Scientists urge greater efforts to protect orangutan forests

July 17, 2014

Protecting the forest homes of orangutans is the most cost-effective way of boosting the great apes' chances of survival in the long-run, international scientists have found.

New research at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) has established the best strategies for maintaining orangutan populations for more than 20 years on a limited budget.

"The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the Sumatran orangutan as critically endangered, and the Bornean species as endangered," says Professor Hugh Possingham of CEED and The University of Queensland (UQ). "Unless we act quickly, most orangutan populations that don't have adequate protection face a dire future."

Currently, the two main strategies to conserve orangutans are rehabilitating and reintroducing ex-captive or displaced animals, and protecting their forest habitat to decrease threats such as deforestation and hunting, Prof. Possingham explains.

In the study, the researchers analysed which strategy or combination of strategies, and under what conditions, is the most cost-effective at maintaining wild orangutan populations.

"Money is limited in conservation, and it is important to know how best to spend it," says Dr Howard Wilson of CEED and UQ. "We found that the choice between habitat protection and rehabilitation depends on the cost of rehabilitation per orangutan and the rate of deforestation."

"If we want to maintain orangutan populations for less than 20 years, then reintroduction is best," says Dr Wilson. "But if we're aiming for long-term species conservation, protecting their habitat is by far the best strategy.

"This is because reintroduction costs twelve times as much per animal compared with protecting its habitat, so rehabilitation is only a cost-effective strategy at very short timescales."

Prof. Possingham says the study suggests that the Indonesian and Malaysian governments as well as non-governmental organisations should allocate as much of their resources as possible to protecting orangutan habitats, rather than rehabilitating individual animals.

"There's another option – sustainable logging practices and protecting orangutans from hunting in timber production forests is intermediate in cost-effectiveness between and reintroduction," he says.

"These findings are really important", says, Dr Erik Meijaard, one of the co-authors of the study and a long-term orangutan conservation expert. "Although we don't know how much money is being spent on rehabilitation and how much on the protection of wild habitats, it is clear that the balance may need to be shifted."

"Orangutans live in the forests of Borneo and Sumatra. The conversion of orangutan habitats is ongoing, as we speak," Meijaard continues, "and mopping up orangutans in areas that are being converted for oil palm is good for welfare, but is a very expensive way to contribute to saving the species. The government may need to rethink its objectives on this."

The scientists say that most people in Indonesia and Malaysia want orangutans to survive as a long-term part of the country's natural heritage. "The choice is ours and we need to be smart in deciding the best way to secure the species' future, then go and do it effectively."

Explore further: Sumatran orangutan rescued in western Indonesia

More information: Wilson HB, Meijaard E, Venter O, Ancrenaz M, Possingham HP (2014) "Conservation Strategies for Orangutans: Reintroduction versus Habitat Preservation and the Benefits of Sustainably Logged Forest." PLoS ONE 9(7): e102174. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102174

Related Stories

Borneo's orangutans are coming down from the trees

July 29, 2013

Orangutans might be the king of the swingers, but primatologists in Borneo have found that the great apes spend a surprising amount of time walking on the ground. The research, published in the American Journal of Primatology ...

Orphan orangutans return to the wild

November 21, 2013

Asked what is so engaging about orangutans, Robyn Johns says it's simple: "When you watch their mannerisms and look into their eyes it's not surprising to learn that we have 97 per cent of our DNA in common."

Indonesia releases orangutans into the wild

February 28, 2012

Four orangutans were released into the wild on Indonesia's Borneo island on Tuesday, an official said, as the country ramps up efforts to protect the animals from extinction.

Tree-dwelling orangutans on ground

February 28, 2014

When researchers in Borneo set up camera traps to monitor tropical mammals on the ground, they didn't expect to be photobombed by orangutans.

Smoking Indonesian orangutan gives birth

September 28, 2012

An orangutan famous for puffing on cigarettes gave birth this week at an Indonesian zoo, an official said on Friday, in a rare event giving a boon to the critically endangered species.

Recommended for you

Testing the advantage of being left-handed in sports

November 22, 2017

(—Sports scientist Florian Loffing with the Institute of Sport Science, University of Oldenburg in Germany has conducted a study regarding the possibility of left-handed athletes having an advantage over their ...

Re-cloning of first cloned dog deemed successful thus far

November 22, 2017

(—A team of researchers with Seoul National University, Michigan State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has re-cloned the first dog to be cloned. In their paper published in the journal ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.