Out on a limb: Unlikely collaboration boosts orangutans in Borneo

first_imgLogging and hunting have decimated a population of Bornean orangutans in Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park in Indonesia.Help has recently come from a pair of unlikely allies: an animal welfare group and a human health care nonprofit.Cross-disciplinary collaboration to meet the needs of ecosystems and humans is becoming an important tool for overcoming seemingly intractable obstacles in conservation. BUKIT BAKA BUKIT RAYA NATIONAL PARK, Indonesia — In the heart of Indonesian Borneo, a dwindling population of orangutans is getting a new lease on life thanks to a group of wildlife rescuers and medical professionals who have joined forces.Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) numbers are only about a third of what they were 20 years ago, with forest destruction and hunting leading to an estimated loss of almost 150,000 individuals between 1999 and 2015. The IUCN predicts that the species’ numbers will halve again by 2025, painting a bleak future for this critically endangered primate.Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park, a sprawling 1,811 square kilometers (699 square miles) of rainforest in central Borneo, is ideal orangutan habitat: Towering tropical hardwoods dominate the forest, flowering in synchronized bursts and showering the ground with whirling, two-winged seeds once or twice a decade. Giant trees like ironwood (Eusideroxylon zwageri) reach dizzying proportions, their trunks stretching 60 meters (196 feet) into the clouds and swelling to 2 meters (6 feet) in diameter. And a ring of mountains surrounds a lowland basin dotted with abundant fruit trees.Butan and Marsela, Bornean orangutans rescued as infants from forest destroyed for a palm oil plantation, climb into the canopy after being released in Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park. Image courtesy of Heribertus/IAR Indonesia.Yet the park is home to only “a very small and potentially non-viable resident wild orangutan population,” Karmele Llano Sánchez, program director of International Animal Rescue in Indonesia, said in an email. Just as hunting and logging have threatened Borneo’s orangutan species as a whole, so too have these human pressures nearly wiped out Bukit Baka Bukit Raya’s population. A recent survey found just a handful of orangutan nests in the park, and the apes have been entirely absent from some areas for 20 to 30 years.Then, in 2016, two unlikely allies teamed up to secure an alternative future for them.On one side, International Animal Rescue, a U.K.-based wildlife welfare group, is providing an initial boost to the population by releasing Bornean orangutans rescued from captivity or conflict. On the other, Health In Harmony, a U.S.-based healthcare nonprofit, is working to eliminate logging and hunting by meeting the needs of the surrounding communities.Gail Campbell-Smith, research and conservation adviser for International Animal Rescue in Indonesia, says the two organizations work well together because each has carved out its own niche.“Both of them do things very differently, but there’s also a lot of commonalities as well,” she said. “And I think we also need each other.”last_img

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