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Orangutans Barely Hanging On By Amy Clanin


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Orangutans Barely Hanging On By Amy Clanin

  1. 1. Vol. 2 No. 4 Winter 2008 The Price of Protection The Endangered Species Act Turns 35 Is There Value in TWS Certification? Medical Mystery at Red Rim Managing Gray Wolves
  2. 2. Winter 2008 Vol. 2 No. 4 6 Editor’s Note 8 Letters to the Editor 10 Leadership Letter 12 Science in Short 14 State of Wildlife 19 Today’s Wildlife Professional: Katherine Kendall feaTure STory 22 The Price of Protection 22 By Divya Abhat Credit: Julie Maher/ WCS roTaTing feaTureS 30 Human-Wildlife Connection Managing a Charismatic Carnivore By Katherine Unger 34 Commentary The Danger of Wolves By Valerius Geist 36 Human-Wildlife Connection Orangutans Barely Hanging On By Amy Clanin 36 42 Professional Development Credit: Hardi Baktiantoro/Centre for Orangutan Protection Is There Value in TWS Certification? Articles by Thomas Decker, Alan Crossley, and Michael Hutchins 47 Health and Disease Medical Mystery at Red Rim By Lisa Moore LaRoe 53 Plans and Practices Sweat Equity at East Bay By David Riensche 57 Tools and Technology A Tool for Envisioning Conservation By Rob Riordan 53 63 Reviews Credit: David Riensche Western Eyes on China’s Wildlife By Jiang Zhigang More Online! This publication is available online to TWS 65 The Society Page members at Throughout the TWS news and events magazine, mouse icons and text printed in blue indicate that links to more information 68 Gotcha! are available online. Photos submitted by readers© The Wildlife Society 5
  3. 3. Orangutans Barely Hanging OnCAn they survive the spreAd of oil-pAlm plAntAtions?By Amy Clanin D eep in the heart of Borneo and Sumatra lie 2008). Erik Meijaard, senior ecologist with The Na- the last remaining forest habitats of the elu- ture Conservancy (TNC) in Indonesia, says the total sive orangutan, Earth’s largest tree-dwelling number could possibly be as low as 50,000. “We animal and the only great ape living outside of know that they are dying on a daily basis,” he says. Africa. On the islands of Sumatra (in Indonesia) The leading cause of the decline for both spe- and Borneo (which straddles Malaysia, Indonesia, cies is the destruction of their tropical rain forest and Brunei), the orangutan—a Malay word meaning habitat for logging and conversion to crops,Courtesy of Amy Clanin “person of the forest”—is a symbol of pride. The pri- particularly oil-palm plantations. According toAmy Clanin is Pro- mate’s forest home, however, is disappearing fast. a report by the United Nations Environmentgram Manager for Programme (UNEP), “98 percent of the forestthe Bonobo Conser-vation Initiative. Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) are now criti- [in Indonesia] may be destroyed by 2022” (UNEP cally endangered and Bornean orangutans (Pongo 2007). Protected areas are not immune. “At cur- pygmaeus) are endangered (2008 IUCN Red List). rent rates of intrusion into national parks,” the In 2003 conservation organizations and researchers report states, “it is likely that many protected combined ground surveys and satellite imagery to areas will already be severely degraded in three compile comprehensive estimates of orangutan pop- to five years.” This dire situation spotlights the ulations. That data and some recent updates suggest conflicting demands of wildlife conservation and there are only about 6,500 orangutans remaining in human economic growth. Sumatra and roughly 54,000 in Borneo (Wich et al. Palm oil is much like other agricultural com- modities such as coffee, cocoa, soybeans, and sugarcane: As demand for a product rises, land is cleared to make way for crops, destroying wildlife habitat in the process (Clay 2004). Today the global market is hungry for palm oil, used as an alternative for trans-fats in many foods such as chocolate and ice cream, and in cleaning agents and cosmetics. Palm oil is also in high demand as a biodiesel fuel, a cleaner alternative to carbon- based petroleum. Ian Singleton, conservation director for the Sumatran Orangutan Conserva- tion Program (SOCP), says this new demand puts Indonesia’s ecology at risk. “There’s a big drive to promote palm oil as a biodiesel source,” he says, “and that makes the country very, very vulner- able to outside manipulation.” Together, Indonesia and Malaysia are the top producers of palm oil, providing 86 percent of the global supply (Patzek and Patzek 2007). To meet demand, growers have clear-cut or burned Credit: helen Buckland/sumatran orangutan society millions of hectares of orangutan forest habitat orangutans, such as this male in sumatra, are among the to make way for lucrative oil-palm plantations, world’s most endangered primates. living only in southeast Asia on the islands of Borneo and sumatra, these great apes a process that releases enormous amounts of are rapidly losing their forest habitat. carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (Fargione et36 The Wildlife Professional, Winter 2008 © The Wildlife Society
