Thursday, September 08, 2005

Orang utans feel the squeeze... but there is hope in Malaysia

By Elizabeth John

The orang utan is in danger of losing almost half its habitat in the next five years.

Found only in Borneo and Sumatra, the only great ape that inhabits Asia has a bleak future, according to prediction by the United Nations Environment Programme.

However, Sarawak Forestry Corporation general manager Wilfred Landong said today the State was increasing the habitat of the orang utan and, therefore, the prediction would not apply here.

The UN’s World Atlas of Great Apes and their Conservation predicts that orang utans in Malaysia and Indonesia could lose 47 per cent of their habitat in the next five years if the current pace of development persists.

This means that by 2032, 99 per cent of orang utan habitat will suffer medium to high impacts from human development. Fewer than 250 wild Sumatran orang utans may exist in the next 50 years due to habitat destruction.

The assessment says poverty in the host countries, growing demand for bush meat, habitat destruction and fragmentation as well as disease are major threats facing the great apes.

Meanwhile, another threat to the orang utan was highlighted today in a separate report by the international wildlife monitoring network Traffic.

It says hundreds of orang utans are either killed or captured every year in Kalimantan, with many of the young sold as pets.

The Atlas, edited at the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, is the most comprehensive compendium of information on great apes ever compiled.

It maps the impact of infrastructure development on six species of wild great apes — the eastern and western gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo, and the Sumatran and Bornean orang utan.

It brings together the latest research and observations from scientists throughout the world, including contributions from British primatologist Jane Goodall and paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey.

Information from the Atlas is being used to focus international attention on an 11th-hour conservation effort aimed at saving the world’s great apes.

This week, countries with great apes are gathering in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, for the first inter-governmental meeting on great apes in the Great Apes Survival Project (Grasp).

A global conservation strategy is expected to be adopted at the meeting.

Malaysia is the only country with orang utans which did not send a delegate to the meeting.

When contacted, Landong said they could not send a delegate as they received the notice of the meeting late.

He said senior officers weren’t able to withdraw from commitments to national environmental meetings.

Responding to the report, Landong said it was not relevant to Sarawak as the State was increasing orang utan habitat.

He said there were an estimated 1,500 orang utans in the Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary and Batang Air National Park, a contiguous area of over 200,000 hectares bordering Indonesia.

The State was in the process of gazetting more protected areas, including expanding the Lanjak-Entimau sanctuary, he added.

Sabah Wildlife assistant director Augustine Tuuga said they did not send a delegate to the meeting either.

"We felt it was not necessary to join Grasp," he said when contacted today.

Sabah is estimated to have an orang utan population of about 14,000.

Group: They are still traded in Indonesia

ALTHOUGH they are protected by legislation, each year between 200 and 500 Bornean orang utans are traded in Kalimantan, Java and Bali, a report reveals.

Most are sold as pets, according to a two-year study of wildlife markets, private owners, zoological gardens, rescue centres and reintroduction programmes.

An individual orang utan can sell for about US$400 (RM1,500) in Java, about two or three times the original price paid to hunters in Kalimantan.

The report, Hanging in the Balance: An Assessment of the Trade in Orangutans and Gibbons on Kalimantan, Indonesia, was released by wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic Southeast Asia yesterday.

With already low populations, annual removal in such high numbers from the wild could be a death sentence for the population.

Besides hunting and trade to satisfy the demand for pets, orang utans and gibbons in Kalimantan also suffer from the loss of their forest habitat to logging, agriculture and forest fires.
The forests of Kalimantan are home to the Bornean orang utan, Pongo pygmaeus, and two species of gibbon, the Bornean White-bearded gibbon, Hylobates albibarbis, and Müller’s gibbon, H. muelleri. All three are only found here.

From Pontianak, orang utans were allegedly being transported not only to Sarawak but also to Singapore, peninsular Malaysia and on cargo ships to other parts of Asia, noted the report.

However, most were likely to end up being sold within Indonesia, it said.

The main reason for the killing of an adult orang utan or gibbon was to obtain the young. For most orang utans seen in trade, one other, usually its mother, had been killed, said the report.

This means the actual number of orang utans killed or captured each year is likely to be even higher.

Courtesy of New Straits Times

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