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Google Earth animation reveals Indonesian forest targeted for destruction by pulp and paper companies

A new animation created using Google Earth offers a tour of an area of forest slated for destruction by logging companies.

The animation, created by WWF-Indonesia and David Tryse, with technical assistance from Google Earth Outreach, highlights the rainforest of the Bukit Tigapuluh landscape in Sumatra, the only island in the world that is home to Sumatran tigers, elephants, rhinos, and orangutans. All of these species are considered endangered or critically endangered due to habitat destruction or poaching.

Bukit Tigapuluh’s forests are among the most biodiverse in Sumatra and scientists consider them a top priority for conservation due to the large-scale destruction of the majority of the island’s lowland rainforests. A section of the landscape is protected in Bukit Tigapuluh National Park, but most of this consists of upland forest, which while threatened, is less endangered than lowland forest. Most of the lowland forest lies outside protected areas and is already concessioned for logging by companies that are owned by, or supply, three major forestry conglomerates: Barito Pacific Group, Asia Paper Resources International Limited (APRIL), and Sinar Mas Group, which controls Asia Pulp & Paper (APP).

sumatra google earth image

sumatra google earth image
Screen captures of the Google Earth tour.

All three groups have been accused by green NGOs of egregious environmental harm, including clearing key forest habitat and building roads that enable illegal conversion of forest for oil palm plantations and croplands. While APP says it is planning to establish a wildlife corridor in the area, it still plans to source pulp from natural forests WWF-Indonesia and other groups say is critical for wildlife. APP’s sourcing of pulp from natural forests is controversial because it has previously reneged on commitments to phase out the use of fiber from such areas. APP has also been linked to a public relations campaign that has sought to undermine WWF-Indonesia and other environmental groups working to safeguard Bukit Tigapuluh as well as criticize companies that have implemented environmental safeguards in their sourcing policies.

The new animation shows areas of forest in the Bukit Tigapuluh that are currently zoned for conversion, overlaid with maps of wildlife habitat. It includes pictures of tigers recently caught on film by camera traps in one of the areas to be cleared by Barito Pacific.

Google Earth tours are increasingly used by civil society organizations to tell their stories. The practice started when Rebecca Moore, a Google engineer who is now head of Google Earth Outreach, launched her own campaign against a logging project near her home in the Santa Cruz mountains in California. That animation proved so effective in rallying local opposition to the project that logging was cancelled. Since then groups like the Amazon Conservation Team and Amazon Watch have leveraged the tool to support campaigns on behalf of indigenous groups battling illegal loggers and a massive Amazon dam.

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