence.[i] 
  • Analysis of predicted electricity demand in the region has shown that the electricity that would be produced by the dam may not even be needed. [ii] 
  • This project has become a risky bet for major financiers. Multilateral development banks such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC) have also pulled out of the project[iii], as have private investment banks like Goldman Sachs.[iv] The Asian Infrastructure Development Bank has declined to finance the project. And, the Bank of China has suspended its involvement.[v] 
  • The Tapanuli orangutan faces other threats associated with habitat loss, including land clearing associated with the Martabe gold mine, owned, and operated by companies linked with to Astra Agro Lestari and British conglomerate Jardines Matheson.[vi] 


  1. https://news.mongabay.com/2019/02/what-does-it-take-to-discover-a-new-great-ape-species/https://www.mightyearth.org/2019/03/07/batang-toru/ 
  1. Dam that threatens orangutan habitat is ‘wholly unnecessary’: Report (mongabay.com) 
  1. Bank of China’s Notes on the Hydroelectric Dam Project in Batang Toru of Indonesia (boc.cn) 
  1. Dam that threatens orangutan habitat faces three-year delay (mongabay.com) 
  1. Dam threatening world’s rarest great ape faces delays | Science | AAAS (sciencemag.org) 
  1. https://www.independent.ie/world-news/asia-pacific/fears-rare-orangutan-being-driven-to-extinction-by-gold-mine-39508396.html 

Jardines Caught Clearing Forest NOW in Rare Orangutan Habitat

Jardines Caught Clearing Forest NOW in Rare Orangutan Habitat

New Satellite Imagery Shows October 2021 Clearing

Mighty Earth has exposed a new threat to the rarest great ape on the planet, and the world is watching. The critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan of northern Sumatra was just identified in 2017 and fewer than 800 exist in the world, but satellite imagery from the past two weeks shows their habitat being eaten away by deforestation.

Since 2018, the Martabe gold mine in northern Sumatra has been owned by United Tractors, through Astra International, a subsidiary of British conglomerate Jardine Matheson. And Since February of this year, the company has been in talks over a plan to conduct an impact assessment of the gold mine on Tapanuli orangutan habitat -- but while talks have dragged on for months, this new evidence shows deforestation continuing the whole time. The investigation was covered by the Financial Times.

“One could look at the continued expansion and it suggests they are engaging in bad faith. This is a species on the brink of extinction.”
-- Amanda Hurowitz, senior adviser with Mighty Earth

“[I am] surprised and disappointed. While you are negotiating, they are continuing to fight and gain advantage. From what what I can see, there is significant clearance of what was natural forest.”
-- Ian Redmond, biologist and conservationist known for his work with great apes

When the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) was identified in 2017, it was the first time since the 1920s that a new species of great ape had been discovered. The 1100 sq km Batang Toru Ecosystem is their only home. It is also home to the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, pangolin and helmeted hornbill. Sun bears, tapir, serow and a host of other rare endangered species, including more than 300 bird species, also rely on this habitat.

In all recorded human history, no great ape has been made extinct. This is one of humanity’s closest relatives, and we now have only a small window left before it’s too late to save them.

Future of orangutans in balance as company with Scottish roots searches for gold - Ian Redmond

Originally published in The Scotsman

GOLD… is the colour of an orangutan’s hair in the morning, as they rise, backlit by the sun in their treetop nests.  At that time of day, the rainforest canopy echoes to the haunting dawn chorus of gibbons and birdsong.   Sadly, all too frequently, that chorus is accompanied by the sound of chainsaws and heavy machinery.

Gold is also one more reason driving the destruction of orangutan habitat, or at least the human love of the precious metal found in deposits beneath the forest.  Controversially, some of that destruction on the Indonesian island of Sumatra is around a mine owned by a British company with Scottish origins, Jardine Matheson, and it adds to the pressure on the rarest species of orangutan.

Until recently, scientists recognised two species of Asia’s only great ape, each named after the island where they are found – the Bornean orangutan and the Sumatran orangutan.  Then in 2017, genetic and morphological studies of the most southerly population of orangutans in Sumatra revealed that – to everyone’s surprise – the orangutans of Batang Toru are a separate species, named after the surrounding district, Tapanuli.  Unsurprisingly, no sooner was it described by science, the species was assessed by the IUCN as ‘Critically Endangered’ with a population of fewer than 800 and put on the Red List.

As Chairman of the Ape Alliance, a loose coalition of 100 organisations working for the conservation and welfare of all apes, I took a strong interest in this discovery.  In 2019, as parts of London were brought to a standstill by Extinction Rebellion, I found myself sitting in the board room of Jardine’s being reassured by the company’s senior management, that there were no plans to expand the Martabe Gold Mine into the habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan.  Jardines, which has been controlled by the Keswick family since 19th century, had acquired the gold mine in 2018 through its Indonesian subsidiary Astra International.  The meeting had been arranged by Mighty Earth, an influential international organisation that tracks which companies are profiting from deforestation.

There are other threats to the Tapanuli: Indonesian civil society organizations have been working to halt the building of a hydro-electric dam that would flood a key corridor between two almost fragmented populations of Tapanuli orangutan.  The dam had been reported to be financed by the Bank of China, but in a series of meetings with the London and Jakarta branch managers we were assured that although a request for funding had been made to the Bank of China, the project was still under review.  To their credit, the Bank of China eventually decided not to fund the Batang Toru dam.   Work on the construction was further delayed by the global pandemic last year but not halted completely.

The risks of building a dam or a mine in an area prone to earthquakes were tragically highlighted by a landslide on 29th April this year, killing 13. A similar incident late last year killed one construction worker, and another was killed at the end of May, brining the total to fifteen lives lost.  The Indonesian Forestry and Environment Minister was reported to be evaluating the case for the dam, but construction continues.

Satellite images taken this year show that the Martabe mine is still expanding; about five hectares of forest were cleared between April and May.   This is on top of the 27.38 ha destroyed by the mining operation overall – 8.67 ha of which were destroyed since the purchase by Jardines in 2018.  Orangutans are threatened by loss of habitat to industrial agriculture– vast monoculture plantations of fast-growing trees for paper pulp as well as the more familiar palm-oil plantations.  Companies in the public eye such as Hershey, the US chocolate maker, are working to make their supply chains ‘deforestation-free.’  Last month, in response to a complaint by Mighty Earth, Hershey and others have called on Jardines to extend their ban on deforestation for palm oil across commodities—including gold.   Public pressure is a powerful force – we all have the power to influence the behaviour of corporations by the choices we make in our shopping.  But globally, deforestation continues.

