Conservation Commentary: What’s Good for People Is Good for Orangutans

Photo Courtesy of Nardiyono
Photo Courtesy of Nardiyono

by Erik Meijaard/The Jakarta Globe

As if life isn’t hard enough already for the orangutans of Borneo and Sumatra. Hammered by loss of their forest habitat and outright killing, they now face an additional man-made threat.

New research published in the journal Global Change Biology and in a report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has mapped areas of Borneo that could be affected by climate or land-cover changes this century, finding that up to 74 percent of present-day orangutan habitat could become unsuitable for this endangered species.

The study, led by scientists at the University of Kent and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany, discovered that from an estimated 260,000 square kilometers of Bornean orangutan habitat in 2010, 63 percent could become climatically unsuitable by 2080, but when also considering the effects of deforestation, up to 74 percent of habitat could be lost.

I assume that this news will not generate much interest. People will just consider it another bit of negative environmental information in a world that is already facing enough problems. Why worry about it?

But how different would it have been if the study had focused on people instead of orangutans and shown that 63 percent of Borneo would no longer be able to support human populations in the foreseeable future? Surely someone would have noticed (or at least screamed that the scientists were totally wrong). What I wonder though is whether this study of Bornean orangutans isn’t just as relevant to the people of the island.

This excerpt from a commentary piece is courtesy of the Jakarta Globe and can be read in its entirety here.

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