Orang-utan means "man of the forest" in the Malay language. But if we don't stop destroying forests soon, that centuries-old name may become history.
The most tree-loving of all great apes, the orang-utan has dangerously few trees left to hang from. In the past two decades, about 80 percent of tropical forests have been burnt or cut down across Malaysia and Indonesia. These are the last places in the world where orang-utan populations survive, scattered at best.
Scientists estimate 7,500 Sumatran orang-utans (Pongo abelii) remain in the wild. During intense logging in the 1990s, the species lost half its population and now lives in just a dozen patches of forest on the island of Sumatra. The same goes for its close relative, the Bornean orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus), whose population is half of what it was 60 years ago.
And orang-utans are not alone in their plight. Within those forest patches, the orang-utan shares its shrinking home and resources – and highly threatened status – with rhinos and other wildlife native to the Sundaland Biodiversity Hotspot.
Combine poaching and natural disasters with widespread illegal logging, and the orang-utan’s future clings precariously to survival. Conservation International (CI) is helping to restore balance by saving forests and putting local communities in the lead of conservation efforts in the region.
Since 2005, we've been working with our partners to protect Indonesia’s forests in West Batang Toru, home to about 400 Sumatran orang-utans. Populations of 250 or more have the best chance of survival. Deforestation here is low compared to the rest of the country, providing one of the best opportunities to save the species. Today, only a fraction of Batang Toru falls within a protected area, leaving orang-utans vulnerable. Our efforts are changing that:
- We have provided education to 30,000 people living near core Sumatran orang-utan habitat in Batang Toru about the importance of this species and the threats it faces. Raising awareness has helped build local support for orang-utan conservation. A leading local official in Batang Toru is calling for the creation of a national park that would greatly increase protection for orang-utans.
- We are developing alternative income sources to help local communities earn money without harming the environment through damaging activities such as logging and poaching. For example, with new financial support from GITI Tire, CI will help communities increase rubber production sustainably in the buffer zone near Batang Toru.
In 2004, CI worked with local government and community leaders to establish the Batang Gadis national park in North Sumatra, the first of its kind in Indonesia. We continue to collaborate with communities in the area on management of the park. We are incorporating lessons learned from this effort into our community-minded approach for establishing new protected areas.