Surely we can do better. This is the year the human world is supposed to agree on a new deal for nature.  The UN is hammering out a ‘post-2020 Biodiversity Framework’ to halt the loss of biodiversity and we are beginning the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration.   The UNFCCC CoP26 climate talks due to be held in Glasgow in November are concluding the details of carbon markets, including valuing the central role of tropical forests.  All signs of hope that our species is coming to its collective senses and learning to live within the finite bounds of our one planet.  And yet for some, it seems to be business as usual – despite the predictions based on the best available science that business as usual will lead to ecosystem collapse on a global scale.   Now is the time for the global economy to move from an extractive view of nature, where nature is seen as an ‘externality’ with a value of zero until mined or logged to a more regenerative view.  Like all life on earth, including orangutans, humans depend on the ecosystem services provided by natural processes and yet they do not appear in our balance sheets.  If we want fresh air to breathe, fresh water to drink and food to put on the table, we must begin to value nature as the foundation for our economy, not an externality.  That is the true gold!


Ian Redmond OBE is Chairman of the Ape Alliance www.4apes.com, a trustee of the Orangutan Foundation www.orangutan.org.uk and a co-founder of www.Rebalance.Earth

Statement in Response to Tragic Mudslide in Batang Toru, Indonesia

Update: On May 28th, an additional foreign worker was killed as the result of another mudslide on the site of the the Batang Toru hydroelectric dam. This brings the total killed in the last 6 months to 15 people.

Baca dalam Bahasa Indonesia

Responding to the tragic news that at least 13 people have been killed or are missing in a mudslide on the site of the controversial Batang Toru hydroelectric dam project in Indonesia, Mighty Earth Campaign Director Amanda Hurowitz issued the following statement:

“Our hearts go out to the families of the people who have been killed or injured in this tragic disaster – both local community members and the Chinese workers at the site, far from home. We urge PT North Sumatra Hydro Energy (NSHE) and government authorities at all levels to provide immediate assistance and relief to those impacted and take action to prevent further damage and harm.

“Sadly, this disaster was likely an avoidable one. Scientists, environmental advocates and even reports received by the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry have all warned that the terrain surrounding the proposed site for the Batang Toru dam was at medium to high risk of landslides because of high rainfall, hilly terrain and poor drainage. The project also sits near a fault line in an area prone to earthquakes and is being built, seemingly, without an adequate plan in place to mitigate the effects of development in this sensitive area. In fact, just five months ago, another landslide killed a Chinese dam worker, foreshadowing today’s tragedy.

“Our allies, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) have filed a lawsuit against the project in Indonesian court, claiming NSHE’s environmental impact assessment failed to consider endangered species, communities downstream, and the potential for ecological disasters. Additionally, WALHI has called for development to stop in this ecologically important, high risk area."

Roy Lumban Gaol, Deputy for Advocacy and Campaigns with WALHI North Sumatera, added:

"This incident is just another example of why this destructive project needs to be halted once and for all. There should be a moratorium on further development of the site. The Indonesian government should suspend the AMDAL for the project and conduct an urgent review of the project’s viability in terms of risk to worker safety, structural integrity linked to flooding and earthquake risk and the existential threat the dam construction poses to biodiversity, including the world’s most endangered great ape: the Tapanuli orangutan."



  1. This ill-conceived Chinese backed Indonesian dam project came to worldwide attention in 2017 when scientists made the stunning announcement that they had identified a new species of great ape living in the forests of Batang Toru. The Tapanuli Orangutan, numbering only 800, is the most endangered species of ape in the world. The dam and associated infrastructure by bisecting their habitat threatens their very existence.[i]
  2. Analysis of predicted electricity demand in the region has shown that the electricity that would be produced by the dam may not even be needed.[ii]
  3. This project has become a risky bet for major financiers. Multilateral development banks such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC) have also pulled out of the project[iii], as have private investment banks like Goldman Sachs.[iv] The Asian Infrastructure Development Bank has reportedly declined to finance the project. And, the Bank of China appears to have suspended its involvement pending a ‘review’.[v]
  4. The Tapanuli orangutan faces other threats associated with habitat loss, including land clearing associated with the Martabe gold mine, owned and operated by companies linked with to Astra Agro Lestari and British conglomerate Jardines Matheson.[vi]


  1. https://news.mongabay.com/2019/02/what-does-it-take-to-discover-a-new-great-ape-species/; https://www.mightyearth.org/2019/03/07/batang-toru/
  2. Dam that threatens orangutan habitat is ‘wholly unnecessary’: Report (mongabay.com)
  3. Bank of China’s Notes on the Hydroelectric Dam Project in Batang Toru of Indonesia (boc.cn)
  4. Dam that threatens orangutan habitat faces three-year delay (mongabay.com)
  5. Dam threatening world’s rarest great ape faces delays | Science | AAAS (sciencemag.org)
  6. https://www.independent.ie/world-news/asia-pacific/fears-rare-orangutan-being-driven-to-extinction-by-gold-mine-39508396.html

Dam Threatening Extinction of Tapanuli Orangutans Delayed at Least Three Years

The world’s rarest and most recently discovered great ape species received good news when North Sumatra Hydro Energy requested a three-year delay in the construction of the Batang Toru dam project in North Sumatra. The project came under intense scrutiny in Indonesia and around the world for threatening the survival of the Tapanuli orangutan, which was just identified in 2017, and has a population of fewer than 800.

The announcement of the delay follows Mighty Earth’s successful work with allies around the world to persuade the Bank of China to withdraw financing from the project.

In March of 2019, the Bank of China said it had “noted the concerns expressed by some environmental organizations” and promised to carefully review the project. Although Bank of China has not issued any further public statements, privately, representatives of the Bank have confirmed on numerous occasions that they will not fund the project.

Another partner in the hydroelectric scheme, the Indonesian state-owned utility company Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN), publicly confirmed in July of 2020 that the Bank of China has withdrawn its funding of the project.

Muhammad Ikhsan Asaad, who oversees the project for state-owned utility PLN, said the Batang Toru plant was supposed to start operating in 2022, based on the agreement between PLN and project developer PT North Sumatra Hydro Eenergy (NHSE).

“But it might be delayed to 2025, mainly because the drawdown from lender Bank of China is stopped due to environmental concerns as well as COVID-19,” he said.

The Bank of China’s withdrawal from the project follows that of other international lenders like the International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank Group), Goldman Sachs, the Asian Development Bank, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, who have all distanced themselves from the pariah project.

PLN officially announced the delay at a hearing in June of 2020, citing environmental campaigning as a reason for the delay.

"It is true that this is hampered by protests from NGOs related to environmental issues, the presence of monkeys, and others there. We have received requests for a 3-year development delay due to COVID-19," PLN's Managing Director, Zulkifli Zaini, said at the DPR Commission VII Hearing Meeting, Jakarta, Wednesday (6/17/20).

The dam project raised concerns about the risks of splitting the Tapanuli orangutan population into groups too small to survive - in the face of an electricity gut that renders the project economically dubious - the COVID-19 pandemic has led to falling demand for electricity shooting further holes in the already dubious rationale for the venture.

