Orangutan populations decrease despite government claims

Orangutan populations are still declining rapidly, despite claims by the Indonesian Government that things are looking up for the red apes. These are the findings of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), which is calling for scientifically sound measures to ensure reliable numbers.

While a recent report from the Government of Indonesia states that orangutan populations increased by more than 10 per cent from 2015 to 2017, the numbers contrast those in other publications.

Over the past 10 years, Bornean orangutans have declined by at least 25 per cent, and Sumatran and Tapanuli orangutans lost more than 60 per cent of their forest habitat between 1985 and 2007, with their populations expected to further decline by 11 to 27 per cent until 2020, say the authors of the new report published by iDiv.

The government monitoring methods focus on nine sampled populations, which represent less than five per cent of the Bornean and Sumatran orangutan ranges, and zero percent of the Tapanuli orangutan range, according to a statement.

Furthermore, all monitoring sites are within protected areas, whereas the majority of orangutans occur in non-protected lands like oil palm plantations, private gardens, community lands and logging concessions.

“It appears that the government isn’t always aware of the latest published conservation science,” commented senior author Maria Voigt.

She adds that better collaboration between government, non-governmental organisations and scientists is especially important now that Indonesia is developing its new action plan for orangutan conservation for the years 2018 to 2027.

“The choice of possible conservation strategies, such as forest protection, law enforcement, education, community engagement or orangutan rescues and rehabilitation depends on local orangutan trends, survival rate and pressures. This is what science can bring to the table,” she says.

There is hope for the remaining orangutans, such as the new moratorium on oil palm licenses by Indonesian President Jokowi.

It does, however, require a change of conservation mindset, highlights Voigt. She says: “We need to learn how to better manage and protect those populations that are found outside of formally protected areas. An improvement of the status of the three orangutan species can only be achieved with the genuine collaboration and engagement of all parties that have a stake in these non-protected lands.”

Photo credit: Lip Kee/ CC BY-SA 2.0

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