KOTA KINABALU: Borneo and Sumatra have lost 91% of its orang utan population over the past 100 years, according to a primatologist, who warns that they would no longer exist in the wild in 20 years if the decline continues.
Dr Marc Ancrenaz, a director of the Kinabatangan Orang Utan Conservation Project who has studied the primates in Sabah since 1998, said the endangered species would disappear unless conservation measures were taken immediately.
Speaking at the three-day International Workshop on Orang Utan Conservation in Sabah, Dr Ancrenaz said there were an estimated 13,000 orang utan remaining in Sabah, making it the last stronghold for the animals in Malaysia.
This figure represents a decline of 35% of the orang utan in Sabah in the last 20 years.
They are concentrated in the eastern part of the state, aside from small populations in the Crocker Range National Park and Kinabalu National Park.
The primate was severely threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching (for bush meat, crop protection and traditional medicine) and forest fires.
To prevent further decline of orang utan numbers, Dr Ancrenaz stressed that high priority conservation areas be identified and hunting be reduced.
Sabah Wildlife Department deputy director Laurentius Ambu said that preventing habitat loss was the most critical factor for long-term survival of the orang utan.
He said only 33% of the Sabah orang utan population was found in protected areas such as parks or wildlife sanctuaries.
The remaining 67% was found in commercial forest reserves which were exploited for timber, he said.
However, studies had shown that such areas could support orang utan populations provided that the reserves were not logged indiscriminately.
As such, he stressed the need to implement sustainable forestry practices.
Dr John Mackinnon of the Asean Regional Centre for Biodiversity Conservation in the Philippines said a high density of orang utan trapped in small pockets of forests might eventually lead to genetic erosion caused inbreeding.
He recommended that forested corridors be maintained to link these fragmented populations of orang utan.
The workshop, which is attended by representatives from the scientific, business, agricultural and government sector, aims to draft a management strategy for long-term conservation of orang utan.
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