A recent survey by Wich and his 15 colleagues found the orangutan population on Indonesia's Sumatra island dropped nearly 14 percent since 2004 to 6,600. Orangutans could be extinct by 2011.
World's largest wild orangutan population to extinct in 3 years
Endangered orangutans could become the first great ape to become extinct if urgent action isn't taken to protect the species from human encroachment in Southeast Asia, a new study says.
An orangutan on Indonesia's Sumatra island. Photo: EFE
The number of orangutans in Indonesia and Malaysia has declined sharply since 2004, mostly because of illegal logging and the expansion of palm oil plantations, said Serge Wich, a scientist at the Great Ape Trust in the U.S. state of Iowa, on Saturday.
A recent survey by Wich and his 15 colleagues found the orangutan population on Indonesia's Sumatra island dropped nearly 14 percent since 2004 to 6,600. No giant apes were found in parts of Aceh province.
The study, which appears in this month's peer-reviewed science journal Oryx, discovered the population on Malaysia's Borneo island fell by 10 percent to 49,600 apes. "It's disappointing that there are still declines even though there have been quite a lot of conservation efforts over the past 30 years", Wich said. The orangutan losses on Borneo were occurring at an "alarming rate", and researchers described the situation on Sumatra as a "rapid decline". "Unless extraordinary efforts are made soon, it could become the first great ape species to go extinct", the researchers wrote.
The study is the latest in a long line of research that has predicted the demise of orangutans, which are only found in Indonesia and Malaysia. In May, the Center for Orangutan Protection said just 20,000 of the endangered primates remain in the tropical jungle of Central Kalimantan on Borneo island, down from 31,300 in 2004. Based on that estimate it concluded orangutans there could be extinct by 2011.
Rate of declining increasing
Michelle Desilets, director of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation UK, praised the new study as a comprehensive look at the orangutan population in an e-mail interview. Desilets was not involved in the research. "What matters is that the rate of decline is increasing, and unless something is done, the wild orangutan is on a quick spiral towards extinction, whether in two years, five years or 10 years", she said.
Indonesia and Malaysia, the world's top palm oil producers, have aggressively pushed to expand plantations amid a rising demand for biofuels, which are considered cleaner burning and cheaper than petrol. Wich and his colleagues said there was room for "cautious optimism" that the orangutan could be saved.
They noted that Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced a major initiative to save the nation's orangutans at a U.N. climate conference last year, and the Aceh governor declared a moratorium on logging. Coupled with that are expectations that Indonesia will protect millions of acres (hectares) of forest as part of any U.N. climate pact that will go into effect in 2012. The deal is expected to include measures that will reward tropical countries like Indonesia that halt deforestation. "There are promising signs that there is a lot of political will, especially in Aceh, to protect the forest", Wich said, adding however that much more needs to be done.
In their paper, the researchers recommended that law enforcement be boosted to help reduce the hunting of orangutans for food and trade. Environmental awareness at the local level must also be increased. "It is essential that funding for environmental services reaches the local level and that there is strong law enforcement", the study says. "Developing a mechanism to ensure these occur is the challenge for the conservation of the orangutans".