Monday, July 31, 2017

Forests outside of protected areas critical for orangutan

KOTA KINABALU: The Lower Kinabatangan has lost almost a third of its orangutan population in the last 16 years, following continued loss of forests outside of protected areas and further fragmentation of their habitat that is home to other wildlife, including the Borneo pygmy elephant and the proboscis monkey.

These forests outside protected areas – including privately owned and state lands – are largely composed of swamp areas that are increasingly becoming threatened in Borneo and which have poor or no economic value for oil palm due to daily or seasonal flooding events.

Long-term monitoring has revealed that the decline of orangutans has not stopped in the Lower Kinabatangan, despite this being identified as a high priority area for the primate in Sabah’s Orangutan Action Plan. It is critical to both address the future of these forests outside of protected areas and to recreate contiguous forest corridors.

The future is bleak for the Bornean orangutan, which last year moved to IUCN’s Critically Endangered category with numbers dropping from 4,000 individuals in the 1960s to 1,125 in 2001 to less than 800 today in the Lower Kinabatangan.

A study published this month in Scientific Reports indicates Sabah’s overall orangutan population has dropped by 20 per cent since the last comprehensive survey in the early 2000s, which had placed their number at 11,000 individuals.

Borneo Futures co-founder Dr Marc Ancrenaz said habitat fragmentation in Lower Kinabatangan remains a major issue with 11,000 hectares of forests outside protected areas lost in under a decade up to 2014, and over 20,000 hectares on alienated and state lands at risk of being converted for agriculture, primarily oil palm, further fragmenting the orangutan population and accelerating its decline.