Global Warming Brings Additional Woes to Orangutans

Global Warming Brings Additional Woes to Orangutans

8 October 2007

published by The Jakarta Post

A study predicts that global warming will further decimate the orangutan population in Sebangau National Park in Central Kalimantan, home to Indonesia’s largest orangutan habitat. About 6,900 orangutans out of the
estimated 14,000 on Kalimantan Island currently occupy the 567,700-hectare park.

“The rising temperature and rainfall will have adverse consequences on plant species in the park,” Chairul Saleh, the biodiversity conservation coordinator at WWF Indonesia, told The Jakarta Post on Saturday. “The
plants are sensitive to climate changes. This will threaten food supplies for the orangutans.” Orangutans are reliant on the trees and fruit for their existence.

Chairul said that coupled with the long-standing problem of forest fires, global warming would affect the reproductive cycle of the orangutans.

“It will also trigger the migration of orangutan to other forests and affect genetics, the reproduction rate and health of orangutans,” he said. Female orangutans in Kalimantan currently have an interbirth interval of
between six and nine years.

Experts warn that orangutans are vulnerable to malaria, tuberculosis, hepatitis and cholera. The rising temperatures is expected to cause a big increase in the number of malaria cases.

The study on the impact of global warming on orangutan habitat in the Sebangau National Park was conducted jointly by the Jakarta-based, privately-run National University and WWF Indonesia in September. The study says that temperatures in the Sebangau Park would rise by one degree Celsius by 2050 and three degrees by 2100 due to global warming. Between 2000 and 2003, temperatures in the park were between 21 to 23 degrees -Celsius.

The WWF will present the findings of the study at the international climate-change conference in Bali in December, which will be attended by representatives of the 191 signatories to the Kyoto Protocol on climate

Sri Suci Utami, an orangutan researcher from the National University, said that extensive land clearance and illegal logging had significantly reduced the orangutan population.

“Without global warming, orangutans are already very vulnerable to extinction thanks to rampant forest fires and illegal logging,” she said. “Thus, global warming could further expedite the loss of orangutan habitat
unless the government takes immediate protective measures,” she said.

The Sebangau Park is a combination of mixed swampy forest, transitional forest, lowland canopy forest and granite forest, where 106 species of birds, 35 mammals and several groups of primates can be found. The
government designated the Sebangau National Park as a conservation forest in 2004.

Sri, however, warned that those who cleared land by fire would use the global warming issue to expand their businesses as they could blame global warming for the loss of orangutan habitat. The use of fire to clear land
both for commercial and agricultural purposes is widely practiced in Indonesia. The severe El Nino-induced drought in 1997-1998 led to a massive fire disaster that killed many orangutans.

“We estimate that about 2.5 percent of the 14,000 orangutans in Kalimantan were lost during the forest fires in the 1990s,” Sri said. In addition, major forest fires in 2006 also killed about 1,000 orangutans.
To make it worse, most of the dead orangutans were mothers and their offspring.

“Female and young orangutans will be the most vulnerable as they have the greatest difficulty in escaping,” said Sri.

The study recommends the establishment of monitoring stations to oversee orangutan populations, including their daily activities and food supply. It is also recommended that local people be involved in the protection efforts being carried out in the Sebangau National Park.

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