A new paper published in the journal Current Biology underscores how Bornean orangutans appear to be in grave danger.
Image Credit: Serge Wich
While Bornean orangutans used to be somewhat abundant on the island of Borneo once upon a time, the study found that more than 100,000 of the apes have been eliminated during a 16-year period from 1999 to 2015.
Researchers attribute many of these disappearances to contemporary issues such as logging, mining, and oil palm cultivation, among other things. On the other hand, a significant amount of those deaths occurred in densely-forested areas that aren’t yet impacted by these activities.
The disturbing findings validate animal conservationists’ worst fears. The apes are known for raiding farmers’ crops, and as you might expect, farmers don’t take kindly to this behavior. Many take the situation into their own hands and retaliate against the apes – killing them in the process.
"The decline in population density was most severe in areas that were deforested or transformed for industrial agriculture, as orangutans struggle to live outside forest areas," elaborated study lead author Maria Voigt from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.
"Worryingly, however, the largest number of orangutans were lost from areas that remained forested during the study period. This implies a large role of killing," she continued.
Given the rate at which Bornean orangutans are disappearing from the wild, the researchers suggest that we could lose 45,000 more within the next 35 years if something isn’t done to mitigate the unnecessary hunting and killing.
"Orangutans are flexible and can survive to some extent in a mosaic of forests, plantations, and logged forest, but only when they are not killed," added study co-author Serge Wich from Liverpool John Moores University in the UK.
"So, in addition to protection of forests, we need to focus on addressing the underlying causes of orangutan killing. The latter requires public awareness and education, more effective law enforcement, and also more studies as to why people kill orangutans in the first place."
As it would seem, it might be possible to reverse the Bornean orangutan’s sharp decline over the years, but it’ll require heaps of effort and spreading public awareness. It should be interesting to see how animal conservationists and local governments might come together to improve the situation for the species.