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Brush fires are endangering protected wildlife in Indonesia

Wildfires are threatening the survival of thousands of rare and protected animals - from orangutans to iguanas - in a tinder-dry national park on the Indonesian island of Borneo, a wildlife official said Friday.

Maulana Budi, deputy chief of Kutai National Park in East Kalimantan province, said officials feared for the park's endangered population of about 50 orangutans, as well as for 500 proboscis monkeys.Bears, crocodiles, snakes, iguanas, buffaloes and deer were also in danger from flames and choking smoke. More than half of Borneo's bird species are found in the park, about 850 miles northeast of Jakarta.

Last year, authorities said at least 120 orangutans were tortured or killed by residents as the primates were forced out of their habitat by wildfires raging on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.

The current fires were first detected Jan. 31 and have spread quickly through the southern part of the 500,000-acre wildlife reserve. Flames also were burning near a research center that studies rare species.

"Now automatically, their instincts make the animals migrate north to the other parts of the park where they can find water and avoid the smog," Maulana said.

He said about 60 park rangers and 500 local people have been trying to contain the fires with water trucks and bulldozers. A water bomber plane was expected to arrive at the scene in the next few days.

Fires on other parts of Borneo have produced thick palls of smoke that caused two regional airports to close temporarily because of poor visibility, and residents have complained about chok-ing smoke.

Parts of the neighboring island of Maluku have also faced fires recently.

Indonesia faced a major ecological disaster last year when hundreds of forest fires burned across the archipelago.

The blazes blackened millions of acres and produced thick smog across a large slice of Southeast Asia, threatening the health of millions of people.

Seasonal rains doused most of the fires by December. However, some areas have become dry again, allowing flames to take hold once more.

Meteorologists blame the drought on El Nino, a weather-changing phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean.