Unique to Southeast Asia, the Orangutan is one of the most intelligent and endangered animals on the planet. Despite its protected status, it continues to be threatened by mankind’s encroachment.
We Are Their Biggest Threat
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species lists all three species of orangutans as ‘critically endangered’, placing them at the highest risk of becoming extinct.
According to IUCN estimates, in 2016 there were only about 100,000 wild orangutans left. A tragic 65 percent decrease in population compared to the 288,500 orangutans living in the wild in 1973.
The Tapanuli orangutan was only discovered to be a separate species in 2017. It is both the rarest orangutan and great ape in the wild. Fewer than 800 are thought to be living in the Batang Toru Ecosystem, North Sumatra.
Their cousins, the Bornean orangutan, lost more than half their population between 1999 and 2015 according to a 16 year study by an international team.
The researchers estimate more than 100,000 Borneo orangutans were lost and that about half of Bornean orangutans were affected by logging, deforestation or industrialised plantations.
The number of wild orangutans is expected to further decline. There could be as few as 47,000 orangutans in the wild by 2025.
Encroachment from mankind and subsequent habitat destruction, often with the goal of resource extraction, poses a huge threat to these intelligent, arboreal great apes.
In the jungles of Ketapang, West Kalimantan, an estimated population of 800 to 1000 endangered orangutans could lose their homes to big-money logging industry.
According to a BBC report in June 2018, timber companies considered ‘investors from Canada and China… building timber industries around th[e] plantation’ reason enough to begin logging in 2013.
Although there is a nearby orangutan rescue centre run by International Animal Rescue (IAR), they readily admit that they have no hope of accommodating 1000 homeless orangutans.
And the end products of the logging? Plywood, flooring and furniture, household items we buy without a thought of their source or the lives they destroy.
New rules from Jakarta have forced the logging company in Ketapang to cease operations because the area is peatland, protected by a new law and supposedly preventing logging even for existing operations.
The main reason for the ban is pressure from surrounding countries coupled with Indonesia’s own fear of the return of The Haze – it deserves capital letters because of its hugely damaging impact.
All of this is, or should be, good news for the largest orangutan population living in the wild. But what about other locations?
An International Problem
According to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), across the border in Malaysian Borneo ‘the rate of habitat loss has hit a new low in recent years’.
There are an estimated 1300 orangutans in Sarawak and about 11,000 in Sabah. Two decades ago the combined population was over 20,000, a reduction of 49 percent.
Wildlife sanctuaries, such as Lanjak-Entimau in Sarawak, and national parks have helped protect the orangutans from the encroachment of plantations.
How You Can Help
Here are a few ways you can help the orangutans:
- Support sustainable palm oil practices
- Be aware of Forest Stewardship Council certified products
- Avoid products manufactured by companies responsible for deforestation
- Support a charity like Orangutan Project, Orangutan Foundation or Sumatran Orangutan Society
As the greatest threats towards these intelligent, giant apes, the duty of preserving and protecting them is ours.
We should do our utmost to protect the Earth’s biodiversity.