Indonesia’s orangutans threatened by expansion of palm oil plantations

Indonesia’s orangutans threatened by expansion of palm oil plantations

The Orangutan Foundation International estimates that up to 5,000 orangutans are killed every year as Indonesia expands its palm oil plantations.

CENTRAL KALIMANTAN, Indonesia: Palm oil plantations are the single largest threat to the existence of orangutans in Indonesia’s fast depleting forests, according to Orangutan Foundation International.

The foundation, which supports the conservation and protection of orangutans, estimates that up to 5,000 of the animals are killed every year in palm oil concessions - a worrying situation for their survival as a species.

Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer of palm oil, plans to expand its plantations from 8 million hectares to 13 million hectares in four years.

The habitat of some orangutans was destroyed in the process and the Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine in Central Kalimantan is one facility that tends to the primates which were either held in captivity or orphaned.

“We’ll take care of them 24 hours a day and try to give them natural food as well as take them out to the forest for training or school or nursing," the centre’s senior administrator Waliyati said.

Holland, a baby orangutan at the Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine in Central Kalimantan. (Photo: Sujadi Siswo)

She added that many of them have stayed in cages all their lives and do not know what it’s like to live in forests.

“Most of the orangutans were brought to the rehabilitation centre when they were still young - between the ages of two and three. They will spend about 10 years in the centre before they are released to the wild,” Ms Waliyati added.

Since it was established about 20 years ago, the centre has managed to release about 300 orangutans back into the wild.

However, finding a suitable site to release them is an increasingly difficult task as 80 per cent of the orangutan’s habitat has been cleared for plantations over the last two decades.

Still, there could be some respite for the threatened species after the Indonesian government launched a programme to restore parts of the country’s degraded forest ecosystem.

Rimba Raya Conservation, an environmental organisation awarded a concession area in Central Kalimantan, said it will lend a hand to save the orangutans.

Its general manager Antonius Jonatan said: “We are carrying out a survey with the Orangutan Foundation and Rimba Raya to pick a site. Our aim is to release some orangutans in Rimba Raya conservation area this year.”

There are several orangutan release sites in Kalimantan. One of the oldest is Tanjung Puting National Park’s Camp Leakey, which was established in 1999.

Camp Leakey has been transformed into a tourist attraction that allows visitors to watch orangutans in the wild. However, these primates are still fed at certain times of the day.

The compromise is crucial as it increases the species’ chances of survival, according to the camps’ chief ranger Faisal. “For the rehabilitated orangutans, there are more now. But for the wild ones it is difficult to ascertain how many there are because they keep moving,” he said.

A rehabilitated orangutan at Camp Leakey, Central Kalimantan. (Photo: Sujadi Siswo)

The Orangutan Conservancy estimates there are only about 45,000 orangutans left in Borneo and Sumatra, down from around 60,000 a decade ago.

At this rate, many experts estimate that orangutans could become extinct in the wild in less than 25 years.

Source: CNA/am