The dense rainforests of Borneo, the third-largest island in the world, are home to one of the most critically endangered primates on the planet – the Bornean orangutan.
Despite concerted conservation efforts and the establishment of projects aimed at preserving their dwindling habitat, these gentle giants continue to face a grave threat: illegal killings.
Recent research conducted in the Indonesian Kalimantan region has unearthed alarming evidence that orangutans are still being illegally hunted and killed, even when Conservation projects are nearby.
The study, led by Emily Massingham of the University of Queensland, involved interviews with over 400 villagers in 79 communities. The results were sobering, with direct evidence of orangutan killings found in 30% of the surveyed villages.
This shocking revelation comes more than a decade after a previous study estimated that between 2,000 to 3,000 orangutans were being directly killed each year.
This is a devastating number, especially considering that there are now believed to be fewer than 100,000 Bornean orangutans remaining in the wild.
Adding to the concern is the orangutan’s slow reproductive rate, with females producing only one offspring every six to eight years.
Borneo, divided between Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia, has long been a battleground for the survival of these magnificent creatures. Orangutans are hunted for various reasons. Fear, crop damage, and habitat encroachment often lead to their killings. Tragically, mothers are sometimes targeted so their infants can be captured and sold in the illegal pet trade or trained for performances. Orangutans are also hunted for their meat and body parts, exacerbating the threat they face. The problem is exacerbated by habitat destruction, driven largely by the palm oil industry. As these majestic animals lose their natural homes, they’re pushed closer to human settlements, escalating conflicts and endangering their lives.
Surprisingly, the research also revealed that the proximity of Conservation projects had no discernible effect on the likelihood of orangutan killings being reported. Conservationists and researchers had hoped that having these projects close by might reduce the threat and influence local attitudes, but the study found this not to be the case.
Emily Massingham, the lead researcher, emphasized the need for Conservation initiatives to work closely with local communities to tackle the issue of direct killings. She stressed that much of the funding and attention has been directed toward protecting orangutans themselves, and insufficient focus has been placed on addressing the root causes of this problem within the communities that share their habitat.
Professor Andrew Marshall, a long-time orangutan researcher at the University of Michigan, expressed his sadness and lack of surprise at the study’s findings. He pointed out that studying the hunting of legally protected, endangered species is challenging, as many are reluctant to report killings due to fear of authorities and outsider judgment. Marshall added a dire warning, saying that without effective Conservation interventions, orangutans face extinction within our lifetimes.
The ongoing killing of Bornean orangutans despite Conservation efforts is a stark reminder of the challenges faced in preserving our planet’s diverse and endangered wildlife. It is not enough to protect species in isolation; we must also address the underlying issues of human-wildlife conflicts, habitat destruction, and the economic pressures that drive these behaviors.
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This article by Trinity Sparke was first published by One Green Planet on 13 October 2023. Image Credit :Everything I Do/Shutterstock.