Falling demand for electricity during the pandemic has also affected the development of the project, according to Hydropower Plant Developers Association (APPLTA) chairman Riza Husni. Riza said on Thursday that PLN’s move to cut the demand projection for electricity during the pandemic has impacted hydropower players’ plans to develop 5,000 MW worth of new plants in Indonesia. “All of them haven’t begun development,” said Riza.

With COVID-19 also leading to shortages of workers - especially those being brought in by the project’s Chinese contractor, Sinohydro - this halt in construction is an opportunity for the government of Indonesia to heed the calls of the International Union for Conservation of Nature to officially stop development, allowing an independent and objective assessment to be conducted on the risks of development in Tapanuli orangutan habitat.

New Analysis: Batang Toru Hydroelectric Plant 'Unnecessary'

Will oversupply power and threaten first great ape extinction in recorded history

Baca dalam Bahasa Indonesia

JAKARTA -- A report, available in English, Bahasa and Chinese, by a leading international consultancy warns that the proposed USD 1.6 billion Batang Toru hydroelectric project in South Tapanuli Regency, North Sumatra, is not only entirely unnecessary for meeting Indonesia or North Sumatra’s future energy needs, but is also a critical threat to the local ecosystem and the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan. The report finds that the dam’s backers have mischaracterized, exaggerated, or just manufactured much of the rationale for the dam.

The report, entitled “Analysis of Electricity Demand in North Sumatra Province and the Planned Batang Toru Hydroelectric Power Plant’s Impacts,” and authored by Dr. David Brown finds that:

  1. North Sumatra is almost fully electrified, and rolling blackouts are largely a thing of the past. The province has a power surplus. In view of the addition of gas-fired peak power capacity added in 2017 and ongoing improvements in grid infrastructure, the building of Batang Toru would not materially improve access to nor the regularity of power supply in the province.
  2. Batang Toru will not replace “diesel power plants rented from overseas,” as there are no such plants in North Sumatra. There is a rented floating gas-fired power plant. But the climate change and balance of payments implications of burning gas are quite different from those of burning diesel.
  3. It is claimed that the commissioning of Batang Toru would result in reduction of a very modest .0016 to .0022 gigatonnes of annual CO2 emissions per year. But even these are overestimates. Reductions made possible by Batang Toru are more likely to be on the order of .0007 to .001 gigatonnes of CO2 annually. Regardless, potential emissions reductions represent on the order of just one tenth of one percent of Indonesia’s annual emissions but come with enormous environmental cost.
  4. In spite of the efforts of the owners and proponents of Batang Toru to tout the proposed dam as a provider of peak power, only half of the plant’s output would be peak power. The remainder is baseload power.
  5. The need for Batang Toru’s proposed peak power capacity is already diminishing, due to the existence of a 240 MW floating gas plant, and the likely future construction of 800 MW in new gas fired peak power which will come on line in 2022 (200 MW), 2024 (300 MW) and 2028 (300 MW). Like Batang Toru, these gas plants produce peak power during the night and could also produce power during the day, if needed.
  6. As for Batang Toru’s proposed contribution to the province’s baseload power, this is already being rendered unnecessary by the 330 MW Sarulla geothermal power plant which came on line in 2017 and 2018, and could be rendered even more superfluous by a 300 MW “expansion” in capacity at Sarulla starting in 2022, as well as a the “high possibility” of 240 MW in new geothermal power at Sorik Marapi. Another excellent option for the production of power during the day would be solar power; the report recommends that the Directorate General of Electricity and PLN should give greater consideration to solar power.
  7. Batang Toru will not put diesel power plants out of business, and thus will not alleviate the negative balance of payment impact to the nation caused by the import of diesel. However, the high capital costs of building Batang Toru will lead to the outflow of dollars from Indonesia and into the bank accounts of the Chinese contractor that will build the plant, as well as the Chinese holding company that owns the majority of the plant, all to the detriment of Indonesia’s balance of payments.
  8. Sinohydro, the contractor that is building Batang Toru has a global track record of fraud, non- standard practices, and corruption on three continents, all of which suggests that Batang Toru has significant construction and operations risks.
  9. The Directorate General of Energy’s overly robust projections of power demand have led to an overbuilding of power plants in North Sumatra. This may be a blessing in disguise, as it could mean that there are many excellent substitutes available for the peak power (Point 5 above) and baseload power (Point 6 above) that Batang Toru aims to produce without threatening one of Indonesia’s world famous natural treasure, the endangered Tapanuli orangutan.

Advocates for protecting the Tapanuli orangutan have seized on the report’s findings and called for a halt to the project.

The new report was produced by Dr. David W. Brown, a principal at Brown Brothers Energy and Environment (B2E2). Dr. Brown, who has 20 years of experience in advising public and private sector clients on the governance and environmental challenges of Indonesia's natural resource sectors, will appear in Jakarta on January 22 to present the report and discuss its findings with the local and international press. He will be joined by Mimi Surbakti from Srikandi Lestari Sumatera Utara who focuses on promoting the development of clean energy, Tri Mumpuni, a microhydro expert, as well as by Iqbal Damanik from Auriga.


The planned USD 1.6 billion North Sumatra Hydro Energy (NSHE) hydroelectric dam was first announced in 2012 and is scheduled for completion by 2022.

However, many traditional infrastructure lenders have refused to fund the project because of the disproportionate threat to orangutans and lack of benefits. Multilateral development banks like the World Bank Group have pulled out of the project, as have other private investment banks like Goldman Sachs. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has reportedly declined to finance the project. And while state-owned Chinese contractor Sinohydro has signed on to handle the project construction, the Bank of China recently communicated that it too has pulled its planned financing for the hydroelectric dam project.

The project will include the construction of a powerhouse, a substation, headrace and tailrace tunnels, a reservoir, spillway and related infrastructure, the installation of turbines, generators and transformers, and the laying of transmission lines.

Environmental Impact

Since it was first announced in 2012, the project has been the target of criticism, especially from environmentalists, who have said the dam would pose a threat to the area’s forest ecosystem and a potential risk to the lives and livelihoods of thousands of downstream local residents who rely on the river’s ecosystem for their survival for fisheries, agriculture, transport, and daily water needs. A fact- finding mission earlier this year found considerable apprehension about the project among local residents, many of whom have joined the opposition from international environmentalists in calling for the project to be halted.

The opposition intensified when it was discovered that the Batang Toru forest area, which is the project site, was also home to a newly discovered species of orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis), which lives exclusively in that forest. Environmentalists and wildlife experts say the construction of the dam on the Batang Toru River would permanently fracture the orangutans’ habitat, decreasing connectivity between populations and contributing to the extinction of this rare species, which currently hosts a population fewer than 800 apes – and is the world’s most endangered great ape.

In addition to providing the Tapanuli orangutan’s only home, the Batang Toru ecosystem is biologically diverse with over 310 species of bird recorded, 80 species of reptiles, 64 species of frogs and toads, and more than 1,000 tree species.1 The area is also home to six other endangered and vulnerable primate species including siamangs (Symphalangus syndactylus) and agile gibbons (Hylobates agilis) in addition to the Tapanuli orangutan, making it one of the few areas in the world where three ape species coexist. The Batang Toru ecosystem is also home to other rare and threatened animal species including the Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae), the sun bear (Helarctos malayanus), the tapir (Tapirus indicus) and birds such as the Great Argus pheasant (Argusianus argus).

