Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The danger of orangutan extinction

The orangutan — or “man of the forest” in Malay — is Asia’s only great ape. It ranks among the world’s most endangered species, confined mostly to the forests of Sumatra and Borneo. For more than four decades, Orangutan have attracted scientists from all over the world, generating a wealth of information on the primate’s behavior, genetics and culture.

Unfortunately, such research has not been able to provide enough protection for orangutan from the many threats they are facing.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono launched a new national orangutan conservation plan in December 2007 on the sidelines of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Bali. The plan presents the first specific and enforceable agenda for protecting the nation’s disappearing orangutan and outlines a wide array of initiatives to bolster the wild population of orangutan.

The government has issued new regulations to help protect the orangutan from habitat destruction. But these measures have so far been insufficient. The success of the plan will depend on the ability to rally people from a wide range of institutions, including NGOs, local communities and government agencies, such as the Forestry Ministry, to have the same vision on orangutan conservation.

Orangutan have extremely slow reproductive cycles and need extensive home range to support their dietary needs. Hence, the slow reproductive cycle, coupled with a high mortality rate, can take a heavy toll on the orangutan population in the wild. Many experts believe that the orangutan population is already in decline and therefore maximal efforts should be channeled toward halting their demise.

There are several essential factors threatening the existence of orangutans: Habitat loss due to changes in land use, forest fires, illegal wildlife trade, and to some extent also because of human’s need for food.

How do these threats affect their population? Can orangutans survive under these circumstances? The fact that deforestation is rapidly accelerating, due in part to the increasing demand for palm oil, which has placed an even bigger threat on orangutan conservation.

Orangutan usually need about 900 to 4,500 hectares of forests in order to find food and to mate. Over the last several decades, reports from the field suggest that conflicts between humans and orangutan are increasing. When plantations encroach on orangutan habitats, the animals become confined and are forced to eat whatever is available. There have been records of orangutan eating oil palm and causing significant damage — hence the reason why orangutan are perceived as pests. Orangutan are expendable nuisances in the eyes of plantation holders.

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