Orangutans face extinction on Borneo

Unsustainable deforestation on Borneo could threaten the Asian island’s orangutan population with extinction, the United Nations has warned. Borneo’s deforestation rate has been among the world’s highest for over two decades.

The conversion of Borneo’s forests for the production of palm oil together with the impact of climate change is threatening orangutans on Asia’s largest island with extinction.

This warning comes following publication of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report “The Future of the Bornean Orangutan: Impacts of Change in Land Cover and Climate”.

The report, published in collaboration with Liverpool John Moores University and the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP), added: “a future without sustainable development will be a future with a different climate and, eventually, without orangutans, one of our closest relatives.”

While orangutans are native to Indonesia and Malaysia, a century of deforestation, illegal logging, hunting and expansion of agro-industrial plantations, have combined to isolate them to only the rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo – the world’s third largest island, explained UNEP.

An estimated 55,000 Bornean orangutans remain in the wild, according to UNEP. But their solitary nature and slow reproductive rates leave them particularly vulnerable to forest loss.

Borneo’s deforestation rate has been among the world’s highest for over two decades and 56 per cent of the protected tropical lowland forests – an area roughly the size of Belgium – was lost between 1985 and 2001. The report warned that a staggering 75 per cent of original forest cover could be lost by 2030.

“The Future of the Bornean Orangutan” examines different climate and land-cover scenarios for the years 2020, 2050 and 2080. In each scenario, “dramatic rises” in temperature brought on by deforestation and the loss of land cover cause serious damage to the island’s biodiversity, with the combined model showing an even more pronounced impact than either factor alone. Models indicated that 68 to 81 per cent of the current orangutan habitat might be lost by 2080.

GRASP is an alliance of 100 national governments, conservation organisations, research institutions, UN agencies, and private companies committed to ensuring the long-term survival of great apes in Africa and Asia.

Photo credit: Behan/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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