Illegal trade devastates Sumatran orangutan population, report says

Apr 17, 2009

Lack of law enforcement against illegal trade in Indonesia threatens the survival of orangutans and gibbons on Sumatra, a new study by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC shows.

Despite considerable investment in conservation, numbers of the critically endangered captured mainly for the pet trade exceeded the levels of the 1970s. A lack of adequate law enforcement is to blame, TRAFFIC says. TRAFFIC is a joint program between WWF and IUCN.

Records of orangutans and put into rehabilitation centers serve as an indicator of how many of these animals were illegally held. Meanwhile numbers continue to decline in the wild, with the most recent estimate of just 7,300 Sumatran Orangutans surviving.

Orangutans, which can weigh up to around 200 pounds and reach five feet in length, end up in such centers after they become too old and big to be held as pets. But owners of the reddish-brown colored do not face any legal consequences.

"It is futile to confiscate these animals without prosecuting the owners," said Crawford Allan, Director of TRAFFIC North America.

"There is just nothing to deter people from committing these crimes if they are not punished," Allan added. The laws are in place in Indonesia, but unless they are upheld the illegal trade will continue and the species will spiral toward extinction."

An estimated 2,000 orangutans have been confiscated or turned in by private owners in Indonesia in the last three decades but no more than a handful of people have ever been successfully prosecuted.

Between 2002 and 2008, for example, the newly opened Sibolangit rehabilitation centre in Sumatra took in 142 Sumatran orangutans, while its predecessor, Bohorok rehabilitation centre accepted just 30 animals between 1995 (when it closed), and 105 orangutans between 1973.

"When the first rehabilitation centers were established for orangutans and later for gibbons it was hoped that with more apes being confiscated, levels of illegal trade would fall," said Vincent Nijman, a TRAFFIC consultant and author of the report, based at Oxford Brookes University.

"But with hundreds of orangutans and gibbons present in such centers, and dozens added every year, it is hard to view these numbers as anything other than an indictment against Indonesia's efforts," he said.

The report also documents the 148 Sumatran gibbons and siamangs and 26 Sumatran orangutans kept in Indonesian zoos.

"Tackling this crisis requires investigating the root causes of trade and stricter enforcement of laws for the protection of orangutans, gibbons and the island's other wildlife," said Ginny Ng, WWF Program Officer for Borneo and Sumatra.

Sumatra's wildlife is also threatened by habitat loss due to deforestation, logging, land conversion, encroachment, and forest fires.

WWF is working to reduce the destruction of wildlife habitat in Sumatra by working with industry to ensure High Conservation Value Forests are not converted for agriculture, empowering local communities to manage natural resources in a sustainable way, and providing alternatives.

Source: World Wildlife Fund

Explore further: Japan lawmakers demand continued whaling

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Palm oil putting orangutans at risk

Oct 22, 2007

Conservationists meeting at the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago say growing demand for palm oil is putting Sumatran orangutans at risk of extinction.

Orangutan release may begin next year

Dec 06, 2006

The first 90 of more than 1,000 orangutans are to be released in early 2007 in two areas of Borneo as part of a project to save the species.

Study: Deforestation decimates orangutans

Jan 24, 2006

A three-year study by the Cardiff School of Biosciences reveals genetic evidence that shows colonialists pushed orangutans to the brink of extinction.

Alarm over fate of world's orangutans

Mar 26, 2007

A U.N. report details grave danger to the world's population of orangutans due to a booming palm oil industry in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Palm oil demand puts orangutans at risk

Aug 15, 2007

The growing demand for bio-diesel fuel threatens the survival of the orangutans of Borneo, the largest surviving population of the primate in the wild.

Recommended for you

Japan lawmakers demand continued whaling

13 hours ago

Japanese lawmakers on Wednesday demanded the government redesign its "research" whaling programme to circumvent an international court ruling that described the programme as a commercial hunt dressed up as ...

EU must take urgent action on invasive species

16 hours ago

The EU must take urgent action to halt the spread of invasive species that are threatening native plants and animals across Europe, according to a scientist from Queen's University Belfast.

User comments : 0

More news stories

More vets turn to prosthetics to help legless pets

A 9-month-old boxer pup named Duncan barreled down a beach in Oregon, running full tilt on soft sand into YouTube history and showing more than 4 million viewers that he can revel in a good romp despite lacking ...

Revealing camouflaged bacteria

A research team at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel has discovered an protein family that plays a central role in the fight against the bacterial pathogen Salmonella within the cells. The so cal ...

New clinical trial launched for advance lung cancer

Cancer Research UK is partnering with pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Pfizer to create a pioneering clinical trial for patients with advanced lung cancer – marking a new era of research into personalised medicines ...