World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released a video today (look for it after the jump) of illegal logging operations that were captured by a heat detecting camera trap. The camera trap was being used as part of a study of the behavior and habits of Sumatran tigers in the forest preserve of Bukit Betabuh near Bukit Tigapuluh national park in Riau province, Sumatra, Indonesia. Bukit Batabuh was made into a protected area 1994, and categorized as a limited production forest, meaning it is illegal to commercially exploit the forest.
Due to environmental pressures such as poaching and habitat loss, there are now as few as 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild in Indonesia.
In the video release, a male Sumatran tiger is shown sniffing at the camera on the 5th of May, 2010. The video cuts to a week later, on the 12th of May, showing a bulldozer clearing a path through the same forest. The clip closes with a scene from the 13th of May, showing another Sumatran tiger walking through the area that was once unbroken jungle.
The area appears to be an important area for Sumatran tigers. In the same general area, just 200 meters from where the male tiger and bulldozer were filmed, another trap camera captured video footage of a tigress and her cubs passing by in late 2009.
The road was most likely being constructed for an illegal palm oil plantation. Palm oil comes from the fruit of the oil palm tree. The tree, a tropical species, originated in West Africa, but is now grown in many parts of the world as both a food and cash crop. Part of its strength is that it is capable of producing more oil per hectare than any other major oilseed commodity, and has become widely used as a replacement for partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) in many processed foods. Additionally, palm oil is being invested in as a source for biodiesel in Indonesia, making it a lucrative crop to grow and encouraging encroachment of plantations into protected forest areas like the forests around Bukit Tigapuluh.
The WWF contacted local authorities in Riau province with the video evidence, and Ministry of Forestry is now investigating the matter, saying that if this activity is proven to be in violation of the law there will be a strong response. However, it is unknown if the illegal logging and clear-cutting has been stopped yet.