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Species Conservation Report: Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 3695 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Species Conservation Report: Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)



The Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) is a species that is endemic to Borneo and belongs to the family of Hominidae. On the Island of Borneo, P. pygmaeus consists of three subspecies, Pongo pygmaeus morio, Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus and Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii. The origin of the name ‘’Orangutan’’ directly translated from the Malay words ‘’orang’’ and ‘’hutan’’ translating to man of the forest.

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It was first considered Endangered by the IUCN in 1986, however, 30 years later in 2016 it was newly classed as Critically Endangered. The main reasons for the sharp decline was due to habitat loss, fragmentation and hunting (Ancrenaz et al. 2016). Currently, P. pygmaeus is classed as Appendix I of CITES and is illegal to hunt and kill in both Indonesia and Malaysia.

The purpose of this conservation report is to explain the main reasons for the decline in detail, as well as current and future threats. Furthermore, this report with give a description and evaluation of the current conservation efforts, and moreover my own thoughts on what could be done additionally to stop the decline.


Bornean Orangutans have arms that are able to reach up to a length of 1.5 metres and long hair that can commonly be seen in three colours maroon, orange and brown.

While both males and females are sexually dimorphic, both sexes are seen to have long beards (Rowe, 1996). Males, on average, weigh more than females at 87kg at an average of height of 970mm. While their female counterparts weigh 37kg at a height of 780mm (Rowe, 1996). Furthermore, adult males have large cheek pads called flanges while females do not (see Figure 1).

P. pygmaeus use both their hands and feet to climb and hold on to branches while moving through the forest canopy. Owing to their long arms, the position of their thumbs and their ability hook their toes they can move from tree to tree by grasping branches with both their hands and feet (Galdikas & Briggs, 1999).

Bornean Orangutan habitats range from the low-lying peat swamps to lowland dipterocarp forests and they are rarely found above 500 metres above sea level (Strobel, 2013).

Due to this, they are primarily herbivores (frugivores) thus their main food sources consist of fruits, seeds, leaves and insects (Strobel, 2013). They get most of their water content from the fruit they eat and tree holes containing water.

Bornean Orangutanare not predated by large felids such as the Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii) thus, they are more often seen on the ground (Rijksen, 1978). Their only known predators are Humans due to traditional hunting.

Unlike other animals, P. pygmaeus does not have a set mating season. However, the primary influence of reproduction and higher ovarian function is the abundance of food. Thus, during time of ecological stress, like lack of food resources, females are less likely to reproduce (Muller & Wrangham, 2001). Female Orangutans will often have their first ovulation cycle between the ages of 5 and 11 years, and in fact it can occur earlier in females that are larger in size and that have more body fat (Knott 2001). Females will commonly mate every 6 to 8 years with a matured male, and the young are looked after for another 6 years.

Among male Orangutans, adolescence occurs between the ages 5 and 8, after which they will wander the surrounding territory until they establish territory and become a fully matured males with flanges.

Current and Future Threats

Threat: Degradation, Destruction and Fragmentation of Habitat

The destruction of forests are devastating to the Orangutan population as they primarily rely on trees. As a result, the primary threat and the main reason for the decline to the Bornean Orangutan is the ongoing loss of their habitat (Rijksen & Meijaard, 1999). Between 1950 and 2000 80% of the P. pygmaeus habitat in Borneo was lost (Lang, 2005). Figure 2 shows the total deforestation and the projected estimates towards 2020. This deforestation was mainly due to extreme logging of dipterocarps and the conversion of these forests to agricultural lands (Rijksen, 2001).

Although dipterocarps are not the main source of fruits in this habitat, the removal of these trees have negative effects on the other plant and tree species surrounding them, including the fruiting trees by which the Orangutans rely on. This collateral damage not only fragments the food supply of the Orangutans but also increases intraspecies competition (Felton et al. 2003). In addition, the logging peat swamp forests also threatens Orangutans. These forests contain commercially valuable timber. Unfortunately, they also have some of the highest densities of Orangutan populations (Felton et al. 2003). As these trees are cut down, more and more Orangutans are unable to adapt and eventually these Orangutan populations are either displaced, decline or are eliminated entirely (Felton et al. 2003). Of these displaced Orangutans most of them are unlikely to survive due to hunting, disease or being captured and sold (Delgado & van Schaik, 2000).

