Researchers charted a bleak 16 years for the iconic apes, with their population on the island now estimated at between 70,000 and 100,000. They predict at least 45,000 more could be lost over the next 35 years.
While Orangutan populations were affected by logging and deforestation, land clearance was only blamed for a fraction of the total loss.
As with the case of Africans elephants and rhino, it is at the hands of man that the Bornean orangutan has suffered most. Around 70 per cent of the losses can be directly attributed to hunting and poaching, the report says.
While the local population do not prefer orangutan to the wild pig and deer that they go into the forest to hunt, they will still kill and eat an adult ape. “People have hunted orangutans for their meat on Borneo since they colonised the area,” said co-author of the study Maria Voigt of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research.
The findings reveal that in the area of Kalimantan alone, “on average 2,256 orangutans per year were hunted or killed due to conflict with humans”.
“Killing also occurs in situations where humans are frightened or startled by orangutans,” Voigt elaborated. This usually happens when they wander into people’s gardens or into plantations. Occasionally, a mother orangutan will be tracked and killed so that her young can be taken to be sold as pets.
Co-author of the paper, published in the scientific journal Current Biology, ecologist Serge Wich from Liverpool John Moores University estimates that a further 45,000 individuals could be lost between now and 2050 due to deforestation alone – add death at the hands of humans and the figure could be far higher.
But Voigt remains optimistic. “Even though the numbers are bleak there is a reason for hope,” she said. “We don’t think that it is likely that the species is going to go extinct soon”. But this all hinges on educating the local people on conservation and the value that this impressive species brings to the ecosystem.
“We need to work with people to help them understand that orangutans are not dangerous and that it’s illegal to kill them,” Wich said. What’s positive is that the forest is being protected and re-planted. Although the habitat remains under threat, if it survives and grows, there is a chance to save this great ape.
The conclusion of the study is a compelling one, calling on all sectors of society to act.
It says: “Our findings are alarming. To prevent further decline and continued local extinctions of orangutans, humanity must act now: biodiversity conservation needs to permeate into all political and societal sectors and must become a guiding principle in the public discourse and in political decision-making processes.”