Sat, Oct 15, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Agencies plead for habitat protection to save orangutans


Leading environmental and wildlife agencies called yesterday for a united effort to protect the habitats of Borneo's orangutans whose survival is threatened by mass deforestation.

Aggressive destruction of jungles has caused a breathtaking decline in orangutan numbers and action is urgently needed to lift the threat of their imminent extinction, non-governmental organizations and Indonesian officials said.

"We would like to develop an action plan putting together all stakeholders," said Jito Sugardjito, representing Fauna and Flora International (FFI) at a meeting in the Borneo town of Pontianak.

Asia's only great ape -- which translated from the local Malay language means "person of the forest" -- could be wiped out within 12 years, environmentalists have warned.

The red-haired apes, close kin to humans, are found only on Borneo, which is shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, and on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. In Borneo, the number of orangutans is estimated to have dropped from 200,000 to 50,000 in the past decade.

"Large-scale and coordinated actions are needed so that the limited resources available for securing the Bornean orangutan can be used efficiently and effectively," Indonesian government conservation official Adi Susmianto said.

Friends of the Earth warned in a report last month that wildlife centers in Indonesia were over-run with orphaned baby orangutans that had been rescued from forests cleared to make way for new palm-oil plantations.

Malaysia's palm-oil industry denied the accusations on Thursday, saying palm oil was a strategic, well-planned agricultural industry which supported the preservation of wildlife, including orangutans.

Apart from forest clearing, orangutans also are threatened by commercial logging, forest fires and hunting and poaching for the bush meat and pet trades.

Representatives from FFI, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the UN's Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP) and UNESCO gathered on Wednesday in Pontianak to try and pool their expertise to save the orangutan.

Deforestation in Indonesia has accelerated since the industry was decentralized in 2000.

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