New Analysis

In light of the continued controversy, the Brown report sought to weigh the actual necessity of building the NSHE project against the harm it could cause.

“From an engineering standpoint, Batang Toru appears well-designed,” the report says. “However, the project’s infrastructure will destroy or isolate three out of five habitat blocks of a newly-discovered species, the Tapanuli orangutan, one of only seven species of Great Ape on Earth (or one of eight if humans are counted),” it warns.

The report identifies specific threats to the Tapanuli orangutan, noting that the rare species specifically “lives in the lowlands where the infrastructure associated with Batang Toru is to be built, and in three areas of adjacent highlands.”

The Tapanuli is especially vulnerable due to its fragmented population, and the report finds that the project would impact at least three of the groups. “Even proponents and opponents of Batang Toru appear to agree,” the report says, “that the infrastructure of the dam will lead to the displacement, and in some cases, death of the orangutans living in the third zone, and the permanent genetic isolation of those living in the fourth and fifth zones, more than 70 individuals.”


The new analysis is clear in its findings: “There may have been a rationale for the Batang Toru hydroelectric dam when it was proposed in 2012, before the identification of the Tapanuli orangutan, and in a very different energy situation. But there’s no need for it in 2020.”

“This research shows that Batang Toru hydroelectric power plant is not a necessary infrastructure for North Sumatra. Going forward, we have to prove who gains the most benefits from this forced construction,” Iqbal Damanik from Auriga said.

“I am fond of sustainable, environmentally friendly, and pollutant-free power plants. Microhydro, minihydro, and run off type are the answers since there is a larger number of rivers in Indonesia that needs to be protected with proper catchment area in order to maintain the water debit to flow as planned,” said Tri Mumpuni.

Mimi Surbakti also stated, “The fulfillment of electrical energy demand should not sacrifice the environment, especially if it threatens the extinction of a protected species. The government should be able to give ecological justice to save the livelihoods of people from the sources of nature’s degradation and exploitation.”

The report’s conclusion says, “Proponents of Batang Toru argue that driving the Tapanuli orangutan toward extinction is a price worth paying because the project will help to meet the current and future power needs of North Sumatra province. These defenders raise what they perceive as the climate change mitigation, peak power, and balance of payments benefits of Batang Toru. All of these arguments have been examined in this paper, and all have been found wanting.”

The Endangered Tapanuli Orangutan Loses an Ally

Read in Bahasa

Statement on recent MoU between NSHE and PanEco in the name of Tapanuli Orangutan

The stage is set for a crucial showdown in a long-running battle to save a rare species of orangutan from possible extinction at the hands of a planned US$ 1.6 billion hydroelectric dam project. The controversy over construction of the internationally-financed dam and hydroelectric project centers around findings by scientists that the development will pose an existential threat to the already diminished population of the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo Tapanuliensis), which has been declared as Critically Endangered by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and also negatively impact thousands of Indonesian citizens of local communities.

However, the dam company has consistently ignored the urgent warnings of scientists that alternatives are needed, putting the decision in the hands of President Jokowi.  Indonesian and international environmental groups are working to protect the orangutan, including Orangutan Information Centre (OIC) dan Center of Orangutan Protection (COP), and Mighty Earth.

Surprisingly, a press release said that NSHE has sealed a deal with the Swiss organization PanEco to greenwash the dam project. The Swiss organization had previously identified the dam as “the greatest threat to the long-term future of the Tapanuli orangutan.” This new arrangement has raised many questions among NGOs, both local and international.

Glenn Hurowitz, CEO Mighty Earth, expressed his disappointment: “It’s a disgrace that PanEco capitulated to bullying and intimidation by the dam company instead of reporting these attempts to the Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) and police. Indonesian and Swiss authorities should investigate this dirty deal and hold the dam company accountable for its actions. PanEco’s greenwashing shouldn’t obscure the fact that according to the dam company’s own Environmental Impact Statement, this dam is planned for a place with almost three times the density of Tapanuli orangutans than the average in the Batang Toru ecosystem.”

PanEco’s decision to accept the deal offered by NSHE should prompt further investigation since PanEco suddenly altered its approach under pressure.

Until very recently, PanEco’s own website said that “A newly planned hydro-electric dam along the Batang-Toru-river is the greatest threat to the long term future of the Tapanuli orangutan. The hydro dam is planned in an area with the highest density of orangutans and highest biodiversity values of the whole ecosystem. Some 10% of the Tapanuli orangutans reside in the area. The construction of this hydrodam and related infrastructure, powerlines and associated land speculation will cause severe fragmentation of the rainforest and isolation of sub-populations of the Tapanuli orangutan, making them prone to extinction.”

Screenshot of PanEco website (Aug. 24, 2019)

PanEco wrote that the solution was clear: "The construction of the dam needs to be stopped, the whole area must be protected and effective corridors between the two blocks have to be built."

“The facts haven’t changed, and this dam remains a massive threat to the survival of this species. This dirty deal also doesn’t hide the fact that the dam is entirely unnecessary and that the expansion of the nearby Sarulla Geothermal Plant could provide significantly more zero carbon electricity than the Batang Toru dam without threatening the survival of the Tapanuli orangutan. The Indonesian government should investigate the integrity of the decision-making process that allowed the permitting of a clearly inferior project,” said Hurowitz.

The deal is the latest salvo in a long struggle to protect Batang Toru and the endangered Orangutan habitat. A 2018 biology journal article by Sean Sloan, Jatna Supriatna, Mason J. Campbell, Mohammed Alamgir, and William F. Laurance said that “the proposed hydroelectric project should be cancelled. This project would alter at least 8% (96 km²) of high-quality orangutan habitat by 2022).”

“We hope President Jokowi will continue his efforts to protect 'Wonderful Indonesia' and fight against corruption by stopping this dam. He has an opportunity to protect an Indonesian national treasure while supporting the construction of truly green infrastructure,” said Hurowitz.

International Orangutan Day: Meet the Most Endangered Great Ape

Happy International Orangutan Day! Did you know that the rarest, most recently discovered great ape – the Tapanuli orangutan – is in danger of extinction?

Deep in the forested mountains of Sumatra, scientists identified a new species of great ape in 2017 – the Tapanuli orangutan. It was the first time since 1929 that a new species of great ape had been identified. But from the moment of discovery, the Tapanuli became the most endangered great ape in the world, with only 800 individuals left. The primary threat to their survival comes from a planned $1.6 billion hydroelectric power plant and dam project that will irreparably fragment their habitat.

Mighty Earth and our allies in Indonesia are fighting to protect the Tapanuli. We are asking Indonesian President Joko Widodo to cancel the dam project and explore alternative sources of renewable energy in the area.

