Borneo Lost Nearly 150K Orangutans in Just 16 Years

That's more orangutans than there are left on the island
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 15, 2018 4:45 PM CST
Borneo Lost Nearly 150K Orangutans in Just 16 Years
In this 2016 file photo, a wild orangutan is spotted in a tree.The most comprehensive study of Borneo's orangutans estimates their numbers have plummeted by more than 100,000 since 1999, as the palm oil and paper industries shrink their jungle habitat and fatal conflicts with people increase.   (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File)

The future looks bleak for the world's orangutans following the release this week of a study that found Borneo lost approximately 148,500 orangutans—more than half its orangutan population—between 1999 and 2015. “I expected to see a fairly steep decline, but I did not anticipate it would be this large,” study coauthor Serge Wich tells the Guardian. "You think the numbers can’t be that high, but unfortunately they are.” Coauthor Maria Voigt agrees, telling NPR the number of orangutans lost is "much higher than people had anticipated." It's estimated there are only 70,000 to 100,000 Bornean orangutans left—the orangutan species is found only on the island of Borneo—and only half the remaining 64 orangutan populations on the island contain enough members to have a viable future.

Part of the problem is habitat loss. Borneo has the worst deforestation rate in the world, with approximately 865,000 acres of forest lost to development every year between 2001 and 2016. Researchers estimate another 45,000 orangutans could be lost in the next 35 years from deforestation alone. But Voigt says hunting of orangutans is "at least a major driver if not the major driver" for their decline. They're killed for food or when they wander onto plantations; mothers are killed to sell their babies as pets. “We know this decline has been largely due to hunting, and if we can turn that around, these orangutans could, over a long period, bounce back," Wich tells the Guardian. The world's other two species of orangutans—both found in Indonesia—have fewer than 15,000 or so members combined. (A recent study found great apes may be able to "read minds.")

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