Indonesia: Orangutans in big trouble

Graham Land | Asian Correspondent

The palm oil, paper and timber industries in Indonesia are killing orangutans – literally driving the species into extinction.

Just over one hundred years ago the wild orangutan population is estimated to have been 350,000. Today there are less than 50,000. Their habitat has shrunk by 80%.

Deforestation and forest fires in Tripa Peat Swamp, Leuser Ecosystem, Indonesia. Prime orangutan habitat decimated for palm oil plantation.

The orangutan population in Tripa peat swamp forest, located in Indonesia’s Aceh province, declined by 80% due to poaching, illegal logging and deforestation to make way for palm plantations. Indonesia’s moratorium on deforestation has no teeth, meaning death for orangutans and other species as well as serious other environmental implications, not least among them climate change.

Tripa forest contains the largest population of Sumatran orangutans and is home to the rare Sumatran tiger. Humans are also victims of deforestation, as their water supplies are diverted for use on palm plantations.

See this photo essay in the Guardian for more.

Wildfires, illegal wildlife traders, hunters and uninformed individuals who keep orangs as pets are all contributing to the great ape’s decline. On Indonesian Borneo orangutans are increasingly pushed into villages, where they may be killed, captured and kept as pets, or illegally sold. Local university students there recently found an orangutan which had been displaced by a palm oil firm and handed it over to wildlife authorities.

From the Jakarta Globe:

The rate at which the animals were being driven out of their natural habitats by companies clearing forests for plantations and coal mines has increased the amount of human-orangutan conflict in the area, the students said.

Orangutans are highly intelligent, solitary great apes who require forest land to live in and space to forage for food. Wild orangs have been documented manufacturing and using tools, while those in captivity are even using iPads at a zoo in the United States.

field report from the Brookings Institution further explores the plight of orangutans due to illegal logging and mining in Indonesia. Here is an excerpt:

On either side of the road, there was little forest left – just palms as far as the eye could see. It was not clear to us where the orangutans would be going or why – perhaps there is so little food left in the forest that even here, in a national park, they are forced to eat the insides of the African oil palms, a foraging coping mechanism that frequently puts them in conflict with people and gets them killed.


About endoftheicons

The Leuser Ecosystem on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia is in grave danger. Local politicians want to allow logging, mining and palm oil plantations in this vulnerable area. Sumatran orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers are already hanging on by a thread. They will not survive the destruction of the Leuser Ecosystem.

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