Why Are Orangutans so Vulnerable?

Genetic diversity is essential for the survival of any species. The more variation in the DNA, the more adaptable the species is to changes in the environment. If their diet and lifestyle are versatile, then the animal can move to different habitats and settle down if their main habitat is destroyed. Greater genetic diversity also means a stronger immune system and therefore decreases the chances of illnesses or any genetic diseases. Large populations tend to have a greater number of genes than smaller populations, but it’s not absolute. This makes it harder to conserve endangered animals. Once the population decreases, the genetic diversity lessens. Then if the populations increase, the genetic diversity will stay the same, which still puts the population at risk of extinction. It is therefore important to prevent population loss to begin with (Pascal, M. 2010).

There are a couple of characteristics of orangutans that makes them susceptible to extinction. Orangutans are endemic to Indonesia and Malaysia, which means there are no populations elsewhere. Since these two countries are islands, orangutans are also not able to spread out to other countries. Their genetic variability isn’t as great as a genus that has many species spread out over a lot of countries. Their weight also puts them at risk. As older trees are chopped down for lumber or palm oil plantations, younger trees are left behind. The weaker branches cannot hold the large, adult male. The males are forced to walk along the ground, which puts them at risk of predation (Levine, S. 2000).

Another aspect that put orangutans at risk is their low reproduction rates. Females only have one infant at a time, and only every eight to ten years. When populations are wiped out, it takes many years for the numbers to bounce back. These mothers also need a lot of land to raise their young. Even though female orangutans share home ranges, male orangutans are very protective of their territory. Great apes need a lot of land to survive. As the rainforests are chopped down, orangutans are pushed together and the number of fights increases (Caldecott, J., & Miles, L. (2005).

Besides the orangutans, the trees that make up their diet is at risk. As land is cleared for palm oil plantations, the vegetation populations are severely reduced. In place of these trees, African oil palm is planted. As a result, the biodiversity of the vegetation is diminishing. Although the orangutans can utilize African oil palm in their diet, the lands are heavily protected and intruding orangutans are generally shot (Nellemann, C. 2007).

Caldecott, J., & Miles, L. (2005). World Atlas of Great Apes and Their Conservation. London:   University of California Press.

Levine, S. (2000). The Orangutan. San Diego: Lucent Books, Inc.

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 http://www.grida.no/files/publications/orangutan-full.pdf.

Pascal, M., Guyader, H. & Simberloff, D. (2010). Biological invasions and the conservation of biodiversity. Revue Scientifique et Technique, 29 (2), 387-403.

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