KOTA KINABALU: One hundred thousand orangutans have disappeared in the last 16 years in Borneo, a new study published last week in Current Biology, reveals.
Two Sabah-based co-authors, Dr Marc Ancrenaz, co-director of the NGO HUTAN and Dr Benoit Goossens, director of Danau Girang Field Centre and Reader at Cardiff University, took part in the study and they explain the significance of these results for Sabah and praise the government’s hard work to protect orangutans in the State.
“This figure is staggering and means a few things at the scale of Borneo, explained Ancrenaz.
“First of all, the rate of decline is much faster than what we thought, and this is worrying. If we cannot stop this decline, many more populations are going to disappear in the next few decades. It also means that there were more orangutans in the past than what we thought, and this illustrates how difficult it is to know exactly how many wild orangutans are surviving in Borneo. Counting these animals is indeed a very difficult task and most (if not all) estimates published in the past have been shown to be wrong, confirmed Ancrenaz.
He said the major reason explaining this decline is the killing that happens in non-protected and protected areas. Forest conversion for agriculture explains less than 50% of the decline. This also means that it is urgent to change our approach to conserve orangutans.
“What does that mean for Sabah, asked Goossens who said most large populations have been relatively stable for the past 20 years in the State thanks to the creation of new fully protected forests by the State government.
“The goal of the State Government to set aside 30% of its forests as totally protected areas will certainly increase the chance of survival of orangutans in Sabah, he explained after the Sabah Wildlife Department refuted and disagreed with a foreign media report that claimed over 6,000 orangutans have been killed in Sabah between 1999 and 2015.
However, Ancrenaz pointed out that severe habitat fragmentation and further land conversion could take a heavy toll on small orangutan populations. For example, data from HUTAN and Sabah Wildlife Department showed that the fragmented population of orangutans living in Lower Kinabatangan was about 1,100 in the early 2000’s. Today this population numbers less than 800 individuals.
“Hunting is not an issue in Lower Kinabatangan. This decline is explained by habitat loss and the fact that orangutans need a landscape with sufficient natural forest to survive.
“Many other small groups of animals that were isolated in the late 1990s-early 2000s because of oil palm conversion were not accounted for during the orangutan state survey of the early 2000s. Most of these small populations are now gone, he added.
Goossens said there are ways to improve the chance of long-term survival of this iconic species in Sabah.
Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Sabah doing right thing for orangutan conservation.