We must act before the dam project permanently disrupts the habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan and contributes to the first extinction of a great ape – our closest cousins in the animal kingdom – in all our recorded history.

This International Orangutan Day, join Mighty Earth in our fight to protect the Tapanuli orangutan and sign the petition to Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

5 Facts about the Tapanuli orangutan:

  1. The Tapanuli orangutan was discovered in 2017, and is the third species of orangutan, having been separated from Bornean and Sumatran orangutans for 10,000-20,000 years.
  2. Only 800 individuals remain, making the Tapanuli the most endangered great ape.
  3. The remaining Tapanuli orangutans are divided into three populations in the Batang Toru forest; only the largest of these populations (~500 individuals) is still considered viable.
  4. The Tapanuli orangutan has a smaller head than other orangutan species
  5. The long, high-pitch call of the male Tapanuli orangutan is a mix between the calls of the males in Borneo (short, high-pitched) and Sumatra (long, low-pitched). It also lasts longer and is delivered with more pulses at a higher rate.


Male orangutans of each species: 1. Bornean, 2. Sumatran, 3. Tapanuli. Photo credit: Tim Laman/Creative Commons, via New England Primate Conservancy

Resistance Grows to US$ 1.6b Dam That Threatens New Orangutan Species and Communities

Resistance Grows to US$ 1.6 b Dam That Threatens New Orangutan Species and Communities


Local opposition to the controversial plan to develop a US$1.6 billion dam and hydroelectric power generation project in South Tapanuli Regency, North Sumatra is expanding, according to a report from a fact-finding mission.  The report says that there is growing apprehension about the project among local residents, many of whom are now joining the long-standing opposition from local and international environmental groups in calling for the Chinese-funded project to be halted.  Meanwhile, the project developer, North Sumatra Hydro Energy (NSHE) still intends to complete the project by 2022 as planned, even as a nearby geothermal plant could provide more electricity than the dam without environmental damage.

Since it was first announced in 2012, the project has been the target of criticism, primarily because of the threat the dam poses to the area’s forest ecosystem and to the lives and livelihoods of the many thousands of residents in the area.  The opposition intensified when it was discovered that the Batang Toru forest area, the planned project site, is also home to a newly identified species of orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis), which lives exclusively in that forest.  Leading conservation scientists say the construction of the dam on the Batang Toru River would fracture the orangutans’ habitat, bringing about the extinction of this rare and endangered species, of which about only 800 individuals remain.


Legal Letdown

The recent rejection by a local North Sumatra court of a lawsuit filed by Walhi, Indonesia’s largest environmental NGO, against the local government for ignoring environmental hazards when issuing a permit for the project, has stirred new anxiety among local residents.

It has since come to light that the company forged the signatureof a forestry researcher on its environmental impact statement (AMDAL) as it sought approval for the project. Nevertheless, clearance at the site of the project has already begun.

“Many people now feel helpless in the face of the failure of this lawsuit to take their side in this issue,” said a member of the fact-finding team, adding that fear and suspicion is becoming widespread among the local residents.

This legal development has brought new impetus to the controversy, with many local residents now joining a broad coalition of opponents to the project, intensifying efforts to persuade the Indonesian government and its Chinese and Indonesian partners to call a halt to the project.

Adding to the controversy, earlier this month, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the leading government and civil society expert body on the conservation of species, publicly called for a moratorium on all projects impacting “the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan”.  The message was specifically aimed at urging a halt to the NSHE project.


Finding Facts

In an effort to bring more clarity to the situation, a fact-finding team, led by the Center for Orangutan Protection (CoP) (requested by the office of the Presidential Staff of the Republic of Indonesia), recently conducted on an on-site investigation in the Simarboru (Sipirok, Marancar and Batangtoru) area of Tapanuli, North Sumatra.  The primary mission of the fact-finding team was to assess feelings of the local population living near the site of the planned project.  The fact-finding team came to a number of conclusions regarding prevailing attitudes:

  • Disappointment. Many residents living in the Simarboru area were initially in favor of the development of the project as they were promised numerous jobs in the construction and maintenance of the dam and power plant.  However, it turns out that a majority have been rejected for jobs due to a lack of suitable work qualifications.  These people are now strongly opposed to the project.
  • Regret. While initial support for the project has wavered, many residents are now reluctant to voice opposition because they have already sold their land to NSHE for “minimum compensation”.
  • Helplessness. The fears of the local residents have been heightened by the failure of the Walhi lawsuit, which has fostered feelings that they are up against powerful interests.
  • Confusion. Many residents say they were not fully informed about the possible environmental effects of the project, leaving them in a state of confusion regarding what to expect.
  • Fear. The greatest concern to residents is the fear of flooding of their homes and farmland from the dam that, according to technical surveys, will siphon river water for 18 hours a day and then during the next six hours, when the sluice will be opened, flood the farmland in the area.  Several thousand people could have their homes and livelihoods affected by this action.

“It is obvious that the company (NSHE) as well as the government neglected the principles of Free Prior & Informed Consent (FPIC), the rights of society to express ‘Yes and How’ or ‘No’ to the project that impacts their resources. This is based on Int’l & National law in some countries and confirmed by the adoption of UN declaration about The Local Community Rights in 2008,” said Hardi Baktiantoro, Founder & Principal CoP.

While the issue of the growing dissatisfaction among the local population is primarily a domestic problem, there have also long been serious international concerns about the environmental impact of the project.  These concerns have been continuously raised by a loose coalition of international and domestic NGOs, including Mighty Earth, the Ape Alliance and the United Nations Environment Programme, and locally the Orangutan Information Center (OIC), Center for Orangutan Protection (CoP) and the Sumatra Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP).

Among the primary issues:

  • Extinction. Imminent extinction of the rare Tapanuli orangutan species due to fracturing of their forest habitat resulting from construction of the dam.
  • Threats. The Batang Toru Ecosystem is also home to the Critically Endangered Sumatran tiger, pangolin and helmeted hornbill. Sun bears, tapir, serow and a host of other rare endangered species, including more than 300 bird species
  • Earthquakes. Potential risks to life and property from building the dam in a known earthquake-prone area, situated on a tectonic fault. Construction of a planned tunnel for the project could also exacerbate the risks of tectonic activity
  • Feasibility. While this project will endanger both human and wildlife existence in the area, studies show there are more feasible options for generating power in the area-primarily from geothermal sources, including the expansion of the existing Sarasulla Geothermal Plant
  • Eco-system. Re-settling of local populations will alter the ancient ecosystem of the area thus posing risks of long-term destructive environmental changes


International Ingredient

The Bank of China and the Government of China have indicated an interest in financially supporting this project.  From the beginning, communities in Indonesia targeted the Chinese government in efforts to dissuade them from participating in the project.  An open letter last year sent to the Chinese embassy in Jakarta spelled out the concerns, asking embassy officials to facilitate talks with Chinese investors and funders of the project in order to make them aware of the environmental and social risks posed by the project.

