The Bornean orangutan listed as critically endangered

It’s official: the status of the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) has been downgraded to “critically endangered” on the IUCN Red List. This is the ultimate step before being declared “extinct in the wild” if no major change regarding the management of its habitat is undertaken.
This decision is based on an assessment from “Borneo Futures”, an initiative launched by Dr. Marc Ancrenaz (co-founder of the NGO Hutan funded by La Palmyre Zoo since 2002) and Dr. Erik Meijard*. If it doesn’t necessary means that the orangutans, whose adaptability to extremely degraded environments has been demonstrated by Hutan, will disappear in short term, it warns about the adequate urgent measures that need to be taken in order to improve the cohabitation between the red ape and humans, create and maintain forest corridors allowing mobility between orang populations and stop hunting which represents a major threat to the species nowadays.

Why should we care about the fate of orangutans?
Because they play an important role in regenerating the forest by dispersing the undigested seeds of fruits and thus in maintaining a healthy ecosystem, essential to the survival of other animal species including humans! Because orangutans are part of the cultural identity of indigenous people of Borneo and as a strong symbol of this identity, they can’t and shouldn’t be sacrificed in the name of economic development. Because they attract tourists to Borneo and because their disappearance would be a disaster for the local economy and the brand image of Malaysia.
Who is responsible?
Obviously the palm oil industry has been centralizing most of the grievances for several years. But as the orangutan populations are decreasing throughout their range, forest conversion to agriculture can’t be the only explanation to the massive decline of the species. Climate change, mining and infrastructures that are increasingly fragmenting the habitat and isolating sub-populations of orangutans are also largely responsible for their disappearance. But today hunting appears to be the main risk: it is estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 orangutans are killed each year in Borneo, an unsustainable rate for this slow-breeding species (only one baby every 6 to 8 years)!

Who should act and how?
Protecting the habitat is important but not sufficient: about 70% of orangutans live outside protected areas! Even if forests with the largest populations have to be identified and preserved, improving the cohabitation within already strongly anthropised spaces where the species may be able to survive (if these areas are managed in a sustainable way) is probably the main strategy on which the conservation work should currently focus.
The palm oil, timber or mining industry should implement sustainable practices right now and not only advertising their willingness to better use the land. Forest corridors allowing isolated orangutan populations to move across transformed landscapes should be developed, as should be maintained riparian forests along rivers to prevent pollution and water eutrophication and soil erosion and thus maintain a healthy and functioning ecosystem.
But more importantly, we need to move from an approach that favors immediate profit for a minority to a more comprehensive vision considering that each part interacts with others, forming a greater whole. In other words: we’re all aboard the same ship and it needs each of us to move in the right direction! By choosing to consume certified products, by avoiding waste, by having an eco-friendly approach in our daily lives, by disseminating messages encouraging us to better consider and take care of our natural environment, in short by being actor and not only consumer, we can, even as individuals, make the difference and help make this world a softer and sustainable place for orangutans, humans and all other (non) living beings that are part of it.

Florence Perroux

*Ancrenaz, M., Gumal, M., Marshall, A.J., Meijaard, E., Wich , S.A. & Husson, S. 2016. Pongo pygmaeus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T17975A17966347