Another variable that is also affecting the loss of Orangutan habitat is illegal logging. Normally, after clearing one area of trees there is a 30-40 year rest period to allow natural regeneration, illegal logging does not take this into account. Under illegal logging, work will continue until all the valuable timber in an area is extracted (van Schaik et al. 2001). After which, people will convert this to agricultural land or housing. Some of which are converted to monocultures of palm oil plantations (Robertson & van Schaik, 2001).

Conservation work done by the Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation aim to counteract this threat. BOS foundation was founded in 1991 with the aim of conserving endangered Orangutans and their habitat all while working with local people.

BOS foundation secured the rights to release Orangutans in three separate areas in Indonesia: Bukit Batikap (Central Kalimantan), Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park (Central Kalimantan) and Kehje Sewen (East Kalimantan). These three areas add up to 1489.22 square kilometres and support Orangutans that have been reintroduced into the wild by the BOS Foundation. Here, Orangutans can be monitored, and data can be collected to see if the newly introduced Orangutans are able to adapt and more importantly reproduce. These monitoring programs also allows researchers to analyse strengths and weaknesses to in turn improve the program.

Furthermore, BOS Foundation paid the Indonesian Government $1.4 Million in order to protect the forest in Kehje Sewen for the next 60 years. With this protection in place, it is now illegal to conduct logging in these areas and should allow Orangutan populations to survive and reproduce (BOS Foundation, 2018).

In addition to this, BOS Foundation are working with local people to plant trees, restore degraded land and rewet degraded peatlands using dams (see Figure 3).

Although the conservation programs done by BOS Foundation is slowing down the decline of Bornean Orangutan, in order to recover Orangutan populations, two main actions must be taken: loss of habitat must be stopped, and safety measures to protect these habitats are essential. BOS Foundation is currently only protecting areas but are not actively stopping the logging of trees. Even hand logging is doing significant damage to orangutan habitats (Felton et al. 2003).

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To counteract this, sufficient funding is needed to make sure laws, and restrictions on timber companies are enforced. One idea could be to fine or to revoke licenses if logging companies are not complying to approved logging practises. Sawmills could also be reviewed to see if their timber was obtained illegally. This could potentially decrease the incentive to continue logging in unapproved areas and the money obtained via fines could be used to fund conservation organisations like BOS Foundation.

The Malaysian and Indonesian governments could potentially put in place policies to stop trade of illegal timber and could also incentivise the recycling of wood and paper. Additionally, some government funding could go to charities, organisations and law enforcement that help stop deforestation.

Community lead initiatives could also be used to allow local people in protected areas to guard forests from timber companies and poachers. These initiatives would both increase the job opportunities for locals and, combined with education programs, could allow conservation organisations to concentrate their efforts elsewhere while local people protect their lands.

Lumber that has been certified and extracted via the normal logging practices could also be sold for a higher price with the tag “habitat friendly”. This would in turn motivate companies to log in approved areas with the approved logging methods. Thus, decreasing the incentive to log illegally.

In order to deal with the fragmentation of habitats, corridors could be used to facilitate the movement of individuals and allow gene flow between populations. By doing this there is a decreased chance for extinction while increasing species richness. The construction of these corridors, with proper guidance, could also be facilitated, maintained and guarded by local people.

Threat: Hunting/Gathering

In some areas of Borneo, P. pygmaeus are hunted for their meat. As a result of their slow movement, hunters find it easy to track, chase and shoot them even from long distances (Sugardjito, 1995). Although it is rare that people do hunt Orangutans, even the slightest hunting pressure on these animals can have significant effects, especially when their populations densities are so low. Not to mention, females will often move slower as they usually travel with an infant, thus making them more venerable to poaching. In the situations where a mother is killed, the infant will be captured and sold as pets (Yeager, 1999).

Although hunting/gathering can be analysed as a separate issue, it is closely linked to the destruction of their habitat. In Borneo, it is common practice to burn fires to clear large areas of forest. Subsequently, Orangutans will flee from these areas, however those of which that are captured are either sold or used as a food resource and are not given to the proper authorities.