  4. 4. al. 2008) and severely diminishes regional bio- pests, making the species vulnerable to hunting, diversity (Fitzherbert 2008). These agricultural trapping, and poaching, all of which are illegal. “factories” prove inhospitable for orangutans, Workers encountering orangutans often shoot the forcing them to compete for fragmented patches animals, fearing attack (WWF-Indonesia, 2007), of forest where their numbers are falling fast. To although orangutans are not known to attack halt the slide toward extinction, conservation- unless provoked or threatened. When orangutan ists, governments, oil-palm growers, buyers, mothers are killed, their orphans are often cap- consumers, and other stakeholders are uniting to tured and illegally sold as pets. develop strategies in an attempt to preserve the apes’ habitat. When Space Gets Tight Orangutans, which primarily eat fruits, require large home ranges, resulting in low population densities. Although they will eat “famine foods” such as leaves, bark, and insects, the majority of their diet consists of widely dispersed sugary, ripe fruits (Caldecott and Miles 2005). Anne Russon, professor and scientific advisor for the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS), cites esti- mates that one square kilometer of forest habitat in Sumatra can support up to six or seven female orangutans; in Borneo the same area can sustain only one to three individuals (Russon 2004). How- ever, a female may require a personal home range as large as five to six square kilometers to support Credit: Amy Clanin her needs, and males require even larger ranges. in the relative safety of Borneo’s tanjung puting national park, a mother and infant travel As large tracts of monoculture plantings, oil-palm through the type of forested habitat necessary for orangutan survival. though this park is plantations fragment and often completely destroy one of the last and most important protected areas for orangutans, it is threatened by illegal logging and oil-palm development. the lowland dipterocarp, freshwater, and peat- swamp forests that are prime orangutan habitats. Without large, continuous stretches of forest for foraging, orangutans are hard-pressed to find ample sources of food. Isolation caused by forest fragmentation can also lead to inbreeding, as young orangutans are unable to transfer out of their natal range in search of mates. Reproductive biology further complicates orangutan survival. These apes have the slowest breeding rate of any primate in the world, includ- ing humans, and although females have long life spans, living up to 45 to 50 years in the wild, they generally produce only about four offspring in their lifetime (Russon 2004). The young, in turn, de- pend on their mothers for nearly a decade, longer than any other primate except humans. Credit: stephen Brend/orangutan foundation As they struggle with food scarcity in fragmented oil-palm trees grow from denuded ground in the lestari ungur oil palm plantation in forests, hungry orangutans will sometimes wander Borneo. palm oil is in high demand as a source of biofuel and a substitute for trans-fats. into oil-palm plantations to raid the crops. Plan- Clear-cutting and burning of forests for plantations, however, releases huge amounts of tation workers view orangutans as agricultural carbon dioxide and drastically diminishes biodiversity.© The Wildlife Society 37
  5. 5. Credit: World Wildlife fundBorneo’s forests are suffering a stark and rapid decline, as shown in maps based on landsat imagery and annual forest loss data. in the late 1990sindonesia lost an estimated 20,000 square kilometers of forest a year, primarily in Borneo and sumatra (unep 2007). that rate has accelerated largelydue to the spread of oil-palm plantations and illegal timber harvest. By some estimates, Borneo’s forests could be gone by 2012 to 2018. Steps to Save Orangutans agement of existing protected areas and expanding As awareness of the crisis grows, conservationists corridors for orangutans are critical measures to and governments are working together to develop ensure the long-term sustainability of the species. solutions to save both orangutans and local econo- In Sumatra, for example, the Leuser forests are mies. Their efforts take many forms. the last stronghold for the Sumatran orangutan. “This area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Protecting Habitat encompasses the Gunung Leuser National Park, Seventy-five percent of orangutans live outside but even these forests