JAKARTA A logging operation planned by Asia's biggest pulp producer in Indonesia's Sumatra island threatens the habitat of rare orangutans, tigers and elephants, a joint report by five conservation groups said on Tuesday.
A license has been given to a joint venture between Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and the Sinar Mas Group to clear 50,000 hectares (123,600 acres) of forest near the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Jambi to supply a nearby pulp mill, according to the report.
Peter Pratje of the Frankfurt Zoological Society said the project would destroy the forest home of 100 orangutans successfully reintroduced into the wild.
"It took scientists decades to discover how to successfully reintroduce critically endangered orangutans from captivity into the wild. It could take APP just months to destroy an important part of their new habitat," he said.
Another conservationist said the plan would also devastate the habitat of critically endangered Sumatran tigers and increase conflict with humans.
"Tigers struggling to survive as Jambi's forests shrink have already killed nine people in the area this year," said Dolly Pratna of the Zoological Society of London.
The forests are home to an estimated 100 of the last 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild, the report said.
Up to 60 endangered Sumatran elephants also used the forest area slated for clearing, the report said.
A Sinar Mas Group spokeswoman defended the plan and said the site was already earmarked for development and was not a protected forest.
"We think our presence is good to help prevent any illegal logging, and reduce trespassing of animals that could destroy crops of local farmers," said Joice Budisusanto, adding that the firm normally allocated around 30 to 40 percent of its forest concession for conservation purposes.
The five green groups -- the Sumatran Tiger Conservation and Protection Foundation, Frankfurt Zoological Society, Zoological Society of London, WWF-Indonesia and WARSI -- have sent a letter to the ministry of forestry asking it to protect the area.
Forestry ministry officials could not immediately be reached.
APP, which is part of Sinar Mas, has a combined pulp, paper and packaging capacity in Indonesia of more than 7 million tonnes, according to its web site.
Green groups have frequently accused APP of destroying natural forest in Indonesia, accusations denied by the firm.
Separately, the Center for Orangutan Protection said in a report this week that the 2002 construction of a road through the Kutai National Park in West Kalimantan had led to a 90 percent drop in orangutan numbers from an estimated 600 to between 30 to 60 in the area since 2004.
(Additional reporting by Telly Nathalia; Writing by Sunanda Creagh; Editing by Ed Davies and Sugita Katyal)