According to WWF, over the last 15 years, the population of orangutan’s residing in forest patches surrounding palm oil plantations in the Malaysian state of Sabah declined by as much as 30 per cent. Despite the alarming drop in numbers, the overall population in the region remains stable. WWF says the results are the product of the most intensive study ever done on any great ape in the world.
Overall population remains stable
The study found that orangutan numbers declined by 30 and 15 per respectively in Kulamba and Tabin between 2002 and 2017. Orangutans can be found in the Bornean rainforests which is where Sabah is located as well as on Sumatra which is an Island in Indonesia. WWF says that between 2002 and 2017 at least 650 orangutans were lost in the protected Eastern lowlands of Sabah. The overall population however, held steady at 11,000.
In a statement WWF says that whilst the population or orangutans has stablilised in large forest areas, their number in and around the forests within palm oil landscapes in Sabah’s Eastern lowlands fell. Because palm oil plantations are monoculture in nature, they are unable to support species that depend on forest environments such as orangutans.
Forest patches important
Forest patches within plantations perform an important function, allowing orangutans the ability to travel between forested areas and are key to the species survival, particularly in the lowlands of Sabah according to a spokesperson for the Sabah Wildlife Department. Malaysia depends on palm oil which is an ingredient that is used in everything from chocolate spread to lipstick.
Billions are at stake
The commodity generates billions of dollars every year in foreign exchange, supports hundreds of thousands of jobs and is Malaysia’s largest agricultural crop and export. After Indonesia, Malaysia is the second ranked grower of palm-oil with Sabah the most productive state in the country. The palm oil industry is responsible for widespread deforestation over the decades as land is cleared for plantations using slash and burn techniques that result in heavy pollution.