are not safe from develop- protected areas, primarily in timber concessions, ment,” says Helen Buckland, palm oil working according to TNC’s Erik Meijaard. It is therefore group secretary for the Ape Alliance and UK essential to improve forest management through coordinator with the Sumatran Orangutan Society carefully controlled selective cutting or through (SOS). Orangutans are at risk of losing this crucial land acquisition for conservation. In late Octo- habitat as thousands of hectares have already ber 2008, for example, the LEAP Conservancy been illegally converted to oil-palm plantations. of Malaysia entered talks with government of- To combat further loss of habitat in the park, SOS ficials and private landowners to buy 222 acres has signed a Memorandum of Understanding of tropical forest owned but not yet developed by with the local government in North Sumatra and palm-oil producers in Malaysian Borneo. The land the Gunung Leuser National Park office to allow would link two sections of a wildlife reserve that SOS to replant indigenous tree species in the is home to roughly 600 orangutans. This effort area. To date, SOS and local communities have marks the first time that nongovernment activists planted over a quarter of a million seedlings in in Malaysian Borneo have worked with the govern- the park. Such community forestry projects can ment in attempting to buy land for environmental serve as viable economic alternatives to jobs in protection, according to Cynthia Ong, LEAP Con- illegal logging and forest conversion for agricul- servancy’s executive director. ture. Communities living adjacent to the park are benefiting by establishing their own tree nurser- The 25 percent of orangutans that do live in so- ies and agro-forestry projects. called protected areas such as parks and reserves are also at risk because many of these areas are Similarly, Borneo’s Tanjung Puting National Park poorly managed, says Meijaard. Improving man- in the past suffered from widespread illegal logging38 The Wildlife Professional, Winter 2008 © The Wildlife Society
  6. 6. and is still under pressure from oil-palm develop- ment. “Not all of it has been converted yet, but we stand to lose about 15,000 hectares,” says Stephen Brend, senior conservationist with the Orangutan Foundation (OF). The group is now working with local police, park management, and communities to operate guard posts and patrols that monitor and control illegal logging within park boundaries. Sustainable Plantation Practices In May 2007 World Wildlife Fund (WWF)- Indonesia published a detailed report, produced in collaboration with conservation and academic institutions, on how palm-oil producers can minimize human-orangutan conflict around plantations. The report suggests that human- orangutan conflict can be curtailed if oil-palm plantations hire patrol units, install barriers to keep orangutans out, and help fund programs to relocate and rehabilitate nuisance or orphaned orangutans. The report also advocates cautious land-use planning, urging oil-palm companies to establish plantations on fallow, non-forested agricultural land in Borneo and Sumatra. Unfortu- nately economics works against this: It takes five Credit: helen Buckland/sumatran orangutan society years after planting to produce an oil-palm crop, so, to offset the wait, companies often opt orphaned orangutans stare from a cage at a Bornean rehabilitation center. scores arrive at such centers each year, for immediate profit by stripping forests and their mothers often killed by poachers. only a lucky few are selling the timber before planting on the newly rescued; most orphans are sold in the illegal pet trade. cleared ground. Growers that do adhere to envi- ronmentally and socially responsible practices can now seek certification based on sustainability standards developed by an international multi- stakeholder organization called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). “Palm-oil producers are suddenly realizing that they have a role to play in conserving key species such as the orangutan,” says RSPO Vice President Darrel Webber, “and that role is significant.” Cautious land-use planning can have the added benefit of reducing carbon emissions. Tropical forests and peatlands, which are prime habitat for orangutans, store enormous amounts of carbon. When peatlands in particular are stripped, drained, and dried for oil-palm plantations, the peat oxidizes, releasing “something like 90 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare per year,” says SOCP’s Ian Singleton. A 2008 report in Science (Fargione et al. 2008) Credit: hardi Baktiantoro/Centre for orangutan protection notes that converting rainforests and peatlands for drugged by a tranquilizer dart, a starving orangutan stumbles through a forest converted crop-based biofuels actually creates a “carbon debt,” to an oil-palm plantation. After sedating the ape, rescue workers with Borneo orangutan producing more greenhouse gases than the fossil survival released it into another forest. six months later this orangutan had to be fuels that are replaced. Recognizing the multiple re-evacuated after its new forest home was also destroyed by palm-oil development.© The Wildlife Society 39
