Orangutans Are Threatened With Extinction as Habitat Shrinks

By Eliza Strickland | July 9, 2008 9:49 am

orangutanOrangutans, which some scientists believe are second only to humans in intelligence, could be the first great ape to go extinct if swift action isn’t taken to conserve their rainforest habitat and protect them from poachers, according to a new survey.

The orange-furred primates live in the wild on only two islands, Sumatra and Borneo. The survey, which was conducted by the Great Ape Trust and will be published this month in the journal Oryx [subscription required], alarmed researchers because it showed that orangutan populations have plummeted in just the last few years. It found that the number of orang-utans on Sumatra island in Indonesia has fallen by 14 per cent since 2004 to only 6,600 animals…. In Malaysia’s Borneo island, the largest home of the species, numbers fell by 10 per cent in the same period to 49,600 apes [Telegraph].

The expansion of palm plantation is the primary cause of the dramatic decline, according to the study, although hunting and illegal logging are also to blame [The Christian Science Monitor]. Palm plantations have become a vital part of the economy in Indonesia and Malaysia, as the palm oil can be used as a biofuel, which is considered a cleaner and more sustainable alternative to petroleum fuels.

Although the study’s authors are clearly deeply concerned about the orangutan’s future, they say there are some hopeful signs of government action. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced a major initiative to save the nation’s orangutans at a U.N. climate conference last year, and [a local] governor declared a moratorium on logging. Coupled with that are expectations that Indonesia will protect millions of acres 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 [AP].

Image: flickr/ltshears

  • http://redapes.org/ Richard Zimmerman

    Learn how you can help save the orangutans.
    Adopt an orphaned orangutan today!
    Visit the Orangutan Outreach website: http://redapes.org

    Richard Zimmerman
    Director, Orangutan Outreach
    Reach out and save the orangutans!

  • http://www.savetheorangutan.co.uk Michelle Desilets

    It is often asked, “How many orangutans are left?” The numbers themselves do not matter. What matters is that the rate of decline is increasing, and unless something is done, the wild orangutan will go extinct. Once remaining populations become so small and fragmented, there will be no way to recover the species, as these small populations will be genetically unviable in the long run.
    What also matters is the welfare angle of this decline 5000 are dying unnaturally–either from starvation as a result of habitat destruction or from human-wildlife conflict. Working with orangutans for 14 years now, I see them as individuals capable of emotions and pain. The loss of just one of these is heartbreaking. 5000 is genocide.
    We have a moral obligation to save these sentient, intelligent cousins of ours from this brutality. I do not subscribe to the view that we need to keep orangutan numbers up so our children have a chance to see them in the wild. Orangutans do not exist for our benefit. They themselves have a right to life, regardless of whether we get the added benefit of gazing upon them in their world one day.
    The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation is the largest primate rescue project in the world. We look after close to 1000 rescued orangutans presently, and have rescued and released more than 1000 others so far. We are the only organisation actively rescuing the wild orangutans from certain death in these oil-palm plantations. 2 weeks ago we released a further 25 wild orangutans rescued from oil-palm plantations into a remote protected forest in the north of Central Kalimantan. This release site could potentially support more than 1000 orangutans, making it a viable population. BOS also manages the Mawas Reserve, a forest of 360,000 hectares, home to some 3500 wild orangutans. If BOS can continue to protect populations like those in our release site and in Mawas, we can prevent the extinction of the orangutan in the wild. Find out more at http://www.savetheorangutan.co.uk.
    Michelle Desilets
    Founding Director
    Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation UK

  • http://www.orangutan-sos.org Joyce Major

    The issue of oil palm plantations is beyond the scope of just the Indonesian government, which is caught in the skyrocketing demand for palm oil. International companies are involved in non-sustainable oil palm production, logging pristine rainforest and end users, both for the logs and the palm oil, are yet to stop and require only sustainable agriculture. If everyone blindly increases their use of palm oil without making a distinction between destructive and sustainable plantations, the rainforest will be destroyed and along with that the critically endangered Sumatran orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinoceros. The battle for their survival is currently in the hands of those whose interest in making money is much greater than their interest in conservation. Only consumer pressure can change the balance. Urgent change is needed.

