Radical conservation offers hope for Orangutan

A new study involving LJMU’s world-leading animal conservationists says radical action is now needed to avert the loss of thousands more orangutans.

Over the past 20 years, around 100,000 of the critically-endangered animals have been lost with just 60-70,000 remaining, mostly in Borneo and Sumatra.

The study says that populations will decline by around 27% between now and 2032 under current management.

But it also predicts the impact of two global proposals on conservation: Half Earth and Whole Earth.


Professor Serge Wich, of the School of Biological & Environmental Sciences at LJMU, who worked with lead author Erik Meijaard, said: "Business-as-usual conservation is clearly insufficient to protect the species. Luckily there appear to be better strategies, with especially a Half Earth approach predicted to strongly reduce orangutan declines in the next decade."

In the study in The International Journal of Conservation - 33 experts concluded that Half-Earth – a method of designating half of a territory for strict protection of a species would reduce the decline in the orangutan population by 2032 by at least half compared to current management.

They also predicted that, if orangutan killing and habitat loss were stopped, orangutan populations could rebound and reach 148% of their current size by 2122.


Whole-Earth, a fundamentally different approach to conservation focused on equitable land management, finance, and governance, was, however, foreseen to lead to greater forest loss and ape killing and a 56% population decline within the next 10 years.  Whole Earth approaches are valuable but may not be workable for the short-term orangutan conservation needs, because of political and economic realities on the ground.

Despite current trends, the authors now see glimmers of hope. Indonesian and Malaysian deforestation rates are down, as are expansion rates of oil palm and other crops.

Added Serge: “Interestingly, the study showed that both governments had more or less reached the objective of legally designating half of the land mass as protected in Kalimantan and Sabah respectively.

With 67.1% of Indonesian Borneo designated as State Forest, Indonesia already exceeds the Half-Earth goal of locking in 50%, if indeed the Indonesian government would commit to retaining these areas as permanently forested and enforcing land protection policies. Malaysian Sabah has also exceeded the Half-Earth goal, with 65% of the state remaining forested.

Does policy work on the ground?

However, they say policy and practice are different and much conservation investment and management would be needed to ensure that indeed these habitats would remain permanently forested.

Erik Meijaard, now a professor at the University of Kent, added: “NGOs and orangutan sanctuaries need to find ways to encourage people and orangutans to live side-by-side as part of sustainable landscapes, rather than translocating them away from areas where they are perceived as a nuisance.

“Conservation donors need to direct their funding towards strategies that work best for protecting wild orangutan populations, while ensuring incentives given to those that contribute to the protection of its habitat. Communities need to be empowered, but also be given responsibility for co-existing with orangutans.


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