Threats to Orangutan Habitat
Orangutans are classified as two separate species. Separated geographically by islands, one is found on Borneo and the other on Sumatra. The IUCN (Redlist 2016) classify the Bornean and Sumatran orangutans as critically endangered.
How Fast is the Rainforest Disappearing?
Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country, has the world’s third-largest contiguous area of remaining tropical forests but also one of the world’s highest deforestation rates. Between 1990 and 2010, Indonesia lost 1/5 of its forest cover.
In 2007, a UNEP report, The Last stand of the Orangutan, suggested that 98% of Indonesia’s natural rainforest may be destroyed by 2022, with lowland forests disappearing much sooner. As these forests fall so do orangutan populations. Recent estimates put the Bornean species at less then 54,000 individuals and the Sumatran species at 6,600 individuals.
Orangutan habitat is being destroyed and degraded by oil-palm plantations, illegal logging, acacia plantations (for wood pulp), fire, mining and small-scale shifting cultivation.
Below is a summary of the main threats facing orangutans:
Oil Palm Plantations
Indonesia and Malaysia are the world’s largest palm oil producers and global demand for this commodity is increasing every year partly due to the expanding biofuel market. Orangutan populations are threatened because their habitat, low-lying tropical rainforest, is being destroyed and converted to oil palm plantations. By the beginning of 2004, there were 6.5 million hectares of oil palm plantations across Sumatra and Borneo. Of this total area, almost 4 million hectares had previously been forested. Orangutans and the majority of biodiversity supported by tropical rainforests cannot co-exist with oil palm plantations. The use of fire to clear land for plantations is an additional risk to this already serious threat.
In Indonesia, illegal logging has been a major and complex problem. A report by UNEP in 2007 stated an estimated 73-88% of all timber logged in Indonesia is illegal. Illegal logging devastated protected areas, the last strongholds of orangutans. It occurred in 37 of 41 Indonesian national parks. Illegal loggers often dig canals to transport the logs. However the canals, drain and dry out the peat soils dramatically increasing the risk of forest fires.
The fires of 1997 and 1998, and more recently in 2006, caused terrible destruction to Indonesia’s forests and killed, orphaned and displaced many orangutans. A combination of factors; dry debris from logging; use of fire by palm oil companies; and El Nino (which resulted in a longer than normal dry season) caused the fire to devastate a huge area of forest. Indonesia is the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases with 75% of its emissions as a result of deforestation. Forest fires and the decomposition of peatland add approximately 2,000 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere a year.
Mining has caused irreversible damage to Indonesia’s forests. Tanjung Puting National Park, Indonesian Borneo has been exploited by illegal open cast mining for gold and zircon. It has turned the lush primary rainforest into a barren and lifeless desert. Mercury, used in the mining process, contaminates the river systems, killing fish & other wildlife.
Hunting and Pet Trade
The main threat to orangutans is habitat loss. However, this process of land clearing exposes wild orangutans, who are considered as pests and consequently some are shot. If infant orangutans survive the death of their mothers, they either end up as orphans in one of the rehabilitation centres or enter the pet trade.
For further information on Indonesia’s forests please visit Mongabay.