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Orangutan populations drop due to logging, expansion for palm oil

Orangutan populations drop due to logging, palm oil expansion

Orangutan populations drop due to logging, expansion for palm oil
July 5, 2008

Orangutan populations have fallen sharply on the two islands where they still live, reports a new study published in the journal Oryx.

Surveying wild populations of the red ape, researchers led by Serge Wich of the Iowa-based Great Ape Trust estimate that the number of orangutans on the island of Sumatra was around 6,600 in 2004, or about 12 percent lower than previously believed. They note that around ten percent of Borneo’s orangutan habitat has been lost since that year, suggesting a similar decline from the 54,000 individuals estimate to live on the island in 2004.

The authors blamed logging and the expansion of oil palm plantations for the drop and said that without urgent action, some populations of orangutan could go extinct in the wild.

Orangutan in Borneo.

“It is clear that the Sumatran orangutan is in rapid decline and unless extraordinary efforts are made soon, it could become the first great ape species to go extinct,” the scientists wrote. “Although these revised estimates for Borneo are encouraging, forest loss and associated loss of orangutans are occurring at an alarming rate, and suggest that recent reductions of Bornean orangutan populations have been far more severe than previously supposed.”

The study revealed that three quarters of all orangutans live outside of national parks, indicating that future conservation efforts will need to be focused beyond the boundaries of protected areas.

“It is essential that conservation measures are taken to protect orangutans outside national parks, and these measures will by necessity be specific to each region,” Wich and colleagues wrote.

The authors offer a series of recommendations to help slow the decline in wild orangutans, including more effective enforcement of existing laws that restrict the trade in orangutans; mechanisms to reduce human-orangutan conflict in agricultural areas, especially oil palm plantations; environmental awareness campaigns; the development of systems to monitor orangutan populations and deforestation; and continuing study of orangutans in the wild.

“It is essential that funding for environmental services reaches the local level and that there is strong law enforcement. Developing a mechanism to ensure these occur is the challenge for the conservation of orangutans,” wrote the authors.

Wich et al. (2008). Distribution and conservation status of the orangutan (Pongo spp.) on Borneo and Sumatra: How many remain?. Oryx

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