  • http://www.shearyadi.com/myworld shearyadi

    Well, as an Indonesian I agree that the palm oil plantation and illegal logging are two major factor that destruct the ballance of our nature, the tropical rain forests, and also I agree with Joyce that consumer pressure to any products that using palm oil (such as dove) is needed. Currently the Indonesian Greenpeace with help from International friends are pushing the Unilever to change their palm oil policy and demand them to stop deforestation of Indonesian tropical rain forests.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    Greenpeace protesters certainly do dress to impress! Here’s a photo of them hanging out in front of the Unilever corporate headquarters: http://tinyurl.com/6ftvrc

    And an article about the protest: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/apr/21/wildlife

  • http://responsesfororangutans savannah

    people should not threat orangutans thats my favorite animal

  • Sandy Howell

    What a load of alarmist nonsense. Why don’t you quote the Rainforest Action Network, who are so alarmist that they suggest that the orang utan could become extinct in 2 years (by 2011).

    According to CNN, more than 100 million sharks are killed each year for their fins. Have you seen fit to highlight other more urgent extinction candidates than to join the lucrative palm oil bashing brigade?

    Fortunately, my eyes have been opened for I read deforestationwatch.org and the Palm Oil Truth Foundation site. They give a contrarian view to all this orang utan extinction nonsense!

  • Anon

    i think we shud just completely stop palm oil plantation because that is creating Co2 in the atmosphere and burns it up. and also orangutans are loosing their homes and food sources because of our actions. humans today never thing of the effect of there actions. disapointing….

  • http://savealltheorangutans luke bain

    we should stop all parm oil farms and stop all clering of Orangutans homes!! i have been to Borneo and seen them, so stop all parm oil farms to save, all that are left. by 2015 they all will be extinct!!! so help me and all the outhers in our fight to stop them going by 2015!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    by luke bain age 13

  • john

    this is ausome

  • http://http/ont.com janine port

    The huge contradictions that come up here are myriad. For fifteen years I have heard continually that these apes will be gone from the wild in 5-10 years. I have not heard one fact to back up the numbers quoted by the ape saving foundations. The other thing I would like to say is that by hand raisng these animal babies they are in constant human contact, corrupting thier very nature. The fact that there are infants living in “societies” dreamed up by well meaning women who compound thier errors by making these animals surrogate babies and these infants are treated as if they are human. You diaper them you continually coddle them you coo to them. All I see is animals being raised as human, which in turn are no longer true orangutans just pets!!! And the medicines the resources going to these animals oxygen human physicians turning thier backs on humanity to work with these animals, is insane. And of course you keep pushing your beliefs that end up anthromorphizing these animals into possesing human qualities.u to talk to any geneticist and they will tell you 98 percent of dna in the ape does not remotely make a human. That two % is a world of difference. Do the orangutans have a written language how about builing permanent structures, do they possess ethics, do they worship any diety in any way. The answer is no so stop pushing your psuedo science on us as fact. The medicines and oxygen anti biotics etc. should be used to help humans not baby apes . the humans who are dirt poor in the country. They could use these supplies to improve thier own lot. Return all the babies to the wild in the areas that orangutans are and the ones who are adop[ted by females who do not have one. The strong will survive thier natural instincts being guided by a natural mother not tainted by human contact treated like a human baby. This venture is wrong because the inadequate skills they are taught by humans can only carry them so far. I sey the back to the wild releases are rare you keep most of the orangutans just shunting them to another island. they will never see the wild naturally which only makes them pets rather than true apes. Jane Goodall started this insanity by feeding the chimps at Gombe she wrecked thier natural roaming instincts which were not taught to the infants. She named them further humanizing them then she began to touch the infants further corrupting the chimps. Despite condemnation by real primatologists of the day she carried on becoming the media darling. Yet ape workers still follow her badly flawed template continuing the corruption and destruction of these solitary animals with the clumsy attempts to “save” them. You have gone to a soveriegn foriegn nation and you try to dictae policy to them, and then you tell people how to live. Palm oil an Hardwood are the lifeblood of these countries but you and the tree huggers are denying the benefits gained from these by the ordinary people. What would you have them do? Kiss the asses of the orangutans raiding thier crops? These orangutans are treated as pests and rightly so. Where I live we shot two coyotes and one lobo wolf they were raiding the livestock so we killed them. That is a natural instinct, to protect your crop and your money maker. The most outragueous claims you make in regard to the”human” attributes these animals posses is really sickening.

