AFTER decades of dramatic decline, the Bornean Orangutan has been listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation Nature (IUCN) last week, highlighting the need for urgent action to save the species. They have been pushed to the brink by habitat destruction and degradation, and poaching in both Indonesian and Malaysian Borneo.
In the Indonesian part of Borneo, orang utans live primarily outside designated protected areas and non-sustainable timber practices, mining concessions and large-scale plantations have resulted in their habitat becoming critically fragmented. Repeated episodes of forest fires in the region have further contributed to a decrease in forest cover in recent years which has, in turn, led to a growing threat from hunting. To safeguard the species and stabilise orang utan populations in light of these challenges, conservation efforts must be strengthened to expand well protected and sustainably managed areas.
Arnold Sitompul, WWF-Indonesia conservation director, said “The IUCN listing is an alarm call for all of us. The protection and restoration of the remaining Bornean Orangutan habitat is a must. Connectivity among orang utan habitat should also be ensured to maintain viability of each population. Our conservation programme shows the orang utan population can be sustained in the logging concession area when it is managed in a sustainable way. Should we apply this approach in larger landscapes, we can potentially increase our opportunity to save the species
WWF’s years of conservation work in Indonesia and Malaysia has shown that efforts to ensure viable populations of the Bornean Orangutan can be successfully achieved by building a strong partnership among stakeholders, including government agencies, scientists, NGOs and the private sector.
Significant progress has been made to safeguard orang utan populations in some protected areas and forest management areas — such as Danum Valley-Imbak Canyon-Maliau Basin Conservation Areas, Tabin Wildlife Sanctuary, Batang Ai National Park, Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary and the Ulu Sebuyau-Sedilu-Gunung Lesong National Parks in Sabah and Sarawak, as well as the National Parks of Danau Sentarum, Betung-Kerihun and Sebangau in Indonesia Kalimantan. These forest management areas are mandated to incorporate species conservation in their plans to fulfil international certification standards such as the Forest Stewardship Council.
According to WWF-Malaysia executive director and CEO Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma, strategies for orang utan conservation must include monitoring orang utan populations and advocating for more orang utan habitats to be gazetted as protected areas such as in Sabah.
“We work closely with Sabah Forestry Department to restore degraded orang utan habitats such as the totally protected Bukit Piton Forest Reserve, which was gazetted in 2012 based on WWF-Malaysia’s orang utan research and advocacy,” said Sharma.
Since the restoration kicked off in 2008, WWF-Malaysia has restored 2,099ha of habitat in Bukit Piton and the tree-dependent apes have been observed using the planted trees as early as three years after they were planted. Besides Bukit Piton, two other orang utan habitats have been gazetted as totally protected areas by the Sabah Forestry Department — Northern Gunung Rara in 2014 and Trusan Sugut in 2015.
The orang utan species play an important role in maintaining the health of forest ecosystems. They not only help disperse seeds, but also allow light to reach the forest floor by building new nests in the thick tropical rainforests.
WWF-MALAYSIA, SENIOR COMUNICATIONS OFFICER