Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bridges built to help Borneo orangutans meet mates

Endangered orangutans on Borneo island are using fire hoses slung across rivers by humans to help them move around isolated forests to potentially meet new mates and boost the species' chances for survival, an environmental group said Monday.

Malaysian authorities are building more of the makeshift bridges after some orangutans were spotted using them over the past year, said Marc Ancrenaz, co–founder of French–based conservation group Hutan, which is working with Malaysian state wildlife department officials on orangutan protection.

Conservationists estimate about 11,000 orangutans live in Malaysia's Sabah state in Borneo, but many are isolated from each other because swaths of forest have been cut for development, logging and oil palm plantations.

Environmental groups and wildlife authorities have been hooking up old fire hoses strung together between trees on different sides of rivers to help orangutans — which cannot swim — swing or walk across them. The first bridge was set up seven years ago, but it was only last year that an orangutan was captured on camera using one of them.

Witnesses have seen others doing so since then, prompting officials to build more bridges.

"It takes a while for the animals to get used to it. ... If we are not able to reconnect them, they will go extinct very soon," Ancrenaz said.

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