Orangutans, and many other rainforest species, now face extinction. The story is complex, the drivers of deforestation are many.
All three orangutan species – Bornean, Sumatran and Tapanuli – are currently classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN Red Data List 2007). Threats to their survival began with hunting centuries ago but are now mainly attributed to mass deforestation and climate change.
Today, the Bornean orangutan population is estimated at approximately 57,350 individuals. Compared to the population estimate of 288,500 from 1973, this represents a decline of 80% in less than 50 years.
This drastic decrease in the Bornean orangutan population is primarily due to loss of forest habitat. Increasing global demand has intensified the scope of industrial agriculture, and both the extractive and lumber industries. Palm oil and coal are the biggest drivers, with palm oil production alone increasing 15-fold from 1980 to 2014. This, in conjunction with expanding urban development, seasonal forest fires, and the negative effects of global climate change, has contributed to the loss of nearly half of Indonesia’s forests since the 1950s. With no place left to go, orangutans are now more exposed than ever before, triggering human-wildlife conflict that frequently results in the illegal killing of orangutans in the name of mitigation and, to a smaller extent, for food. And all too often, baby orangutans are orphaned and exploited by the international exotic pet trade.
Both Bornean and Sumatran orangutans are listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Orangutans are legally protected by national and international law, however, laws and regulations alone have proven to be unsuccessful in actively protecting this charismatic species.
Battling the modern threats that challenge orangutan conservation requires comprehensive and multifaceted solutions undertaken by stakeholders from every industry. From conservation NGOs and consumers, to palm oil conglomerates and governmental agencies, we all must come together to ensure the survival of orangutans for future generations.
It is imperative that we protect these incredible animals – Asia’s only great apes – before it’s too late! Your support is crucial, and the good news is that you can help in lots of different ways.