AS a science-based organisation with decades of experience in orang utan conservation work, WWF-Malaysia believes it is our duty to provide accurate information about these primates as part of our ongoing educational efforts.
Orang utans are not hunters and do not have a “predatory” attack mode. As such, it is very unlikely for a wild orang utan to climb down from a tree just to get close to human beings and attack them.
The Bornean orang utan has been listed as critically endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) status since 2016.
One of the three species of orang utans, the Bornean orang utan belongs to the only genus of great apes native to Asia. It is also the largest tree-dwelling mammal in the world.
Wild orang utans spend 90% of their time on treetops, occasionally descending to the ground, often in situations where there is a lack of trees.
Like any animal, orang utans will try to defend themselves whenever they feel threatened or in peril, for example when protecting their territory, food source or their young. They usually display distress signs by making kiss-squeak sounds, throwing sticks or expelling bodily waste when they feel threatened.
In 1973, Borneo was home to an estimated 288,500 orang utans. By 2016, their numbers had dropped by almost two-thirds to 104,700. They face threats in the form of conversion of forests for agriculture, mining and settlement, and forest fires.
Population surveys over the last two decades have shown that orang utan numbers have stabilised. This was achieved through collaborations among WWF-Malaysia, Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Wildlife Department, and the Forest Department Sarawak. To date, there are an estimated 13,000 orang utans collectively in the wild in Sabah and Sarawak. These numbers are considered stable and are believed to remain so provided good forest and conservation management practices are maintained.
In Sabah, the Bukit Piton forest restoration programme, which was started in 2007, is proof that conservation management works. The Bukit Piton Forest Reserve was once a severely degraded forest, but now, through a decade of restoration work, orang utans are often seen there using the replanted trees for food and shelter, and the presence of baby orang utans has also been recorded.
In Sarawak, WWF-Malaysia has been working to conserve orang utan habitats in Ulu Sungai Menyang, Batang Ai by providing livelihoods for the local communities since 2016. This removes pressure from them to open up orang utan habitats and forests for agriculture.
The huge demand for palm oil makes it a major driver of deforestation and a serious threat to wildlife, including orang utans, elephants and tigers. Palm oil cultivation and production, if done in an unsustainable manner, threaten the natural habitat of wildlife and pose risks to fragile environments and biodiversity. However, WWF-Malaysia believes the palm oil industry can develop sustainably without further damaging rainforests, harming communities, or endangering wildlife.
To this end, we are working with various stakeholders and government agencies to develop standards and planting procedures that ensure sustainability of palm oil production. We advocate oil palm plantation companies to embrace the three pillars of Living Landscape Approach – Protect, Produce and Restore.
Today, sustainable palm oil is a global movement and has been a major driver of sustainability over the years. Bigger multinational companies have embraced the “No Deforestation, No Peat and No Exploitation (NDPE)” policy along their supply chain.
They have also established funding programmes to support conservation work throughout the world. This unity shown by the palm oil movement will enable governments and companies to embrace sustainable palm oil production.
WWF-Malaysia would like to reiterate the efforts that have been put in by multiple parties to conserve the orang utans, and the steps taken to ensure the sustainable production of palm oil.
We would like to stress that it is not a human versus primate issue, where the ultimatum is to kill or be killed. Rather, it is about tolerance, acceptance and coexistence.