In the jungles of Sumatra, a $1.5B hydro plant and 800 orangutans are fighting a deathmatch

A new hydropower project in Sumatra is putting a critically endangered population of 800 remaining orangutans at risk of extinction.


March 7, 2019

The Batang Toru forest in North Sumatra is home to the rarest great ape species on earth, the Tapanuli orangutan (first identified as a distinct species in 2017). 

But if the Chinese energy company Sinohydro gets its way, it could also soon become the home of a massive, $1.5B dam — a project intended to generate hydroelectric energy for the region.

But, as cliché would have it, it could also wipe out the endangered apes.

A high-stakes boxing match

In one corner, we have a multibillion-dollar Chinese energy corporation trying to bring clean energy to residents of the remote region of Indonesia — enough to power around 500k homes.

But in the other corner, we have a large portion of the critically endangered population of Tapanuli orangutans living in the proposed spot for the dam, making it particularly dangerous to the primates.

One scientist said the government’s decision to allow the dam “will put the orangutans on a firm path to extinction.” A local environmental group even sued the government but lost its case.

This isn’t the first time

Between 1993 and 2016, businesses destroyed a wilderness area 2x the size of Alaska (mostly in the Amazon), endangering local populations of plants and animals for decades.

This time around, local groups want to learn from the lessons of the Amazon: The environmental group that lost its suit plans to appeal the ruling. In the meantime, Sinohydro plans to keep its bulldozers running.

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