Orangutan Conservation Profile

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Orangutan Conservation Profile

  1. 1. Hilyard 1Wyatt HilyardM. GlennANTH 333February 17, 2012 Orangutan Conservation Profile (San Diego Zoo) The orangutan is among humans closer primate relatives, under the family Hominidae. Thecommon name comes from the Malay words “orang” (person) and “(h)utan” (forest) (Orangutan Facts).Why, then are the two species of these “people of the forest” listed on the IUCN Red List ofEndangered Species as “Endangered” and “Critically Endangered?” This paper will explore the variousfactors that threaten the existence of the only great ape species in Asia. Orangutans are quite visually distinct from other apes. Their long orange or reddish fur, long
  2. 2. Hilyard 2arms, and large cheek pads (in males) are iconic. Orangutans are extremely sexually dimorphic, withmales having the potential to be twice the size and weight of females. The average weight and height ofmales is 192 lbs and 3.18 ft., with females measuring an average of 81.6 lbs and 2.56 ft. (CawthonLang). However, males can grow to be 220 lbs, and females 110 lbs (San Diego Zoo). Both sexes havecheek pads, a hanging throat sac, and beard/mustache. The general difference is that males have largerversions of all three features, which explains their potential for doubling in size. Orangutans arms areabout twice as long as both their torso and their legs, aiding in brachiating through peat swamp forestand dipterocarp forest (Cawthon Lang). (Great Ape Trust) There are two species of orangutan, Bornean (Pongo pygmaeus) and Sumatran (Pongo abelii).According to the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, P. pygmaeus is “Endangered.” There are threesub-species of orangutan, all three of which live on Borneo; P. p. pygmaeus (Northwest Borneo), P. p.wurmbii:(Central Borneo), and P. p. morio (Northeast Borneo). From 1986-1994, the listing of theBornean orangutan was “Endangered.” It was moved down to “Vulnerable” in 1996, and back up to“Endangered” in 2000 where it has remained. The IUCN, as of 2003, estimates that the population isbetween 45,000 and 69,000 individuals in the wild, and is decreasing. The decline of Borneanorangutans over the last 60 years is estimated at 50%. Most wild populations live outside protectedareas, and are subjected to deforestation due to timber or agricultural uses (IUCN). The Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) is much more at risk; it is listed as “Critically
  3. 3. Hilyard 3Endangered” on the IUCN Red List. They estimate that only 7,300 individuals exist in the wild. TheSumatran orangutan is almost completely arboreal. This means deforestation affects them even morethan their Bornean counterparts, who dwell on the ground more often and seem to be more adaptable.Both species are primarily herbivores and frugivores; they consume over 500 plant species, and fruitmakes up over 60% of their diet (IUCN). Their diet also consists of leaves, bark, flowers, and insects.Occasionally, a Sumatran orangutan will catch and eat a slow loris, but meat is not very common in thediet of either species. “Orangutans are best described as gardeners of the forest... they play a vital rolein seed dispersal, especially for large seeds that are not dispersed by smaller animals” (IUCN). When visualizing orangutans in the wild, the average person probably envisions them swingingthrough the trees, socializing and play-fighting with one another. This is not necessarily true; more than95% of the apes daily routine revolves around resting and feeding (Cawthon Lang). They may indeeduse an arboreal route to get from place to place, or rest while hanging from a branch, but they do notallocate as much time for playing and fooling around as, say, chimpanzees. Early on in field study,orangutans were thought to be solitary animals, but it is now believed that males are solitary whilefemales and their offspring are more social. Males spend 91% of their daily routine alone, and do notparticipate in rearing their young (San Diego Zoo). The IUCN lists six major factors of endangerment: habitat loss due to agriculture, fires (man-made and natural), habitat exploitation and illegal logging, habitat fragmentation, hunting, and the pettrade. All of these human influences are added on top of natural predation. Sumatran orangutans arepreyed upon by big cats and crocodiles, which also helps to explain their arboreal lifestyle. Borneanorangutans do not have the same predators and can spend more time on the ground (Cawthon Lang). Habitat destruction, through agriculture, logging, and palm tree oil production, has the largesteffect on orangutans. Between 1985 and 1997, 24% of total forest area (15.5 million hectares) wasdestroyed in Sumatra and Kalimantan. In the lowlands, where orangutans are primarily found, the
  4. 4. Hilyard 4amount of forest lost is over 60%. It is estimated that only 12% of the island is still suitable for thespecies (IUCN). There is existing law for logging rights, but loggers simply do not comply. For themost part, logging continues until all usable timber has been harvested, instead of honoring themandated 30- or 40-year rest period (Cawthon Lang). Because of these practices, both the trees thatprovide shelter and the trees that provide food are being cut down with wild abandon. The bush meattrade, poaching, and the use of body parts in traditional medicine are also widely spread direct killers oforangutans (IUCN). Palm oil is used in many products (cooking, cosmetics, mechanics, bio-diesel, etc.), and theprocesses by which the industry collects the palm oil are incredibly destructive. About 85% of palm oilis grown in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea (Orangutan Conservancy). Between 1984 and2003, the Bornean land on which palm oil was produced grew from 2,000 km² to 27,000 km², and mostof this land was previously used by orangutans (IUCN). They cannot live on the plantations, so theymust either find another area to occupy or end up dieing out completely in that region of the country. There is conservation work being done to address most areas of orangutan endangerment (SanDiego Zoo) which is why it takes so long for populations to return to their original numbers after asetback, if they even have the resources for that to be feasible. Researchers estimate that wildorangutans could be extinct in as short a time as 25 years, (Orangutan Conservancy) and that willindeed happen if current practices continue. There has been fairly a strong “protect the rainforest” kind of environmental awarenesscampaign ramping up for the past couple decades. People are becoming more aware of where variousingredients for products are coming from, and some of that awareness results in steps being taken tochange or reduce the impact of these processes. One such area that has gotten a fair amount of press ispalm oil production. Orangutan Conservancy published a news article about a group of Girl Scouts whoare trying to make Kelloggs, who manufactures the famous cookies, transition to sustainable palm oil
