Four-fifths of wild orangutans in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, live outside national parks and protected areas, according to a new study by the Indonesian government .
The study, called the 2016 Orangutan Population and Habitat Feasibility Assessment, was led by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. This is the third survey, published last month and following the previous one in 2004.
Research shows that the orangutan population is plunging as the forests where they live are being destroyed by industrial expansion. The illegal pet trade also harms existing populations.
The survey estimates that there are still 57,350 critically endangered Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) in Kalimantan. This is 13-47 per 100 square kilometers, down from about 45-76 in 2004.
Without government protection, orangutan habitat would be under the control of vast tracts of land allocated to one or more timber, plantation and mining companies. Some companies seek to protect contiguous or fragmented forests with authority, while others simply cut them down.
Compared to their Bornean orangutan brethren, another place where orangutans can be found, Indonesia’s western island of Sumatra, is 65% in protected areas.
The findings are expected to influence stakeholder efforts to protect Bornean orangutans, especially outside protected areas.
In a joint statement with the Indonesian Orangutan Forum, a joint group that participated in the study , the Ministry of Environment and Forestry called for “more serious efforts” to protect the orangutans living in the forests on company property.
Other measures to reduce the threat to Bornean orangutans, the report found, include slowing or stopping deforestation and strengthening law enforcement.
Orangutans are protected under Indonesian law and are prohibited from being traded or kept as pets. However, many people ignore this provision, and the pet trade appears to be rampant.
Orangutans live mainly in trees, so mature orangutans rarely touch the ground. Clearly, therefore, deforestation is a major driver of population decline.
Forest ‘fragmentation’, in particular, is bad for orangutans in a number of ways, according to ongoing research by John Abernethy, PhD student in Conservation Biology at Liverpool John Moores University.
As habitat shrinks, orangutans are forced to live in groups, “increasing the potential for disease transmission and negative social interactions,” he said in an interview. “The longer you stay in one place, the more likely you are to be predated, poached and parasitic.”
Deforestation also creates ‘forest islands’ that are too small to support orangutan populations. Orangutans trapped inside usually starve to death or risk scavenging for food in human habitats.
To combat deforestation, deforestation on land owned by timber and palm oil plantation companies must be reduced to zero, according to the report.
The CEO of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, Jamartin Sihite
, has called for an end to the destruction of the forests, home of the creatures. “Deforestation drives orangutans out of their habitat and into rehabilitation,” he argued.
Reports say the company should be responsible for the protection of orangutans on its property and not move them elsewhere.
When a plantation encroaches on a Bornean orangutan’s habitat, the traditional approach has been to rescue them from corporate land, rehabilitate them in special facilities, and release them into forest reserves.
However, with Borneo’s rainforest shrinking, there is a shortage of shelter for orangutans, and rehabilitation centers are becoming more crowded.
“There’s not much forest left,” said Uyung, head of the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Indonesia Orangutan Programme.
Uyung, who uses one name, said companies should protect orangutans found in their precincts rather than evict them.
The report argues that relocation should be a last resort, at the company’s expense, if necessary.
Following the reports, the government can pinpoint the exact location of areas outside the reserve where orangutans live, said Wiratno, director of the Department of Ecosystems and Natural Resources Conservation at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.
“We are seeking data on the habitat of orangutans,” Wiratno said at a press conference in Jakarta. “If it lives in a timber plantation area, whose authority is it? If it lives in a palm oil plantation area, who is the owner? ) I’m going to ask for your help.”
Mr Wiratno also emphasized the need for improved law enforcement on poaching.
“We were able to meet the heads of the National Police and Attorney General’s Office law enforcement agencies,” Mr Wiratno said. “They don’t know much about orangutans, so we could talk about responsibility [to orangutan protection].”
The report also suggested that island, state and district land use plans should be reviewed to mainstream orangutan protection and be consistent with government agency policies and regulations.