Conservation Threats on Orangutans

It is predicted that by 2022, 98% of the rainforests in Indonesia will be destroyed. The main ecosystem on Indonesia is rainforest and in these rainforests are a lot of endemic species. Out of all the species in Sumatra, 9% of the native species are endemic and 10% of the native mammals are endemic. In Borneo, 30% of Borneo’s native species population is endemic and 48% of the native mammals are endemic. If all the rainforests are destroyed then these species are going down with them. Figure 1 gives a visual of the amount destroyed and how many rainforests are expected to be destroyed by 2020 (Nellemann, C. 2007).


As the rainforests are torn down, the orangutan population continues to decline. In the last 60 years, 50% of the Bornean population has been wiped out and continues to do so. For Sumatran orangutans, 80% of population has decreased in the last 75 years and continues to decline Figure 2 shows the distribution of the orangutan population between 1930 and 2004. A lot of the populations are a long the shores, which, as can be seen from Figure 1, is where the rainforests are being torn down (Nellemann, C. 2007).


Deforestation is occurring because of palm oil plantations, illegal logging, and fires. Palm oil plantations are more likely to be built on recently cleared rainforest land, including dipterocarp and peat swamp forests. The soil is moist and full of nutrients, which makes it a desirable place to grow the African oil palm. When trees are planted, it takes six years to mature. Once the oil palms start to produce fruit, new land is purchased to plant more trees so there can be a continual harvest. Palm oil is a popular product because it’s cheap, versatile, contains no trans fat, and can be used to produce biodiesel fuel.

A popular spot for plantations are peat swamp forests. The peat swamp soil contains a lot of CO2. The way these forests are cleared is by setting the trees on fire. When the trees and soil are burned, a lot of carbon dioxide is released into the air. Ironically, the production of palm oil emits more greenhouse gases then what the biodiesel fuel made from palm oil will save in replacement of gasoline.

One result of building on old orangutan habitat is the increase in human-orangutan interactions. Lost and confused orangutans have come unto the plantations looking for their home or searching for food. Large males are intimidating and cause fear in the workers. Most of the time these orangutans are shot.

Illegal logging is another major cause of orangutan habitat destruction. Logging is a major part of the Indonesian economy. The international demand for timber is ever active and the impoverished country is willing to supply it. In 2003, 60% of the timber exported from Indonesia was done so legally. That leaves 30% of the exported timber from unlawful operations. There is a lot of illegal logging going unnoticed by the government, and some of the timber is coming from the national parks. The national parks are underemployed and do not have the resources to enforce the law (Nellemann, C. 2007).


Nellemann, C., Miles, L., Kaltenborn, B. P., Virtue, M., and Ahlenius, H. (Eds). (2007). The last stand of the orangutan – State of emergency: Illegal logging, fire and palm oil in Indonesia’s national parks. United Nations Environment. Programme, GRID-Arendal, Norway, Retrieved 11 March, 2012 from


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