Population Of Sumatran Orangutans In The Wild Surpasses 14,600 – Growth Remains Healthy, But Species Still Threatened

Alap Naik Desai - Author

Jan. 3 2018, Updated 2:35 p.m. ET

The population of Sumatran orangutans was found to surpass 14,600. Although the census is two times higher than the previous count, the species is still under grave threat. With rapid urbanization, the Indonesian island’s biodiversity continues to face erosion. The species isn’t out of danger despite healthy populace.

There are currently two species of orangutans that are still alive in the wild: Sumatran and Bornean. The international team calculated there are about 14,600 Sumatran orangutans in the wild. The previous census had pegged their numbers at about 8,000.

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While the numbers may look promising, the team has expressed reservations about the previous count, stating that the earlier methods were questionable and the estimate might have been incorrect. Unlike common perception that the orangutan population in the Indonesian island has risen suddenly, the species continues to remain threatened despite a seemingly healthy growth rate.

According to researchers, the increased estimate in the population of Sumatran orangutans is because previous surveys weren’t thorough, reported NH Voice. The team insists that unless another census carried out in the future indicates a growth spurt, the population of the Sumatran orangutan may have actually declined.


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The census takers reasoned that previous methods excluded orangutans living at great heights. Earlier methods could have gone wrong mainly because many orangutans may have been nesting at heights previously considered to be out of their range, reportedTop News. To remedy the situation, the survey team checked the population of the orangutans in many areas that were previously discarded.

The team found new habitats of the animals and hence the census registered a jump. However, had previous surveys considered these regions, it would have been apparent that the population has in fact declined due to modern threats to the habitat. Researchers from Europe and Indonesia counted more than 3,000 orangutan nests on more than 200 line transects covering more than 300 kilometers, reportedLa-Kabylie. Quite a few of these magnificent creatures were found at higher altitudes in the mountains and forests that had begun recovering from once rampant logging. Previously conducted census had simply ignored the areas west of the Toba Lake.

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The orangutan population is being steadily lost to rapid deforestation and urbanization. Incidentally, the locals are increasingly destroying the once-lush green tropical forests to cultivate palm trees for the palm oil. Natives are routinely cutting down trees for agricultural development without caring for the biodiversity. Speaking about the study, one of the authors, Serge Wich from Liverpool John Moores University, said while she was “thrilled” to find the Sumatran orangutan population is quite higher than previously documented, conservation efforts need to proceed at full swing if the species is to be protected.

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“Numerous development projects are planned in the area that – if they are not stopped – could sharply reduce the number of orangutans over the coming years. We will need to continue working with the Indonesian government and other concerned groups for the conservation of the species and prevent population decline from happening.”

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Animal conservationists strongly believe that unless the Indonesian government steps up its efforts to curb the deforestation and accord special protection to the animals, a large chunk of the species could be wiped out by 2030. Even if deforestation is curtailed to present rate, about 4,500 orangutans could vanish within the next 15 years. Besides losing habitats, the apes are under constant threat from poachers. The species is already in the critically endangered list.

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Even if the locals follow the country’s environmental laws and leave the protected areas, the Sumatran orangutans could survive for future generations.

[Photo by Chaideer Mahyuddin/Getty Images]


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