“We believe that every foreign investment in our country, whether from China or elsewhere, shouldn’t contribute to the erosion of people’s livelihoods and more importantly to the extinction of a critically endangered species,” the letter read.

As a result, there has been considerable dialogue between Jakarta, Beijing and international conservation organizations regarding how to proceed with this project.  Five years on from its inception, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), of which this project is a product, has been the subject of considerable international controversy.

Meanwhile, affected communities and conservationists continue to work to persuade the Indonesian government to reassess its stance on moving forward with its development.  An online petition has been posted seeking domestic and international support for calling a halt to Batang Toru.

While the votes are still being counted from the recent Indonesian presidential election, it is hoped that whoever is the winner will be willing to take another look at the potential negative impacts of this project.  It is also hoped that the slogan of “Wonderful Indonesia” can morph from a tourist campaign tagline to a real-life effort to take a unique opportunity to save the endangered Tapanuli orangutan species from extinction and instead, enshrine this magnificent great ape as a symbol of Indonesia’s unique national heritage.

“Basically we’re not fighting for ourselves. There are hundreds of rare new species and being protected by the world, biodiversity of Batangtoru ecosystem, and thousands of people who will be affected by the negligence of the company and involved parties in building this megaproject. We are still waiting for the government’s next step in protecting Wonderful Indonesia,” add Panut Hadisiwoyo, Founder Director Orangutan Information Center (OIC).(*)

Hey Mandarin! We’re not a fan--save the orangutan

This chant rang out in NYC and London, as demonstrators converged on Mandarin Oriental Hotel to call for an end to their complicity in the destruction of orangutan habitat. Mandarin is owned by parent company Jardine Matheson, whose corporate activities threaten to wipe out the world’s last remaining population of Tapanuli orangutans.   

At the NYC action, activists handed out flyers, sang and chanted, as they braved the pouring rain on the sidewalk in front of the hotel. They then went inside, where they delivered 32,000 petitions addressed to Mandarin.  


The petition has since nearly doubled to 55,000 signatories, as worldwide pressure builds.

Earlier in the day, in London, dozens of activist led by the renowned conservationist Ian Redmond rallied in front of Mandarin’s Hyde Park hotel. March 21 was chosen as the day of action to protect the Tapanuli orangutan to coincide with the UN’s International Day of Forests.

Tourist and other travelers don’t want to stay at establishments that are complicit in the deforestation of habitats of critically endangered species.  And yet Jardine Matheson--parent company to Mandarin Oriental--is standing idly by while rainforests are being bulldozed and threatening the Tapanuli orangutan with extinction.

The Tapanuli orangutan has a population of just 800, and all are found exclusively in the Batang Toru forest, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Jardines operates a mine in this forest--right in the heart of the Tapanuli’s only habitat. Worse, the mine has been drilling exploratory wells further encroaching on these orangutans’ territory. Additionally, Jardines and its subsidiary Astra have failed to take a stand against the Batang Toru dam, which would physically fragment the Tapanuli’s habitat and prevent these apes from having the level of genetic diversity necessary to sustain their population. Astra International is Indoneisa’s largest company; they have influence with the government who has the authority to halt this dam project.  We welcome positive engagement with the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, and strongly hope that they and their parent company act to protect biodiversity.

Mandarin Oriental Hotel: Save the Tapanuli Orangutan

Mighty Earth is joining the Ape Alliance and other allies in a dramatic protest to draw attention to the precarious state of the Tapanuli orangutan, an endangered ape threatened by industrial development. This great ape was discovered only recently, but is already in danger of extinction; it is estimated that there are only 800 of them left in the world.

Multinational corporation Jardine Matheson -- owner of the internationally acclaimed, 5-star Mandarin Oriental Hotels -- also owns Astra International, one of Indonesia's largest companies. They also recently purchased the Martabe gold mine, which lies within Batang Toru, Sumatra, the only habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan. This habitat, the orangutans, and the livelihoods of local communities are all threatened by the massive Batang Toru hydroelectric dam project that has already begun destroying the forest to make room for the dam and support infrastructure.

This Martabe mine uses a huge amount of electricity to operate its smelters.  In the name of meeting the demand for electricity, the Indonesian state-owned utility has sought backing from  Chinese financiers and hydro companies to build the Batang Toru dam. There is a massive geothermal energy plant just miles away from the mine that could be further expanded to provide more clean electricity than the dam ever would.

The Batang Toru dam  would permanently fragment the Tapanuli orangutan’s habitat, breaking the forest into areas that are too small for them to survive over the long-term.  If just one percent of the population-- that eight individuals is lost each year, the Tapanuli will go extinct. This orangutan species has no room for error in the fight for its existence.   

Jardines has the influence needed to help stop the dam -- but they have so far refused to act. These protests will encourage them to protect the most endangered great ape on earth. Similar protests in recent weeks have already brought the Bank of China, the project’s major financier, to the negotiating table.

Sign the petition!

Bank of China to Reevaluate Dam Project That Threatens Endangered Orangutan with Extinction

The Bank of China has announced it will re-evaluate its support for the Batang Toru dam project that threatens the Tapanuli orangutan. In response to this development, Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz released the following statement:

“We are grateful that Bank of China is taking the responsible step to reevaluate this project given the threat it poses to the Tapanuli orangutan and the entire Batang Toru ecosystem.

“The Batang Toru dam would permanently disrupt the habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan and would contribute to the first extinction of a great ape – our closest cousins in the animal kingdom – in all our recorded history. We are therefore confident that this review will lead to the cancellation of the project. Mighty Earth is ready to participate in this re-evaluation process and help facilitate a positive outcome.

“We strongly support development in Indonesia, but that requires some attention to be paid to ensuring that infrastructure projects are located in the right place. The Batang Toru dam is proposed for exactly the wrong place, with a higher density of Tapanuli orangutans than surrounding areas. Given that fact, we are confident that upon review, the Bank of China will recognize that there are far superior development options, such as expanding the nearby Sarulla Geothermal Plant, which has more energy potential than the Batang Toru dam and doesn’t put the ecosystem at risk. We have also supported responsible run of the river hydro development in Indonesia in the past, and are happy to work with all stakeholders to find better locations and additional financing for hydro infrastructure.

“More broadly, we appreciate the significant gestures that China has made in recent weeks to address the global destruction of forests. This announcement builds upon Chinese state-owned food company COFCO’s emerging leadership in tackling agriculture-linked deforestation. Together, these actions suggest that China is starting to take real steps toward ensuring that overseas investments like its Belt and Road Initiative have a positive impact on our shared planet.

“Responsible Chinese international financing would be a huge boost for the environment and local peoples everywhere, and has the potential to dramatically change – for the better – the way that China is perceived around the world.”