  • Peter

    Hi, im Peter and ive got an asssignment on orangutan extinction rate and cant seem to find any information if yous have and can you please help me with how many have become extinct in the last 10 years thanks :)

  • http://http/ont.com jolene brennan

    I watched a National Geographic Special regarding orangutans in Borneo. I could not believe my ears and eyes at the claims made by the two men who hosted it. The continual claim that these apes share 98 percent of our human DNA is patently false. These animals along with the other great apes only share maybe 85-90 percent of our DNA. New studies by genetic scientists (who by the way are neutral not invested in any way in the save the apes organizations) have proved the 98 percent claims to be a lie STILL propogated by the ape savers. The fact that delusional people like Birute Galdakis and Lone Droescher are “rescuing” the infants and putting these solitary animals into groups is just the beggining of the corruption of this species. These infants are raised by human women fed human infant formula and diapered as well as medicated at any signs of illness destroying any chance of a natural immune system to develop. Also there is a infant orangutan hospital!!! The infants are treated with the latest medical resources and coddled continually!! The human beings on the Island, ordinary people have no access to such a lavish hospital unless they are rich. Human infants die every day while the resources they need to stay alive are wasted on apes. This is disgusting!! Not to mention the fact that these apes destroy crops which in turn wipes out the income of the farmers. These animals should be treated like the pests they are! If I was the owner of a plantation I would be petitioning the Government to close these destructive “sanctuaries” and deport the people like Galdakis Droescher who have continually interfered with peoples lives by telling them how to live around these pests. But of course these people never offer money to the farmers whose livelihoods are destroyed by these pests. No in fact they ignore the plight of the ordinary people while asking for donations to keep thier centers open. In other words these people put animals above humanity and that is so very wrong. What really irks me is these slick media productions are designed to guilt us in the Western hemisphere into having sympathy for thier cause by holding these infants up to the cameras (yes they are cute but so is a coyote or wolf pup) and thier websites have the most ridiculous captions under the pictures..For example a photo of a infant orangutan dressed in human infant green pajama top clearly yawning with the caption “this traumatized baby is clearly missing its murdered mother”. The other photo is of a small ape named(just like a pet) kesi with one hand missing. the laughable claim here is its mother was shot and the little ape was caught in a wire snare causing it to lose its hand. Which is it?? Finaqlly a lone voice is speaking up. Regarding the orangutan infant hospital this primatologist is speaking out against the hospital and the resources wasted on animals that could be used by humans. Of course his argument is ignored because we in the West have heard over and over how these animals will be extinct in 5-7 years. But there is a problem with this claim, it has been spouted for the past fifteen years and no extinction!!!! Then these animals are somehow given human qualities by these lunatics. I watched as three infant in the sanctuary were TAUGHT tool use by humans. It is called APING! These animals DO NOT possess skills until they have to be taught!! The desperation of these people first to keep the money coming in via the guilting and sad media presentations designed to evoke sympathy for thier cause is very evident. They even go so far as to claim it is the Wests fault for consuming products that contain Palm Oil. Like one of the comments above states sharks are being killed off whole sale for thier fins but they are not considered endangered. I guess the cuteness factor is the convincing actor here. The continued corruption of these animals by humans has to stop!! These animals are living in groups are in constant human contact and thier natural habits are destroyed by the interference of these misguided people. Shut all these centers down to stop the further corruption of apes. Donate every infant to accrdited zoos that can place them with thier own species. The one who are rejected by a female are weak let them die. The strong will survive as nature intended.

  • http://http/ont.com jolene brennan

    Regarding the Orangutan hospital on orangutan island. What a monumentous scam!! Does each infant come with its (made up story) bio of suffering and lonliness? Tourists actually go there to look at infant apes being treated like humans. Despite the conversationists protests that this “hospital” is useless in conserving this species the hospital is still open. The best thing to do is pull this place down. These animals are being used by the very people who claim they “SAVE” them to raise even more money for thier manufactured crisis. The other thing I have noticed about all these centers in Borneo Sumatra and Africa is that the workers there are 99 persent women. I truly believe that their maternal instinct causes them to lose the natural instinct to hold and cuddle human offspring and hild these animals instead. A very wrong concept for sure. By raising these babies as human the apes will have zero chance to survive in the wild. The inadequate “skills” taught these animals will doom them to death in the wild, as well as continue to alter these animals until they have zero true ape nature left. All these centers are doing is raising pets, but they will never admit it becuase then the donations would dry up. The constant mantra of APES SHARE 98 PERCENT OF OUR DNA IS ANOTHER MANUFACTURED LIE!!!! New studies by genetic scientists have shown that apes only have 80 percent of our dna. So will these centers revise that figure? Probably not. Shut these abberations down ship the infants to accredited zoos, release the ones four years and up back into the wild, the strong ones will survive and the weak will die. Stop this selfish corruption of this species!

