Conservation Efforts

The Orangutan is currently an endangered species, with the Sumatran Orangutan (P. albelii) listed on the critically endangered list.  There are two main reasons for the decline in Orangutan populations: the destruction of their habitat and the illegal trade & poaching of the species.  The population of P. pygmaeus in Borneo has decreased from 23,000 in 1995 to 15,400 in 1998, a decrease of a third of the population in less than three years. Estimates are similar for P. albelii population decreases in Sumatra.

Agencies are continuing their conservation efforts of Orangutans throughout Indonesia.   In Sumatra, roughly 70% of population of P. albelii  has been protected by the Leuser Ecosystem in contrast to Borneo where only 16% of Orangutan habitat has been protected (4).  The Leuser Foundation and Park will play a key role in protecting important refuges of the critically endangered Sumatran Rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), Elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus) and Tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) (7).  In addition to the Leuser Ecosystem, agencies are also using zoos to rehabilitate Orangutans that have been recovered from illegal trade or have lost their habitats. Estimates of zoo populations throughout the world are 306 Sumatran Orangutans and 385 Bornean Orangutans.

Destruction of Habitat

The population of Indonesia has grown from roughly 15 million people in 1900 to now over 200 million in 2000.  With population expected to exceed 300 million in less than two decades it is no surprise that the habitat of Orangutans has been increasingly destroyed.  Human population increase coupled with the increase in profitable palm oil plantations has drastically decreased the Orangutan's natural habitat.  The size of Orangutan habitat in Borneo is currently around 155,000 km2 compared to just under 27,000 km2 in Sumatra (4). However, in Sumatra the survival rate is predicted to be higher for Orangutans because their main habitat is located along the Barisan Mountain Range in northern Sumatra which is inhabitable for humans.

Illegal Trade & Poaching

Orangutans are constantly struggling with humans for rights to territory.  This struggle has lead to the illegal poaching and capture of Orangutans.  These animals are suffering from a decreased size in habitat that leads Orangutans to travel outside of their normally dense forests and into populated areas where humans will often capture them or shoot them.  Also, in some instances, humans have set fire to Orangutan forests to force out the animal populations and log the resulting forest.  If caught the animals fleeing from these forest fires will be shot or captured and used to gain large profits in illegal animal trading.  This trade began when 1,000 illegally imported infant Orangutans showed up in Taiwan in 1900 (4) and it still continues today, but probably greater numbers.