  5. 5. Hilyard 5practices (and reduce use of the oil in its whole product line) by 2015. If these changes go through, itwill not only positively affect the orangutans, but local animal and plant species as a whole. Habitat destruction must be stopped, or at least drastically decreased, for long-term orangutansurvival to be realistic. Sufficient funding and resources must be allocated to national parks andreserves in order to uphold the law. The fines and consequences themselves should be raised. CawthonLang suggests rescinding the licenses of, or heavily fining, logging companies that do not comply withapproved logging practices in protected areas. She suggests that saw mills could be a point of reviewfor illegal timber-obtaining practices. A program could be put in place to certify “orangutan-friendly”lumber, which would be sold at a higher cost, benefiting both the environment and logging companies(Cawthon Lang). Another suggestion of hers is to hand the duty of guarding protected areas to thecommunities surrounding them. I am not entirely convinced of the effectiveness of such a program (shepoints out a potential weakness due to corruption at higher levels) but it would create jobs in thecommunity. The ranges of protection must be increased, in addition to better protecting those thatalready are. The bush meat trade and pet trade are similar in their scope of damages; they both deal in thecollection of orangutans. As deforestation increases, food and shelter becomes scarcer, so orangutansexplore other areas. In doing so, they have essentially become agricultural pests (Cawthon Lang).People have no problem killing or capturing an orangutan when they approach the problem from thisangle. The solution, again, boils down to funding and increased law enforcement. Along with fines,rehabilitation is a common treatment for the pet trade, and is widely seen as a good thing. Some centershave been criticized for questionable rehabilitation practices, though, which makes the public lesssupportive of this solution. Quarantining new arrivals, routine medical checks, and various ethicalreforms have been put in place to address this issue (Cawthon Lang). Orangutans are fascinating to humans because we see so many similarities to ourselves. The
  6. 6. Hilyard 6fact the word comes from the Malay for “person of the forest” exemplifies this. Before internationalindustry disrupted practices, locals would not kill orangutans because they saw the apes as being afellow person who lived in the trees and did not want to go to work or become a slave (OrangutanConservancy). The fact is, they are great apes, the only ones to live outside of Africa, and are one stepaway from only existing in captivity. There are many factors that need to be addressed, and manysolutions include law enforcement, but as Cawthon Lang notes,“transitioning from a corrupt, nepotisticgovernment is certainly no easy task and one that will take efforts from multiple organizations andconcerned individuals.” If we want orangutans to exist in the wild for more than 25 more years, weneed to drastically change the way things are done. It is possible, but will take effort from all partiesinvolved.
  7. 7. Hilyard 7 Works CitedCawthon Lang KA. Primate Factsheets: Orangutan (Pongo) Taxonomy, Morphology, & Ecology . June 13, 2005. Web. February 10, 2012. <http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/orangutan>.Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Enforcement Efforts on the Conservation of Orangutan in Indonesia. Web. February 10, 2012. <http://www.cites.org/common/com/SC/57/E57-30A2.pdf>.Great Ape Trust. Orangutans. Web. February 10, 2012. <http://www.greatapetrust.org/great- apes/orangutans/>.International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Pongo abelii. 2008. Web. February 10, 2012. <http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/39780/0>.International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Pongo pygmaeus. 2008. Web. February 10, 2012. <http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/17975/0>.Orangutan Conservancy. Orangutan News Update: Concerned for Orangutans in Indonesia, US Girl Scouts Lobby for Sustainable Palm Oil. February 10, 2012. Web. February 10, 2012. <http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-news-update-concerned-for-orangutans-in-indonesia-us- girl-scouts-lobby-for-sustainable-palm-oil/>.Orangutan Conservancy. Orangutan Facts. Web. February 10, 2012. <http://www.orangutan.com/orangutans/orangutan-facts/>.Orangutan Conservancy. Threats to Orangutans. Web. February 10, 2012. <http://www.orangutan.com/threats-to-orangutans/>.Orangutan Foundation International. Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas Bio. Web. February 10, 2012. <http://www.orangutan.org/dr-galdikas-bio>.San Diego Zoo. Orangutan Fact Sheet. July 2003. Web. February 10, 2012. <http://library.sandiegozoo.org/factsheets/orangutan/orangutan.htm>.San Diego Zoo. Orangutan Distribution Map. July 2003. Web. February 10, 2012. <http://library.sandiegozoo.org/factsheets/orangutan/map.htm>.Susmianto, Adi. Letter to Willem Wijnstekers. September 29, 2006. Web. February 10, 2012. <http://www.cites.org/common/prog/ape/ID_response.pdf>.

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