While humans reach the 7 million mark the number of many wild animals is plummeting in the opposite direction with numerous at the threshold of being extinct. One of these animals is the Orangutan of Borneo in Indonesia which is fast losing its natural habitat to man’s need for food and industrialization.
The Borneo region of Kalimantan is supposed to be the last refuge of the wild orangutans. However, the animals are repeatedly becoming the target of poachers and are also losing their precious habitat due to industrialization. With lack of forest cover when orangutans are coming to villages, they are again being killed and even eaten.
Dr. Erik Meijaard is the chief scientist behind the survey conducted by The Nature Conservancy, an environmental advocacy group that studied the state of the endangered primate in the area. He believes the loss of forests is the main reason why orangutans are also being slaughtered by villagers when they come in search of food to human habitations.
He also adds that because bushmeat is part of the local lifestyle, even if orangutans are not the primary target, they will be killed and eaten.
“A lot of people like orangutan meat. I mean, people describe it as a sweet meat that has a good taste apparently. So I think that once people do have an orangutan they are quite happy to eat it… The average hunter in Borneo will be targeting pigs and deer. They are the biggest animals with the most meat. But sometimes if you don’t get anything and you can catch an orangutan you’ll take it.”
The survey conducted in more than 600 villages in Kalimantan found that sometimes orangutans were deliberately targeted and the main villains behind the killings were oil companies. Villagers revealed to the team that some companies paid to eradicate these so called pests.
Dr. Damayanti, a lecturer in Ecology at the Agriculture Institute in Bogor says,
“There are instances when the community can get money if they kill orangutan because companies who see orangutan as a threat really want to decrease the population of orangutan.”
“So if people can present some remnants of orangutan body parts, they can get money out of it. … There is an incentive although of course none of the companies would acknowledge that, but when you go and talk to the local people then yeah.”
The team even found two villagers who had at least killed 150 orangutans for the oil companies.
The main reason for conducting the survey was to find out the community’s attitude rather than find the population of orangutans but after the findings, the research team believes it will be very difficult to save the orangutans unless hunting is strictly stopped.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has announced a national action plan to protect orangutans, but environmentalists like Dr. Meijaard say more is needed. He believes more public awareness and reductions of corruption in forestry and mining departments can help solve the crisis.
“There has to be a way that we as Indonesians will live together with these animals, accept them as being part of our environment and get some message out there that gets people to think about it and it has to go hand in hand with law enforcement. People should become aware that killing orangutans is just not an option anymore,” said Meijaard.
Orangutans once thrived across Southeast Asia, but today they are found only in the rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo. In the province of Kalimantan, there are an estimated 50,000 orangutans.