Daily Mail UK

Richard Shears.  March 29, 2012

Hundreds of orangutans are believed to have died in fires deliberately lit by palm oil companies.

Conservationists say the rare Sumatran orangutan could be wiped out within weeks.

‘It is no longer several years away, but just a few months or even weeks before this iconic creature disappears,’ said Briton Ian Singleton, of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme.

 Shocking: Hundreds of orangutans are believed to have died in fires deliberately lit by palm oil companies Tripa forest on the coast of Aceh province in northern Indonesia

Shocking: Hundreds of orangutans are believed to have died in fires deliberately lit by palm oil companies inTripa forest on the coast of Aceh province in northern Indonesia

 The apes, which live in the Tripa forest on the coast of Aceh province in northern Indonesia, have had to flee the flames as fires wipe out their habitat – and palm oil companies have been blamed for starting the blazes.

The companies have already been accused of offering a bounty for the heads of orang-utans in Borneo after blaming the animals for destroying their young palm trees – but conservationists say the animals have had to encroach on the plantations because their own habitats have been destroyed.

The Daily Mail revealed the bounty hunt earlier this year with a sad photo of a mother trying to protect her baby as Indonesian palm oil workers moved in for the kill.

Fortunately on that occasion wildlife officials were on hand to rescue the pair and move them to a safe area.

Sad: The apes have had to flee the flames as fires wipe out their habitat ¿ and palm oil companies have been blamed for starting the blazesSad: The apes have had to flee the flames as fires wipe out their habitat and palm oil companies have been blamed for starting the blazes

Now the new threat to the Sumatran orangutan has erupted in the officially protected Tripa forest, which is hemmed in by palm oil plantations.

Land clearing fires have been started inside the forest, resulting in the animals fleeing – but hundreds are feared to have died in the flames because Indonesians in the employ of the palm oil companies have been accused of driving them back into the flames.

Dr Singleton, originally from Hull, said the remaining orangutans will die either in the fires or of gradual starvation and malnutrition as their food resources disappear.

He added: ‘We are currently watching a global tragedy.’