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Orangutans persist in islands amid a sea of oil palm plantations

Orangutans persist in islands amid a sea of oil palm plantations

Orangutans persist in islands amid a sea of oil palm plantations
July 17, 2008

Orangutans are surviving in forest islands in a sea of oil palm plantations in Malaysia, reports a new survey by a government- and industry-backed conservation initiative. The finding underscores the need to protect critical forest areas for the endangered primates as forest continues to fall in southeast Asia at a rate that is the highest of any of the world’s tropical forest regions.

The Borneo Conservation Trust (BCT), a group that seeks to establish a wildlife corridor between forest fragments across the Malaysian state of Borneo, released the survey in response to recent press reports warning that the orangutan could disappear from lowland forests areas within the next 50 years.

“This initial finding is part of the effort to realize our goal towards creating a contiguous forest within the landscape and thus will benefit a wider range for wildlife habitat and movement,” said BCT Chief Executive Officer, Cyril Pinso.

Young orangutan in Borneo. Photo by Rhett Butler

Unlike many other forest species, Orangutans are capable to surviving in secondary and degraded forests provided they are large enough and have sufficient food sources. Because some plantations leave forest reserves in areas unsuitable for oil palm cultivation — such as hillsides — the apes can sometimes persist after isolation.

BCT is working with the palm oil industry to improve the capacity of plantations to support wildlife populations. Measures include protecting riparian zones and establishing forest reserves where zones where oil palm is not viable.

The industry is hoping to improve its image in response to criticism from environmental groups who say that oil palm expansion has taken a heavy toll on Southeast Asia’s forests. In April, the Malaysian Palm Oil Council held a sustainability conference to highlight efforts to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers, conserve ecologically-rich areas, and reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, including treating palm oil mill effluent.

Some producers have banded together to form the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil to establish environmental standards for the industry. Unilever, one of the world’s largest buyers of palm oil, said in May that aims to have all its palm oil certified as eco-friendly by 2015.

Orangutan populations drop due to logging, expansion for palm oil
(7/3/2008) Orangutan populations have fallen sharply on the two islands where they still live, reports a new study published in the journal Oryx.

Orangutan should become symbol of palm-oil opposition
(1/2/2008) In a letter published today in Nature, Oscar Venter, Erik Meijaard and Kerrie Wilson argue that proposals for conservation groups to purchase and run oil palm plantations for the purpose of generating funds for forest protection are unlikely to be successful. The concept was originally put forth by Lian Pin Koh and David S. Wilcove in a 2007 Nature article.

98% of orangutan habitat gone in next 15 years
(6/11/2007) Indonesia is losing more than 2.1 million hectares (5.2 million acres) of forest a year to illegal loggers, states a new report from the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP). The report, which estimates the value of illicit timbering at $4 billion annually, warns that 98 percent of Indonesia’s lowland forests will be gone by 2022, putting species like the orangutan at risk of extinction in the wild. The report, Last stand of the Orang-utan: State of Emergency, was released Monday at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species meeting in The Hague.

Orangutan population plunges 43% in Indonesia
(8/14/2006) The Wildlife Conservation Society-Indonesia Program said that Indonesia’s population of orangutans fell nearly 43 percent in the past decade, from 35,000 in 1997 to 20,000 today. The decline has been caused by ongoing forest destruction and poaching in Kalimantan (Borneo) and Sumatra, the only two islands that still support wild orangutans. Environmental groups have warned that red ape could be extinct in the wild without urgent conservation measures.

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