Borneo may lose half its orangutans to deforestation, hunting, and plantations
Borneo will likely lose half of its orangutans if current deforestation and forest conversion trends continue, warns a comprehensive new assessment by an international team of researchers.
The study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, overlays orangutan distribution with land use regulations in Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo. Borneo has suffered high rates of deforestation, logging, and forest conversion for industrial plantations in recent decades, endangering the world's largest surviving populations of orangutans.
The authors, led by orangutan specialist Sege Wich of Liverpool John Moores University, found that 78 percent of forest currently inhabited by orangutans in Borneo is unprotected. Of that 29 percent is under logging concessions, 25 percent is licensed for conversion to industrial oil palm and timber plantations, and 24 percent lies outside protected areas or concessions.
The researchers then modeled the impact of future land use on the distribution of orangutans. They estimate that under a business-as-usual scenario "at best only 51% of the current orang-utan distribution (in protected areas and logging concessions) would remain". They warn that the reality however could be far worse due to hunting, which is a substantial cause of orangutan mortality in Indonesian Borneo but isn't factored into the model. They also note further threats from industrial mining operations, which in Indonesia can be granted in nominally protected areas, and illegal encroachment into officially protected areas.
But the researchers also ran a more optimistic scenario under which the Malaysian and Indonesian governments zone forests outside protected areas and current concessions for selective logging, which research suggests can maintain orangutan populations when done properly, rather than oil palm and timber plantations.
Article continues at ENN affiliate, Mongabay
Orangutan image via Shutterstock