Scientists Declare Borneo’s Orangutans at High Risk of Extinction

Poaching and palm oil plantations are killing off the great ape.
Bornean orangutan. (Photo: Eric Kilby/Flickr)
Jul 9, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

The Bornean orangutan has joined its closely related Sumatran relative on the list of critically endangered animals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The designation means both species are now at extremely high risk of extinction in the wild, largely owing to habitat destruction and poaching.

“As orangutans are hunted and pushed out of their habitats, losses to this slow-breeding species are enormous and will be extremely difficult to reverse,” Erik Meijaard, an IUCN assessor, said in a statement.

IUCN estimates 2,000 to 3,000 of Borneo’s orangutans have been killed annually for the past four decades, mainly for their meat. An estimated 55,000 Bornean orangutans survive in the wild, but populations have fallen 60 percent since 1950, and IUCN predicts a further 22 percent decline by 2025.

Palm, rubber, and paper plantations are replacing forests in 100,000 square miles of lowland orangutan habitat. Illegal logging and uncontrolled burning of forests also remain threats.

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About 40 percent of Borneo’s forests have been lost since the 1970s. Palm oil plantations occupy about 21,000 square miles of land on the island today, and the Indonesian government projects that by 2025, plantations could cover more than four times that amount of land.

Sumatran orangutans, which spend almost their entire lives in the trees, have been listed as critically endangered since 2008 and face similar threats.

There is some good news. Andrew Marshall, an author of the assessment, told Mongabay that new studies show orangutans are more adaptable and fare better in degraded forests than previously thought.

“Although I think things will likely get worse before they get better,” he said, “it’s not too late for orangutans.”