Proyek Plta PT Nshe di Tapanuli Dibiayai dan Dimiliki Oleh Tiongkok

The coalition to protect the Tapanuli orangutan pushed back against claims that opposition to the Batang Toru dam has only been driven by foreigners. The group pointed out that the state-owned Bank of China is funding the project and the Chinese state-owned construction company Sinohydro is the company building the dam. Those promoting the dam's construction are falling back on the familiar patter of blaming outsiders for destruction happening in their own countries. But the science is clear: if the dam is built, the Tapanuli orangutan will go extinct. 

Menanggapi pernyataan Anggota Dewan Energi Nasional (DEN) yang mewakili unsur pemerhati lingkungan hidup, Sony Keraf, mengenai adanya intervensi asing terhadap proyek PLTA PT North Sumatra Hydro Energy (NSHE) yang dinilai tidak pantas, Koalisi Perlindungan Orangutan Tapanuli yang terdiri dari Mighty Earth, organisasi asal Amerika Serikat yang memang fokus pada pelestarian hutan tropis termasuk biota di dalamnya bersama 3 LSM Indonesia yakni Center of Orangutan Protection (COP), Orangutan Information Centre (OIC) dan Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) menyatakan bahwa melindungi spesies langka, terlebih baru ditemukan dan terancam habitatnya tanggung jawab bersama.

Panut Hadisiswoyo, Founding Director Orangutan Information Center, juga membantah bahwa anggapan intervensi asing dalam upaya penutupan proyek tersebut dinilai tidak pantas. Bahkan Panut membandingan dengan pendanaan dan kepemilikan proyek PLTA PT NSHE yang berasal dari Tiongkok.

“Ironisnya, apakah pembiayaan proyek oleh Bank of China dan kepemilikan oleh perusahaan hydroelectric raksasa dari Tiongkok, Sinohydro bukan termasuk intervensi asing? Sebagai investor, tentunya memiliki hak dalam kebijakan dari proyek tersebut,” ujar Panut. “Bank of China sendiri menyatakan dalam respon terhadap tekanan organisasi lingkungan bahwa Tiongkok mendukung perlindungan lingkungan secara global dan menegakkan prinsip pembiayaan hijau. Ini berarti bahwa Tiongkok mengakui bahwa negara-negara asing memang berkewajiban mendukung pelestarian lingkungan secara global.”

Waduk yang akan dibangun di Sungai Batang Toru, Sumatera Utara bersama perusahaan dari Tiongkok, Sinohydro dengan dana dari Bank of China ini dinilai mengancam spesies orangutan terbaru dan mata pencaharian penduduk asli di sana.

“Ketika kami mendukung tenaga air dengan teknik run-of-the river, bendungan yang dibangun di Batang Toru tidak sesuai dengan definisi tersebut. Saat pemerintah menggalakan pariwisata melalui kampanye ‘Wonderful Indonesia’, kita semua tidak bisa membiarkan proyek pembangunan PLTA Batang Toru ini mengancam kelangsungan hidup Orangutan Tapanuli – bagian dari warisan alam Indonesia yang menakjubkan dan baru saja ditemukan,” Glenn Hurowitz, CEO Mighty Earth menjelaskan.

Kecaman terhadap pembangunan proyek PLTA Batang Toru bukan tanpa alasan. Selain dari ancaman kepunahan spesies yang hanya hidup di hutan Batang Toru ini, ada banyak kekhawatiran jangka panjang yang akan terjadi ketika PLTA tersebut selesai dibangun, diantaranya lokasi PLTA berada di dalam zona merah gempa, daerah hilir sungai Batang Toru memiliki tingkat kerawanan banjir yang tinggi, berkurangnya debit air bagi masyarakat bantaran sungai, khususnya di hilir yang merupakan lokasi proyek senilai US$ 1,6 juta tersebut. Potensi resiko yang tidak sebanding dengan manfaat dari PLTA tersebut sudah disuarakan sejak awal, namun proyek tersebut tetap dilanjutkan, seolah-olah mengesampingkan pendapat para ahli dan masyarakat.

Orangutan Tapanuli baru dikukuhkan pada awal November 2017 sebagai spesies baru yang berbeda dari Orangutan Sumatera dan Kalimantan setelah ditemukan bayi kembar di Hutan Batang Toru. Para peneliti menilai masih ada harapan untuk menggabungkan habitat Orangutan tersebut di daerah hilir untuk mencegah kepunahan, namun lokasi tersebut menjadi titik utama proyek pembangunan PLTA yang dibangun oleh PT NSHE.

“Saya tidak terkejut dengan tudingan tentang kepentingan asing. Sudah biasa terjadi dalam kontroversi lingkungan hidup. Ketika argumentasi logis sudah tidak dapat dipatahkan lagi, biasa mereka menuding dengan pernyataan politik. Tentang pembabatan hutan membuka perkebunan kelapa sawit misalnya, sudah jelas telah menyebabkan genosida pada Orangutan dan juga menjadi ancaman nyata bagi harimau dan gajah, yang dilakukan malah sibuk tuding sana sini, bukannya menegakkan hukum,” jawab Hardi Baktiantoro, prinsipal Center of Orangutan Protection (COP).

Surat desakan kepada Presiden Joko Widodo dari Koalisi Perlindungan Orang Utan yang disampaikan pada Selasa, 5 Maret 2019 dan diterima oleh Kepala Staf Kepresidenan, Jenderal TNI Dr. Moeldoko, tidak hanya didukung oleh LSM asing, tapi juga oleh LSM-LSM Indonesia penggiat lingkungan, diantaranya Center of Orangutan Protection (COP), Orangutan Information Centre (OIC), Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP), Franky Samperante (PUSAKA), Farwiza Farhan (Yayasan HakA), Kusnadi Oldani (FOKUS - Forum Orangutan Sumatra), Teguh Surya (Madani) dan Karlo Lumban Raja (Sawit Watch).

Sebelumnya, sebanyak 25 ilmuan terkemuka dunia tergabung dalam Allliance of Leading Environmental Researchers and Thinkers (ALERT) mengirimkan surat kepada Presiden Joko Widodo pada Selasa, (10/7/18) melalui Kantor Staf Presiden (KSP) di Jakarta. Hal ini membuktikan bahwa protes atas proyek pembangunan PLTA tersebut murni karena perjuangan untuk menyelamatkan habitat Orangutan Tapanuli beserta ekosistem di sekitar Batang Toru dari ulah manusia.

“Ini adalah wujud aksi bersama untuk pelestarian ekosistem dan lingkungan khususnya di Batang Toru dan dunia pada umumnya. Jadi menyuarakan perlindungan lingkungan oleh warga atau organisasi asing bukanlah intervensi tapi memang sudah menjadi kewajiban bagi setiap individu yang masih hidup di planet bumi.” lanjut Panut.

