Climate change and anthropogenic activities have been increasingly leading to loss of habitats, biodiversities and ecosystems around the world. This has brought many species on the brink of extinction. Orang-utans are one such species which have been in the limelight for many years as their population continue to decline owing to a threat to their habitat and food sources getting scarce, resulting many to starve and die.
Orang-utans — a Malay word meaning “Person of the forest” — are the largest, tree-climbing mammals and the only Great apes of Asia. There was a time when their population was distributed across Southeast Asia, however, now they are just confined to two islands — Sumatra in Indonesia and Borneo which has been split among Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. The lives of these red-haired, arboreal creatures with long arms and hooked legs have been jeopardised by human impacts and climate change. Deforestation in the tropical rainforest areas of Indonesia and Malaysia has witnessed a massive surge in last two decades which has been majorly driven by logging, cultivation of oil palm trees for palm oil, mining and paper mills. This clearing of the forest area has wiped out the habitats of many plants and animals, including those of orang-utans. In addition to deforestation, they are also being hunted for their meat and are often killed by villagers as a response to crop-raiding. Orang-utans are known to damage crops and steal fruits; poor farmers — at times — have no other option to save their crops and livelihood but to slaughter these apes.
Deforestation has been contributing to climate change. The region has seen extreme weather events in the recent past. The drought of 2015 claimed many lives of such animals and plants in Kuntai National Park in Indonesia. Rising temperature, El Nino effect and clearing of the forest has desiccated the forests and surrounding areas. This has made instances of wildfires frequent. This loss of habitat and their food sources have made the orang-utans critically endangered. As per the latest survey, there remain just 54,000 orang-utans in Borneo and around 14,600 in Sumatra. Last two decades have seen the death of over 100,000 orang-utans in Borneo itself. It is estimated that, over the next 35 years, deforestation alone will result in loss of some 45,000 orang-utans.
Efforts are being made to future-proof rainforests so that the natural habitat and food sources of these fury animals can be secured. While the threats from deforestation and poaching continue to trouble these apes, natural conservationists have been trying to curb the implication of climate change on these forests. Restoration of the ecosystem by planting more climate change resilient trees is one such positive step in this direction. Plant species such as The hardwood tree, the Ulin and a native palm, the Bendang, are being planted in the buffer zones around the areas vulnerable to fire. To ensure their future food security, species such as Dracontomelon dao, a tropical canopy tree and Kleinhovia hospita, an evergreen tropical tree, are being planted alongside the vines which orang-utans use to move through the forest. Restoration of these habitats and food sources need the involvement of many stakeholders and unless they, including government and businesses involved in mining and logging, extend their full support in reforestation work, saving orang-utans would be a Herculean task.