Bornean Orangutans Now Considered Critically Endangered

Bornean orangutans face many different threats in the wild. Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock
Josh Davis 07 Jul 2016, 17:05

It seems that the Bornean orangutan is set to join its cousins on Sumatra, as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has upgraded its conservation status to “Critically Endangered”. This means that the organization now considers the apes to be at an “extremely high risk of extinction in the wild” and is just one category away from only existing in captivity.

The assessment, to be published this week by the IUCN, has found that the usual string of causes is responsible for the decline in their status: hunting, habitat loss, habitat degradation, and habitat fragmentation. Despite there being a lot of work going into attempts to save the species, it seems that conservationists have been unable to ensure that the population of the apes has stopped declining.

“This is full acknowledgment of what has been clear for a long time: orangutan conservation is failing,” one of the authors of the new assessment, Andrew Marshall, told the environmental website Mongabay. The fact that this has only just been realized is no doubt down to the life history of the great apes. The animals are incredibly long lived, and have long generation times, with females only becoming sexually mature at around 11 years old.

This means that there has been a lag in their population numbers, and it is only becoming apparent now how much damage has been done to their numbers. The new assessment of the apes, and projects for their future estimate that the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) will decline by 86 percent between 1950 and 2025, warranting the upgrading of the species.

Populations of the apes have continued to decline despite years of efforts to stabilize them. Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock

The Bornean orangutan is, as the name suggests, a native to the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. It is one of two species of the ape to exist, with the other (Pongo abelii) calling the island of Sumatra home. Traditionally, the Bornean species has been thought to have been doing much better than the Sumatran, with around 54,000 in the wild on Borneo compared to roughly 15,000 on Sumatra. But the classification system used by the IUCN uses threats they face rather than hard numbers to assess species, and the fact is the apes are still declining.

Despite these dramatic declines, a recent look at the available habitat still standing in Borneo found that almost 60 percent of the island's forests were actually still suitable for the apes. Not only that but others have found that the animals are far more resilient and able to survive in degraded forest. Space for orangutans to live and flourish is there, it just requires more protection to stop illegal logging and land clearance for palm oil.

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