$1 billion not enough to halt orangutan decline



Things are not looking good for the orangutan. All three species of orangutan, which occur only in Indonesia and Malaysia, are classified as Critically Endangered and numbers are rapidly declining despite more than one billion US dollars invested in their conservation between 2000 and 2020.

A new study, which looks at where the money is spent suggests that these iconic big red apes may need a better investment strategy.

Governments and NGOs employ a range of tactics to protect Orangutan numbers:

  • forest protection and management
  • patrolling and law enforcement
  • rescue and rehabilitation
  • community engagement
  • engaging landowners

Data presented in Current Biology assessed how much was spent on each and what benefits arose from these tactics compared to doing nothing at all.

Habitats paramount

“What is most important in this study”, said Professor Serge Wich, of Liverpool John Moores University,  one of the contributing researchers, “is that it shows us that what we are investing in might not be particularly good for orangutan survival.

“That if we want to save the orangutan from extinction, we need to focus resources on the protection of species habitats and working with local communities to reduce threats such as killing and capture”.

Serge and his colleagues conclude that certain activities are more cost effective and better at saving orangutans than others. Habitat protection, patrolling, and community engagement strategies had the greatest return-on-investment for maintaining orangutan populations. Restoration of orangutan habitat through reforestation was especially expensive compared to forest protection and management. Rescue and release of previously captured orangutans had low-cost effectiveness because it had little deterrent effect on illegal orangutan killing and trade, and it did not increase wild populations within current species ranges.

Limited resources

Julie Sherman, executive director at charity Wildlife Impact, said: “It is clear that we can best protect wild orangutans in their natural habitats, and this is much more cost-effective than trying to restore their populations once they have been killed, captured, or displaced from their homes.”

Costs of orangutan conservation activities vary by area. In the Malaysian part of the orangutan range, land prices and labour costs are much higher than in Indonesian. This drives up prices of activities that require the acquisition of land, such as the establishment of protected areas, or the involvement of many people, such as patrolling.

Dr Truly Santika, the lead author of the study, said: “Similar analyses could be applied to many rare species. Considering the urgent need to conserve biodiversity, it is important such cost-effectiveness analyses are developed to optimize the investment of limited conservation dollars.”



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