Furthermore, as Orangutan food resources become more fragmented and human settlements encroach on their habitats, often wild Orangutans will venture farther out into agricultural lands like plantations and fields to ‘steal’ food. When this happens, Orangutans are seen as agricultural pests and local people will shoot or poison adult Orangutans and the infants are again captured and sold (Rijksen, 2001). A study done by Rosen and Byers in 2002 estimated that approximately two Orangutans every week are taken to Singapore for distribution and the illegal pet trade. Taiwan is also similar, due to a popular television show broadcasted in Taiwan recommending Orangutans to be ideal pets and companions (Lee et al. 1993). Many Orangutans heading towards Taiwan have either been confiscated or seized.

The common solution for this problem has been to rescue and rehabilitate Orangutans that have been captured and subsequently prosecute poachers and those trading Orangutans. Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation have a crucial role in the rehabilitation and reintroduction of Orangutans that are too young to survive without their mothers. In some cases where Orangutans are already old enough to survive in the wild, they simply relocate them to a different area away from human activity and away from poachers and traders.

However, in most cases Orangutans that are being traded are too young to survive on their own without a mother. In addition, the infant Orangutans that are rescued are normally kept under poor conditions and thus they tend to suffer trauma and poor health (BOS Foundation, 2018). When an Orangutan does arrive at a rehabilitation centre, BOS Foundation first does a health check to see if the Orangutan has any contagious diseases that may infect other Orangutans. After, Orangutans that are under 2 years go to ‘nursery’ where they are taught to climb by human surrogate mothers and socialize with other young Orangutans. Orangutans above 2 years will move on to ‘forest school’ where they learn to forage for food make nests. Once ‘forest school’ is completed, these Orangutans are moved to pre-release islands (see Figure 4).

These Orangutans can spend up to two years on these islands all while being individually analysed and evaluated by ‘technicians’ to see if they would be capable of surviving in the wild on their own. When the Orangutans are deemed ready to survive in the wild, they go through another health examination, if passed, they are finally reintroduced into the wild (BOS Foundation,2018).

However, these kinds of centres have come under some scrutiny about their practices and the moderate success in preventing illegal trade and poaching.

After the reintroduction of Orangutans into the wild some Orangutans struggle to build nests and find food resources, even spending weeks in the vicinity of their release cages. The younger Orangutans have difficulty moving through the tree canopies and choose to instead stay on the ground (Grundmann et al. 2000). One way to counter this problem is to have Orangutan surrogate mothers or have the young learn from older experienced Orangutans instead of humans. However, if attempts of assimilation are unsuccessful the young should be removed until another surrogate parent can be found.

Another problem with these centres is that there has been a shift for this practice to become more commercialised. Tourists can pay rehabilitation centres to get up close and personal with orangutans.

Although this is a vital source of income, this can have significant problems. As a consequence of humans being so close to these apes and due to Orangutans sharing 97% of their DNA with humans, they are also susceptible to some infectious diseases passed on by human interaction and vice versa (Woodford et al. 2002).

It could also be said that the effort focused on ecotourism should instead be on preventing habitat loss and poaching. Although rehabilitation is important, if poaching and illegal trade can be stopped less orangutans would be put in rehabilitation programmes and more would be able to live in the wild without the need for human intervention. In my opinion, rehabilitation, reintroduction and ecotourism should not amass the same funding as the actual source of the decline, and more funding should be used to target deforestation, illegal trade and poaching. Some of this funding could be used to educate local communities on the effects of poaching and how to safeguard their lands from poacher and illegal traders.    



In conclusion, the primary causes for the decline are due to deforestation, fragmentation and hunting, all of which are extremely difficult problems to deal with. Although this is the case, work being done by organisations like Borneo Survival Orangutan Foundation help to conserve and protect P. pygmaeus. However, the conservation plans put in place have many problems. In my opinion, they do not strike the heart of the problem. Funding strategies should be re-evaluated to help directly solve the threats listed above, and not solely on softening the blow of habitat loss, fragmentation and hunting. In order to stop the decline, and start the increase, of orangutan populations the evaluations and ideas listed above should be taken into consideration and, where they can, be implemented. Hopefully in future it could be said that, although humans were responsible for the decline of orangutan, they were also responsible for saving them.



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