Conservationists urged Yousaf to take action on the dam's threat to the rare orangutan

Conservationists urged Yousaf to take action on the dam’s threat to the rare orangutan

Scotland’s First Minister is being urged to intervene in a row over the construction of a new dam in Indonesia – a project conservationists fear could impact the world’s rarest primate.

Campaigners from the Mighty Earth group say the Scottish Government is “well placed to do its part” as the company building the building also owns and operates wind farms in Scotland.

The China State Development and Investment Corporation (SDIC) is currently building the Batang Toru dam in northern Sumatra, and the project is said to be located in the heart of the natural habitat of the rare Tapanuli orangutan.

Out of more than 800 extant species, the Tapanuli orangutan is listed by the World Wildlife Fund as the most endangered of all great apes.

As Beijing-based SDIC Power has a subsidiary firm, Red Rock Power, headquartered in Edinburgh, Scottish Government ministers are now being forced to intervene.

The letter was sent to Humza Yousaf, together with the minister of ecology Lorna Slater, from a group of Scottish, Indonesian and international groups, and concerned scientists.

The groups, including Mighty Earth, Friends of the Earth Scotland, the Primate Society of Great Britain and Orangutan Outreach, told Mr Yousaf that “getting profits from Scottish renewable resources into a controversial project” would undermine Scotland’s position. “a world leader in biodiversity conservation”.

Mr Yousaf and Ms Slater are now being asked to “formally raise the matter with SDIC and Red Rock Power, and call a meeting between the dam developers and independent scientists”.

Amanda Horowitz, senior director at Mighty Earth, said “the home of the Tapanuli orangutan in the Batang Toru forests of Sumatra is being destroyed by the construction of an unnecessary and toxic dam project”.

He added: “Calls for action are coming from all over the world and, as unexpected as it may seem, the Scottish government is ready to do its part and call an urgent meeting between developers and conservation scientists around the world.

“The threat is urgent and there is no time to lose if we are going to save a species, some of our closest relatives, from extinction.”

Andi Muttaqien, of the Indonesian group Satya Bumi, said: “Who are the beneficiaries of the Batang Toru dam? Obviously not the orangutans of Tapanuli, which live under threat…

“It is possible that the electricity of this dam was needed in 2015, but now, after eight years of construction, there is an excess of electricity in this area, the electricity is expected to be sold at an excessive price.”

Serge Wich, professor of primate biology at Liverpool John Moores University, said: “The Tapanuli orangutan was only identified in 2017, but its population is estimated to have halved since the 1980s.

“Now, there are less than 800 left and that’s more than 10 years ago so the numbers are probably lower now because of the development of the hydroelectric dam and other activities in the area.

“If the number of adults declines by 1% per year – that is less than eight people – genetic diversity may decline to the point of no return. So we have to stop any development in this area to avoid further losses. “

Labor MSP Monica Lennon, who took an interest in the issue, said: “Scotland is a key player in international development and this is a test of our role on the world stage.

“Is this country as supportive of living things, environmental rights and worker safety as we would like to think?

“Scottish ministers may not be able to stop this project outright, but the fact that the dam developers are working in Scotland gives us a rare opportunity to use ‘soft power’ to protect workers’ rights, stop ecocide and save the world’s most endangered ape.”

Both the Scottish Government and Red Rock Power have been contacted for comment.

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