The rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra are under environmental threat from unsustainable over-development, but they also happen to be last remaining habitat of the endangered species, the orangutan. Deforestation due to land change use, biofuel production and illegal logging all pose an environmental threat to these rainforests and to the very survival of the orangutan.
Deforestation and the Orangutan Habitat
The major threat to the orangutan habitat, and hence to the survival of the species is the destruction of tropical rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.
- Writing on orangutans, the author Chris Rowthorn, in Discover Borneo, published by Lonely Planet in 2008 says, “They are severely endangered due to destruction of their rainforest habitat; the days when an orangutan could swing from tree to tree from one side of Borneo to the other without touching the ground are long gone.”
- The “Orangutan Final Report” published by the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group in January 2004 states, “Analysis of deforestation indicates that Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) has lost at least 39% of its orangutan habitat within the orangutan’s range over the last decade (1992-2002). Similar studies are not available for Sumatra, but the available information suggests very similar trends.”
- The report “Cooking the Climate”, issued by Greenpeace in 2007 states, “During the last 50 years, over 74 million hectares of Indonesia’s forests have been destroyed – logged, burned, degraded, pulped – and its products shipped round the planet.”
Causes of Orangutan Habitat Destruction
The main drivers of deforestation in the orangutan habitat are legal and illegal logging, forest fires, both natural and man made and the increasing demand for palm oil in the drive to boost biofuel production.
- Primates in Peril by Russell A. Mittermeier and published by Primate Conservation in 2007 claims that, “Even small scale illegal logging can reduce local orangutan densities by as much as 60% in Sumatra. At least six of the remaining seven populations containing over 250 individuals have experienced between 10 and 15% annual habitat loss due to logging.”
- China and the Global Market for Forest Products, written by Andy White and published by Forest Trends in 2006 argues that, “Across East Asia, there is evidence to suggest that large quantities of illegally-sourced forest products are heading for China. In Indonesia, 80 percent of the timber harvest is thought to be illegal.”
- Trial by Fire, by Charles Barber, published by the World Resources Institute in April 2000, states, “The average annual deforestation rate since 1986 has actually been about 1.5 million ha, much of it caused by forest fires, often ignited by people clearing land cheaply for plantations.”
- Volume 10 of Voices from the Wilderness, published by the Orangutan Conservancy in 2007 claims, “It is estimated that Indonesia has already lost more than 72 percent of its original frontier forests, and continues to clear another one percent each year. Much of the recent devastation has been caused by fires.”
- Forest Fires in the Fight Against Climate Change, by Andrew Mitchell, published by the Global Canopy Program in 2007 argues that, “Deforestation is largely caused by billion dollar agribusiness expansion driven by western demands for cheap palm oil (75% of world supply comes from Indonesia and Malaysia).”
- In Oil for Ape Scandal, published by Greenpeace in 2007, the author, Helen Buckland claims, “Ninety per cent of the world’s palm-oil exports come from the oil-palm plantations of Malaysia and Indonesia. Most of these plantations are on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. The very lowland forest that the oil-palm industry favours for conversion is the only remaining habitat of the orang-utan.”
The orangutan is an endangered species whose habitat is confined to the tropical rainforest of Borneo and Sumatra. Mankind’s depletion of the planet’s resources for economic gain and the environmental destruction of the orangutan habitat for the production of biofuels could cause the extinction of this unique species.