Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Depleting forest forces Orangutans to nest in oil palm estates


SANDAKAN: A new landmark study based in Sabah’s east coast has shown that orangutans in Kinabatangan have no choice but to nest in oil palm plantations as they travel from one forest patch to another.

“These findings have long term implications for the oil palm industry and those working in conservation as we have to look at a larger landscape rather than concentrate only on forested areas,” said Dr Marc Ancrenaz, the lead author of the findings published in Oryx, the international journal of conservation.

This study was carried out by research based non-governmental organisation, HUTAN – Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Programme (KOCP) and the Sabah Wildlife Department.

It began in 2008 with aerial surveys, followed by years of ground surveys and interviews with oil palm workers to investigate why the population of orangutans in the forested areas in Kinabatangan was dropping.

“Where were these missing orangutans. We knew they could not have just disappeared from the small forested areas of lower Kinabatangan. So we looked outside the forested areas and what we found, truly shocked us,” said Ancrenaz who is also scientific director of HUTAN-KOCP, in a statement yesterday.

Ancrenaz said the researchers found that orangutan nests within the oil palm landscape within small patches of trees, even single trees.

“The orangutans are not adapting to the oil palm and are using them to find other forested areas. This means the palm oil industry now has a very important role to play to sustain the long term survival of the orangutan population living in Kinabatangan and other agricultural lands in Sabah.”

The study also found the orangutans only used the oil palm plants to nest when they had no access to native trees and usually did not go too far inside with 90 percent detected within 100 metres of the forest edge, although it did find that some had roamed further inside.

“While travelling through the oil palm plantations, the orangutans will supplement their diet by eating ripe fruits collected from the oil palm plants.

However, everyone must understand that this does not mean that orangutans can survive in oil palm plantations, its like people surviving on a carrot or an olive diet only.”

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