  • Geack

    Wow. There are some confused and angry people here. Just for the record, the “98%” DNA match figure is for chimps, not all apes, and has nothing to do with this discussion about orangutans. Killing a couple coyotes (which have proven to do very well around humans and are in no danger of extinction) to protect your herd is not the same thing as clearing a thousand acres of virgin forest to cash in on a likely short-term boom in palm-oil prices, and thereby endangering a whole bunch of different species. No idea about the whole orangutan hospital issue but it certainly seems minor compared to the loss of habitat. Of course the folks in Borneo and everywhere else have the right to use their land to make a living, but it would be nice if they could avoid making the same damn short-sighted mistakes that lots of other nations have made already.

  • http://http/ont.com jolene brennan

    Then why are we in the West bearing the brunt of the blame. Being blamed for the so called demise of the orangutans in the wild by organizations like Greenpeace, PETA, and other animal groups is becoming very tiring. And I will not rescind my view that these “RESCUED” infants are in good hands. Tell me how is treating these Infants like human babies going to help them if they are ever released bacvk into the wild. What skills exactly are shown to these infants ?? It does bother me extremely when these apes are shoved down our throats as human. That is the constant mantra that digusts me. Like the comments above apes do not have a written language do they apes do not build any permanent structures etc. These are unfortunate infants falling into the hands of people like Droescher and Galdakis who turn them into pets! These for all intents and purposes are pets! I dare anyone to convince they are anything else!!! ANYONE!! Save the forests save the humans who need the resources these animals recieve. Close these useless centers down.

  • http://http/hon.com Hank Montgomery

    I would like to state a few facts here from the perspective of a person who is constantly innundated with save the apes push going on. First I can make no sense of the statements that these apes will be extinct in a few years. Does anybody know about the wild population of orangutans recently discovered in Borneo the number has been calculated as a thousand or so by the nest that were discovered unique only to orangutans. How do the orangutan workers Like Birute Galdakis or Lone Dreoscher Neilson explain this? Now onto cross species fostering human women surrogating orangutan infants, does this treatment rasing them like human infants alter the nature of the orangutan? And forcing these infants to live in groups is this wise for a solitary animal to be raised like this? As for the endless begging for money, why can’t any of these centers supprt themselves? As for releasing these human raised animals into the wild, is it possible they will survive in the wild with the “skills” taught by humans? Now despite the claims by Lone Dreoscher Nielson that she has “released” some orangutans back into the wild, Droescher just shunts these juvenile apes to another “managed” island where they are still fed, and if slightly ill they are taken back to the main island and medicated. This is nowhere near a real release back into the wild. And the captions(which one of the writers pointed out) posted under the photos of the infant orangutans I agree the captions have zero to do with the picture, this is known as twisting the facts to engender sympathy for the centers. And finally these baby animals ARE NOTHING MORE THAN PETS EXPLOITED BY THE VERY PEOPLE THAT CLAIM THEY ARE SAVING THEM!! For instance the orangutan hospital where tourists are charged a fee to tour the facility, the baby orangutans are being use to raise cash basically the same thing as the pet trade they claim to abhor. I believe this is far more destructive to the orangutans as a species than the logging the hunting and the exploitative no goodniks who sell the babies as pets..You have prostituted these animals to further your misguided cause.

  • LT

    Jolene, how would you like it if someone came and destroyed everything you ever knew? Youre ignorant, and I could only hope but wish hardship upon you so you could feel just as helpless as these animals as well as the others whos homes we are destroying. This is a beautiful animal that I for one, along with others, am lucky to have seen with my own eyes, and I could only hope that we do whatever we can as humans to help protect them and ensure their survival. Remember.. the world was fine, and there was a balanced circle of life before us humans came along using advanced technology to further progress our own species, and messed it up.


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