  7. 7. problems associated with deforestation, Suma- tra’s provincial governments and the Indonesian government recently endorsed a declaration to promote sustainable development and protect critical ecosystems such as peat forests, thereby preserving orangutan habitat and biodiversity. Education to Reduce Conflict Conservation organizations are reaching out to palm-oil companies to mitigate human-orang- utan conflict. SOS, for example, visits oil-palm plantations in North Sumatra to conduct local-language training sessions that include a documentary produced in conjunction with the Great Apes Film Initiative and Films4Conserva- tion. The training encourages producers never to kill orangutans, teaches about orangutan behaviors, and offers advice on how to scare the animals away and whom to call if an orangutan needs to be relocated. “This mitigation train- ing is new for us,” says an oil-palm plantation worker named Daman from Karya Jadi village in Sumatra. “Now we can try to help orangutans leave our farmland by making noise using bam- boo drums or carbide cannons.” Translocation Orangutans that are potentially in harm’s way can often survive through translocation, which involves finding an animal in a threatened area, sedating it with a dart gun, and, if it is sufficiently healthy, transporting it for release in a safe wild reserve. OF’s Stephen Brend says his group’s translocations have jumped from 24 between 1999 and 2006 to 13 in 2007 alone. The sharp rise was due in part to fires in 2006 that left orangutans isolated in forest patches too small to sustain them. “Many had taken to crop raiding,” says Brend, putting them at risk of being shot. Rehabilitation Centers A handful of centers across Borneo and Suma- tra provide food, shelter, and medical care for injured or orphaned orangutans, and all are running far beyond capacity. More are needed, and each is extremely costly to run. The BOS Foundation’s Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Reintroduction Project in Borneo, Indonesia, for example, is reportedly the largest primate rescue operation in the world, having cared for almost 1,000 orangutans since it was estab- lished in 1999. “We’re always at capacity,” says40 The Wildlife Professional, Winter 2008 © The Wildlife Society
  8. 8. Michelle Desilets, BOS’s UK director. Infantorangutans, which need intensive long-term attention, are particularly underserved. Stephen Brend estimates that 50 to 60 orphans arriveannually at the Orangutan Care Center andQuarantine in Borneo. Though most rehabili-tated animals are eventually reintroduced intothe wild, rehabilitation is far more resourceintensive than direct translocations, and itrisks habituating the rehabilitated orangutansto humans. Rehabilitated animals sometimes remain around the release camps, says Brend,while translocated orangutans tend to take off into the forest and are not seen again. Tapping Orangutans’ ‘Star Power’Ecotourists eager to see the great orange apes in the wild contribute thousands of dollars eachyear toward orangutan conservation. OF, for example, has released 200 rescued orangutansinto Borneo’s Tanjung Puting National Park, a move that has attracted tourists and in turnraised global awareness of the orangutan’s plight. Nature tourism in the park has helped createrevenue for area communities and generated em- ployment for local people to study, protect, andmaintain the park. On a more mass-culture scale,  the Animal Planet television show “Orangutan Island” is also bringing attention to the threat to orangutans by featuring BOS-Indonesia’s Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Reintroduction Project.Desilets says her organization is “working with  filmmakers to get the message across” thatorangutans desperately need protection.Orangutans serve as ambassadors for forest con-servation around the world. Yet the president of  Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has saidthat at the current rate of habitat destruction,orangutans could go extinct by 2050. “It’s ab-solutely unthinkable that we will lose them all,” says Stephen Brend. “On the small scale, I thinkwe can be proud that we’re winning battles,” hesays, “but across the range of orangutan habitat,we’re probably losing the war.”   learn more about orangutan conserva- tion groups by viewing this article online at© The Wildlife Society 41