On average, 2,000 to 3,000 orangutans are killed every year. While exact orangutan population counts are always a challenge – estimates put current counts between 50,000-65,000 orangutans left in the wild. At this rate of loss, many experts believe orangutans could be extinct in the wild in less than 50 years.
Never before has their very existence been threatened so severely. Economic crisis combined with natural disasters and human abuse of the forest are pushing one of humankind’s closest cousins to extinction.
The main threats in today to the survival of orangutans:
Orangutans have lost well over 80% of their habitat in the last 20 years, and an estimated one-third of the wild population died during the fires of 1997-98. As shocking as the rapid loss of rainforests has been over these past few decades, nothing compares to the amount of land being bulldozed by palm oil plantations in the 21st century. Each palm plantation that destroys thousands of hectares in pursuit of massive profits also takes with it the lives of many orangutans. Recent headlines reported how one palm oil firm hunted down orangutans while expanding their cash crop production. Meanwhile, governmental mandates, meant to protect the land and the animals, disappear faster than do the trees.
Once this species roamed over thousands of miles across the rainforests of Southeast Asia. Today they survive only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Their home is in beautiful, lush rainforest, and shared by many other endangered species, such as tigers, elephants and rhinos. This forest is crossed with large rivers and has the greatest number of species of trees, birds and animals per acre of almost anyplace in the world. The treasures of this forest are hard to estimate since they are so precious and numerous. Many different species of plants and animals have yet to be discovered there.
Now even their habitat on the remaining two islands is threatened. This loss of habitat is the result of economic pressures, man’s greed and ignorance and natural disasters. Indonesia’s population has grown from 10 million people at the start of the 20th century to over 240 million in 2014. The needs of so many people with little landmass are urgent, allowing little time for planning or care about the environment. People and orangutans need the same habitat and in a human versus orangutan conflict, the orangutan does not win.
The good people at Fusion have created an informative, family-friendly animated video about palm oil.
Friends of the Earth have a terrific fact sheet about palm oil that explains the situation in great detail. Please view the fact sheet here.
You can learn more about what it actually means for palm oil to be grown in a sustainable way here.
If poaching and the destruction of rain forests go on unchecked, orangutans in the wild could disappear from Sumatra and Borneo in the near future, to be found only in zoos, scientists have warned. The alarm has been sounded in a joint study by Dr. Carel van Schaik of the University of Zurich along with Kathryn Monk and Yarrow Robertson, who are in charge of the Leuser ecosystem management in the north of Sumatra.
Since 1998, the orangutan population in Sumatra has been declining by 1,000 a year, due mainly to the accelerated destruction of their habitat. Poaching has compounded the problem and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) says there may be more orangutans per square-mile in Taipei than in the wild.
ires started by major timber and palm oil companies as a cheap way of land-clearing vast tracts of land are the most visible threat to Indonesian rain forests. More than 80 percent of these forests have been exploited in the last two decades and the trend has only been speeded up, the WWF says. The Indonesian government, which has asserted awareness of the catastrophe, has however been impotent in the face of local level complicity in the destruction, environmental groups warn. Illegal logging fetches hefty profits with a minimum of investment and has devastated natural parks and protected zones in several areas. Even the scientists studying the ecosystems have received threats.
The orangutan population has shrunk more than 50% in Sumatra since 1993, a study by AFP shows. The situation in Borneo is not better, the study noted, referring to the only other place where the orangutans can be found in the wild. A third of the orangutan population perished in the great forest fires of 1997-98 and continuing illegal logging and poaching are taking a further heavy toll. “Unless the developments can be stopped soon, no orangutan population of undoubted viability will be left in the world within a decade,” the scientists said, adding, “if our estimates are in error, they err in the timescale of the change, but not in its direction.”