Melihat potensi alam di Tapanuli, Sumatera Utara, PLTA bukan lah satu-satunya solusi bagi kebutuhan listrik bagi masyarakat sekitar. Masih banyak opsi lain salah satunya Pembangkit Listrik Tenaga Panas Bumi (PLTP) Sarulla yang sudah beroperasi dan memiliki total kapasitas sebesar 3x110 MW, dan merupakan salah satu PLTP terbesar di dunia. Jika memang PLTA dianggap sebagai solusi bagi realisasi komitmen Pemerintah Indonesia atas Persetujuan Paris dalam memitigasi pemanasan global dan perubahan iklim. pemilihan lokasi yang dirasa kurang layak dan terkesan dipaksakan walaupun setelah ada bukti ditemukannya habitat Orangutan langka di area tersebut juga menjadi tanda tanya besar bagi para peneliti, ahli dan organisasi lingkungan sehingga muncul aksi protes atas AMDAL yang dilakukan dan perijinan proyek tersebut.

“Kami percaya pemerintah Indoensia mampu mengambil tindakan untuk melindungi keajaiban alam Indonesia dan spesies yang terancam punah, seperti yang dilakukan tahun 2016 saat rencana pembangunan pembangkit panas bumi di Taman Nasional Gunung Leuser ditolak. Pembicaraan kamu baik itu dengan pemerintah maupun PT NSHE sudah jelas bahwa kami dengan senang hati akan membantu mencari lokasi yang lebih baik untuk run-of-the-river hydropower dan mengembangkan beberapa alternatif lain, termasuk bagaimana menambah kapasitas PLTP Sarulla untuk mencukupi kebutuhan energi di daerah Sumatera Utara dan sekitarnya,” ujar Glenn.(*)

Indonesian Coalition Urges Government to Save Tapanuli Orangutan, Protect “Wonderful Indonesia”

Indonesian Coalition Urges Government to Save Tapanuli Orangutan, Protect “Wonderful Indonesia”


Controversial US$ 1.6 billion dam project backed by China and Dharmawangsa Group threatens extinction of the rare Pongo tapanuliensis orangutan 

JAKARTA, INDONESIA – The stage is set for a crucial showdown in a long-running battle to save a newly discovered rare species of orangutan from possible extinction at the hands of a planned US$ 1.6 billion hydroelectric dam project. The state administrative court in Medan ruled Monday in narrow terms that it would not halt the construction of the dam. In the wake of that decision, a coalition of Indonesian organizations and international leaders is calling on the government to cancel the dam project and protect the ecosystem for the long term.

A letter urging cancellation of the project was delivered today to President Joko Widodo. Signatories include representatives of the Orangutan Information Centre, Center for Orangutan Protection, PUSAKA, Yayasan HAkA, FOKUS, Madani, Sawit Watch;  international leaders including former U.S. Congressman Henry Waxman (Mighty Earth, Chairman), former U.S. Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, former U.S. Congressman and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Howard Berman, former U.S. Congressman George Miller, the Honorable Zac Goldsmith (MP United Kingdom), former U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Robert Blake, Jr. (Board Co-Chair, US-Indonesia Society), former U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Cameron Hume, and more.

The proposed dam project, being constructed on the Batang Toru River, North Sumatra, by Chinese hydroelectric giant Sinohydro with financing from the Bank of China threatens the newly discovered Tapanuli orangutan species, as well as thousands of local people whose livelihoods will be put at risk.

The Tapanuli orangutan was only identified as a new species in 2017, the seventh great ape species in the world. Despite being newly identified, it is already perilously close to extinction with a population now numbering less than 800 individuals. It is estimated that the population has almost halved since 1985, and that it will continue to decline unless comprehensive protection measures are implemented.

The US$ 1.6 billion hydroelectric power plant, the largest on the island of Sumatra, is scheduled for completion by 2022. However, the dam was planned before the identification of the Tapanuli orangutan – meaning the environmental planning process didn’t consider the risk of extinction to this species.

The ownership of the project, considered part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, is a maze of overlapping Indonesian and Chinese entities, Chinese finance, and the Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro.

“Chinese investment has the potential to do a lot of good, but this project risks tarring the reputation of the Belt and Road Initiative,” said Panut Hadisiwoyo, Founding Director of the Orangutan Information Centre (OIC). “We hope that the Chinese government will reconsider this project in light of the discovery of the Tapanuli orangutan: can you imagine a foreign-funded project that threatens the Giant Panda with extinction ever being approved?”

One potential beneficiary of the dam is the nearby the Martabe gold mine, which is currently set to expand further into Tapanuli orangutan habitat. The mine is owned by a subsidiary of the giant British conglomerate Jardines Matheson, which has previously been criticized for its palm oil subsidiary’s tens of thousands of acres of deforestation of Sumatran orangutan habitat.

“Jardines has already profited from destroying tens of thousands of acres of Indonesian forests, and now it’s trying to mine gold that would forever be linked to the deaths of Tapanuli orangutans,” said Glenn Hurowitz, CEO Mighty Earth, an organization that has urged Jardines to help protect the Tapanuli. “Nobody wants to buy a gold necklace or wedding ring that is associated with killing an endangered species.”

The Dharma Hydro company, part of the Dharmawangsa Group, is also linked to the project. Dharma Hydro is the largest shareholder in North Sumatra Hydro Energy (NSHE), the company behind the dam project. Paradoxically, even as it helps develop a dam that would inundate habitat of the world’s rarest great ape, the Dharmawangsa Group is marketing a new resort it is developing on the island of Beilitung as an “eco resort.”

Environmental assessments have found that the construction and operation of the dam and power plant will also threaten the livelihoods of thousands of downstream local residents who rely on the river’s ecosystem for their survival for fisheries, agriculture, transport, and daily water needs.

Photo: Andrew Walmsley

“The Indonesian government spends millions of dollars on advertising to promote our natural treasures through the ‘Wonderful Indonesia’ campaign,” said Hardi Baktiantoro from Center of Orangutan Protection, who also joined the interview. “President Jokowi should protect that investment by focusing on responsible energy and infrastructure projects that can meet our power needs while protecting Indonesia’s wildlife.”

These enormous threats likely would come with few benefits. The dam has among the lowest benefit-to-cost ratios of any planned hydro-energy project in the region. It would operate only during peak times and carries projected cost of over US$1.6 billion.  NSHE is also planning to build the dam in an area of intense geological activity, putting the project and surrounding communities at risk of earthquakes with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Reports have documented that there is no pressing need for the energy that would be produced by the dam and shown that there are viable alternatives for energy production in the region. For example, the nearby 330 MW Sarulla geothermal project produces clean energy and can be upgraded to 1 GW if needed to meet the flexible or peak load power needs the dam is supposedly designed to address – and all without posing a risk to the Tapanuli orangutan.

“Indonesia can meet its infrastructure and energy needs without threatening the Tapanuli orangutan or wasting massive amounts of money on the Batang Toru dam – there are options for geothermal, solar power, or even smaller, less expensive and damaging hydro projects,” said Arrum from Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme. “Ultimately, it is going to be us, the Indonesian people, that will have to pay back this enormous loan in our electricity bills”.

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