Thirty percent of villages interviewed by scientists reported that orangutans had been killed in the last five to 10 years.
Orangutans in Borneo are remarkable creatures, but as their ancestral forests have been shrivelling and fragmenting around them these great apes lead increasingly precarious lives.
Yet it isn’t just habitat loss that threatens their continued existence in the wild. So does wanton killing.
A team of researchers has confirmed this after visiting 79 villages across the range of the Bornean orangutan in Kalimantan and interviewing 431 locals in 2020 ane 2021. The scientists have found that despite stepped-up conservation efforts the killing of orangutans continues, posing “a substantial threat” to Bornean orangutan populations.
“Our study builds on previous research which indicated killing was one of the key reasons for orangutan population decline, alongside habitat loss,” explains Emily Massingham, a scientist at the University Queensland’s Faculty of Science who led the research.
“The aim of our project was to understand whether orangutans have been killed in recent times, to look at whether conservation projects are effectively preventing killing, and to gain insights into community perceptions and the motivations behind it,” Massingham elucidates.
“It has been almost 15 years since the previous study, and we did not find a clear decrease in killings despite Indonesia’s commendable efforts to reduce habitat loss,” the researcher adds. “Thirty percent of villages reported orangutans had been killed in the last five to 10 years, despite the practice being both illegal and taboo, which also makes it hard to get an accurate picture of the true scale.”
Over the past decades Borneo’s orangutan population has halved to around 100,000 individuals left in the wild. They are facing a host of challenges, most of them from people and their activities. Troublingly, conservation efforts seem to have had little impact on the killing of orangutans on the island.
“Our findings did not indicate that conservation projects are reducing killing, highlighting an urgent need to improve the collective approach to orangutan conservation,” Massingham stresses.
As a result, conservationists should seek to better understand why people continue killing the great apes to address these drivers of the practice to halt and reverse the decline in orangutan populations.
This is especially important as orangutans are slow-breeding animals, which makes them particularly vulnerable to population declines driven by the death of adult apes, according to the study.
“Our interviews revealed some of the situations which lead to the killing or displacement of individual orangutans,” Massingham notes. “They include protecting crops and taking infant apes to keep as pets.”
Among their recommendations her team suggests working more closely with communities in orangutan ranges as well as boosting collaborations among conservationists and local authorities.
“Conservationists need to work closely with individual villages to understand their needs and perspectives, identify the social drivers of killing of orangutans and implement solutions that reduce human-orangutan conflict,” the scientist says.