Hunting, loss of habitat halves orangutan population in Borneo

Hunting, loss of habitat halves orangutan population in Borneo

Orangutans, which inhabit both the Indonesian and Malaysian sides of Borneo, as well as the Indonesian region of Sumatra, are an endangered species, with some populations critically endangered.

It has been widely assumed that the main threat to Bornean orangutans is the destruction of their forest habitat, due to deforestation and the expansion of oil palm plantations.

Hunting by people, habitation by industries and deforestation has led to a drop of about 50% in the orangutan population on the island of Borneo from 1999 to 2015.

"In these forest areas human pressures, such as conflict killing, poaching, and the collection of baby orangutans for the pet trade have probably been the major drivers of decline", the authors of the study said. Now, NPR's Merrit Kennedy reports, the island of Borneo is home to just 70,000 to 100,000 orangutans. This implies a large role of killing'.

"The orangutans are not their preferred prey species".

They extrapolated the overall size of the island's population from the number of orangutan nests observed throughout the species' range in Borneo.

"People have hunted orangutans for their meat on Borneo since they colonised the area, as they hunt any other edible animal", said biologist Maria Voigt of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. By analysing separate populations of orangutans, they found that only about half (38 of 64) of these groups contained more than 100 individuals, enough to maintain a viable population.

Around half of the orangutans living on the island of Borneo, the largest island in Asia, were lost as a result of changes in land cover. "More than 70 percent of the orangutans lost are in the forest".

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Emma Keller, agricultural commodities manager for the WWF told MailOnline: 'Orangutans are disappearing at an alarming rate.

The researchers calculated a population decrease of about 148,500 during that 16-year period and projected another drop of 45,000 by 2050, painting a bleak picture for the future of these shaggy reddish tree dwellers that are among the world's most imperiled great apes.

"Immediate action is needed to reform industries that have pushed orangutans to the brink of extinction".

Although these killings occur on a relatively small scale, they have an enormous impact on the orangutan population-partly because the ape's reproductive cycle lasts six to eight years.

Public education and awareness will also be key. The researchers estimated orangutan numbers by tracking the animals' nests and comparing these figures to historical data on land-use.

Professor Serge Wich said that although the apes may be eating crops, they are not risky. But they also take one when encountered.

A study published in the journal, Current Biology, showed that the rate of orangutan decline is now larger than ever, despite the population being bigger than previously thought.

By taking into account past failures, the hope is that new strategies to protect orangutans can be developed and implemented.

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