Jakarta, Indonesia — Climate change will hurt Indonesia’s orangutan population, already under threat from the rapid rate of deforestation, by reducing their food stock, a leading conservation group said on Wednesday. Dubbed as the last of Asia’s great apes, orangutans once ranged the region but a recent UN environment programme estimate said only between 45,000 and 69,000 orangutans remained in Borneo and 7,300 in Sumatra. The WWF said climate change would add to the pressure already caused by human-induced activities such as rampant illegal logging and massive conversion of forests into plantations.
“A longer dry season will reduce the abundance of fruits and will negatively impact orangutan populations because females are more likely to conceive during periods when food resources are not limited,” the WWF report said.
“Climate-change induced fire will also negatively impact orangutan populations by fragmenting their habitat and reducing the number of fruit bearing trees, which can take many years to mature and fruit.” Environmentalists say rampant illegal logging, lethal annual forest fires and the massive conversion of forests into plantations for palm oil and pulp wood have helped place orangutans on the world’s list of endangered species.
“We have seen an example in East Kalimantan, where there was once an abundance of fruits at the beginning of the year followed by a long period of massive shortage,” WWF conservationist Chairul Saleh told Reuters at the launch of the report. “This affected migration patterns and reproduction,” he said, “It has hurt the population of orangutans there.”
A United Nations report in 2002, which raised alarm about the plight of the apes, had projected that most of the habitat suitable for orangutans would be lost by 2032. In February, UNEP had put the date at 2022.
Saleh warned that a combination of rising temperature and deforestation would drive thousands of orangutans out of the forests into villages and plantations to look for food.
“It’s happening. Already orangutans are invading plantations to eat palm oil seedlings and get killed for it,” Saleh said. “But what should they do? Their living space is shrinking and there is simply no food.”