Endangered orangutan found malnourished

Out of danger: Medical officers treating a malnourished and injured Tapanuli orangutan in Sipirok district in Batang Toru ecosystem in South Tapanuli, North Sumatra. — Jakarta Post/ANN

SUMATRA (Indonesia): A Tapanuli orangutan was found wounded and malnourished at a plantation near the Batang Toru ecosystem in South Tapanuli, North Sumatra, marking what local authorities claim is the first indication of conflict between humans and the newly discovered species in the area.

The North Sumatra Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA North Sumatra) and the Orangutan Information Centre (OIC) discovered the injured male orangutan, believed to be about 30 years old, with wounds to the face and back on a plantation in Aek Batang Paya village, Sipirok subdistrict.

“The Tapanuli orangutan found with wounds and malnourished is the first case we have handled since the species was first discovered by scientists two years ago,” said BKSDA head Hotmauli Sianturi.

She said the orangutan was in a critical condition after sustaining injuries thought to be caused by a blunt object and was very thin purportedly because of a lack of proper nutrition.

The orangutan is currently receiving treatment at the orangutan quarantine and rehabilitation centre in Batu Mbelin, Sibolangit subdistrict, Deli Serdang regency, North Sumatra, she said.

She said it was common for orangutans, whose damaged habitat had left them with no food supply, to enter plantation areas during the durian and petai (stinky bean) season to look for food.“Such a condition, could lead to conflicts between the orangutans and residents, who wanted to keep the former off their plantations.

“To prevent more orangutans from being injured, we’ve deployed officers to monitor Tapanuli orangutans’ presence in community plantations located near the Batang Toru ecosystem,” Hotmauli said.

Environmental experts and activists have raised concerns that the orangutans may have fled their habitat because of infrastructure development around the Batang Toru ecosystem, the only known habitat of the Tapanuli orangutans.

Tapanuli orangutans, considered the world’s rarest big ape, are estimated to number only about 800.

Among the concerns of experts and activists is the construction of the controversial Batang Toru hydropower plant, which is expected to begin operations in 2022.

The managers of the hydropower plant have claimed that the power plant is environmentally friendly as it will not inundate much of the area and reiterated in several publications that they are committed to orangutan conservation.

Environmentalists, however, remain unconvinced. The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) filed a lawsuit against the project in late 2018 as experts from various local and foreign universities regarded the 510-megawatt plant to be the “death knell” for the Tapanuli orangutan.

In March, the Medan State Administrative Court rejected the lawsuit, but Walhi filed an appeal as a response.Jatna Supriatna, a biological conservation scientist at the University of Indonesia, said further anthropology forensic investigation was needed to prove that the injuries were indeed caused by a human-ape conflict.

“Orangutans are commonly killed in conflicts. If they’re malnourished, then it is probably because their habitat could not meet their nutrition needs or there is insufficient food supply there,” Jatna said

Biologist Serge Wich of Liverpool John Moores University, who previously testified during a hearing in Walhi’s lawsuit, said it was difficult to confirm that the activities of the power plant had forced the injured orangutan into the community area. — Jakarta Post/ANN

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