Sabah – last haven of the orang utan


Suspicious glances: A female orang utan and her young hiding in the trees in Kinabatangan.

Suspicious glances: A female orang utan and her young hiding in the trees in Kinabatangan.

KOTA KINABALU: A new study in the scientific journal Current Biology has found that 100,000 orang utan have died in the past 16 years, with Sabah likely to be the last haven for the critically endangered species.

Two Sabah-based co-authors of the study, Dr Marc Ancrenaz and Dr Benoit Goossens believe that steps taken by the Sabah government would see the survival of the orang ­utan in the wild.

“We sincerely believe that the major orang utan populations in Sabah are secure thanks to the commitment from the Sabah government to protect 30% of the state’s land mass.

“Moreover, hunting is not a big issue here, compared to some other parts of Borneo island.

“There is definitely hope for wildlife in the state.

“Sabah might, in the future, be the last place where it would be possible to find wild orang utan,” the two scientists said in a statement yesterday.

Dr Ancrenaz, who is co-director of the NGO Hutan, said the study found that the rate of decline in orang utan on the island of Borneo was more rapid than they had initially thought.

“If we cannot stop this decline, many more are going to disappear in the next few decades.

“It also means that there were more orang utan in the past than we thought, and this illustrates how difficult it is to know exactly how many wild orang utan survive in Borneo,” he said.

The major reason for the decline, said Dr Ancrenaz, is the killing that happens in unprotected and protected areas.

Forest conversion for agriculture explains less than 50% of the decline.

“This also means that it is urgent to change our approach to conserve orang utan,” Dr Ancrenaz said.

For Sabah, Dr Goossens who is director of Danau Girang Field Centre said most large orang utan populations have been relatively stable for the past 20 years due to the state government’s efforts to create new fully protected forests and also set aside 30% of its forests as totally protected areas.

“The efforts by the Sabah government increases the chance of survival of orang utan in Sabah,” he added.

Dr Goosens said that there were still ways to improve the long-term survival of the iconic species in Sabah.

They include creating more forest corridors that will allow the orang utan to move across the landscape and find new areas where they can set up their own territories.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Augustine Tuuga had earlier refuted the findings of the study led by Maria Voigt from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.

Tuuga had said that the study had misguided the world community into believing that 6,100 orang utan were killed between 1999 and 2016 and failed to show the efforts by Sabah to protect its biodiversity.