April 22, 2020

Indonesia enforcing measures to protect orangutans from COVID-19 outbreak

JAKARTA ( - Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya has taken clear steps to implement protocols to prevent the potential infection of wildlife with COVID-19, in particular Sumatran, Tapanuli and Bornean orangutans.

“We all find ourselves in a difficult time on Earth Day this year. Of course, we also have an obligation to break the chain of potential transmission of COVID-19 to wildlife, especially to orangutans,” Minister Nurbaya explained in a written message to (Apr 21).

“Measures and protocols related to efforts to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 to wildlife are already in place. A number of observations continue to be conducted to prevent this from happening,” she added.

Indonesia has the largest expanse of orangutan habitat and highest orangutan population in the world. As COVID-19 continues to spread, there are mounting relevant concerns about the potential threat of transmission of the disease to orangutans in Indonesia. 

"We are talking about the fate of more than 71 thousand orangutans in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo, which we need to make sure do not get infected with COVID-19. These include quite significant populations of orangutans living in existing forestry and palm oil concessions," the minister explained.

The first photo below is of a Sumatran orangutan and her child (taken from a 2019 ministry report). The second photo is of a Bornean orangutan which recently gave birth in late March this year, while the third photo, documented by the ministry report (2019), is of a Tapanuli orangutan with her child.

"In this COVID-19 situation, to protect potential transmissions of the coronavirus to wildlife, especially orangutans, efforts on the ground must of course be carried out while still adopting strict protocols," the minister explained. 

Efforts continuing

Minister Nurbaya also confirmed that efforts to break COVID-19 transmission chains, both among humans as well as potential transmissions to wildlife, especially orangutans, continue to be prioritized in the sector she oversees, by undertaking a number of legal moves.

In early February, the ministry ordered its local offices across the country that are responsible for national parks and other conservation areas to take actions on the ground to prevent the potential infection of wildlife with COVID-19.  

In the third week of March, the ministry also delivered to its local offices the measures and protocols involved in efforts aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 to wildlife in zoos, wildlife rehabilitation centers, wildlife conservation centers and training centers, as well as to holders of wildlife breeding permits. 

Furthermore, in early April, the ministry also provided technical guidance on preventing an outbreak of COVID-19 among wildlife.

“Legal efforts are also required to protect wildlife from potential infection by COVID-19 as this is related to the President’s order to refocus priorities and budgets, including for the purposes of COVID-19 prevention, especially with the parliament,” the minister asserted.

Minister Nurbaya also used the opportunity of Earth Day to quote part of a recent speech by President Joko Widodo concerning efforts to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 to wildlife: “Let's continue to keep our hopes up by taking measurable actions to break the chain of transmission of COVID-19 to wildlife, especially orangutans.”

As previously reported by (Apr 2), the minister has also closed 81 zoos across 20 provinces to tourism in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 between humans as well as potential transmissions to wildlife.



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