>>INSERT TEXT EXCERPT. Currently, three species of orangutans are known: the Bornean Orangutan, the Sumatran Orangutan and the Tapanuli Orangutan<<.

female Tapanuli Orangutan (Nature on PBS)
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Deforestation, Poaching & Wildfires

a recently rescued orangutan baby clings to its cage (source: Taiwan News, 16 November 2017)

Orangutans are (critically) endangered, with current populations estimated to be >>INSERT TEXT<<. Three main human activities threaten – roughly equally – the remaining wild orangutan are deforestation, poaching and wildfires.

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Deforestation

Over the decades, the Bornean and Sumatran rainforests have steadily degraded and perished, resulting in the serious loss of orangutan habitat. Around the 1960s and the 1970s, these tropical rainforests were logged during the plywood boom (see image right) and many were then converted into paper&pulp plantations and transmigration areas during the 1980s and 1990s. Since the turn of the century, the remaining rainforests are further threatened by the oil palm cultivation boom. Currently, timber extraction and agribusiness – both legal and illegal – are the main causes of deforestation and orangutan habitat loss.

1980-2020 forest loss in Indonesia (source Roda, 2021; >>LINK<<)
2001-2016 drivers of forest loss throughout Indonesia (source: Austin et al, 2019)

Historically, both forest exploitation (for timber) as well as forest conversion (for coffee, paper & pulp, rubber, tea, etc) have been the main causes of orangutan habitat loss in Borneo and Sumatra. For instance, the habitat of the Bornean Orangutan was mainly replaced by grassland/shrubland or oil palm – both commercial and smallholder plantations – between 2001-2016 (see the image above). But in Sumatra, home of the Sumatran orangutan and the Tapanuli orangutan, their habitat was mostly replaced by commercial and smallholder paper & pulp and oil palm plantations.

timber extraction in Kalimantan (source: KAYON, 2016)

Poaching

>>MAIN TEXT<< Today, poaching orangutans for bushmeat and the pet trade are the main illegal contributors for the decline of orangutan populations throughout Borneo and Sumatra.

bushmeat remains to be a serious issue >>MORE<<.

The pet trade is >>MORE<<.

Wildfires

MAIN TEXT<<

Climate change …

A farmer harvests rice from a field full of weeds in northern Borneo, where socioeconomic pressures are changing traditional land-use patterns. Yves Laumonier / CIFOR.

Learn more about the threats to orangutans

  • Can palm oil save orangutans? - Millions of people around the world have seen the footage of the lone wild orangutan in an apocalyptic landscape of destroyed forest desperately trying to fight off a bulldozer; it has become symbolic of the catastrophic devastation wrought upon rainforests and wildlife by the palm oil industry.  So, it comes as no surprise that caring people around the world who have become aware of the situation are outraged, and want to play no part in the destruction. And it is also not surprising that the first reaction is to want to stop consuming palm oil. Some brands and retailers have seen an opportunity to cash in on this conviction, by telling consumers that “Saving orangutans is as easy as just saying no to palm oil.” Oh, how I wish it WERE that easy. But it is not. Habitat Orangutans live only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia and Malaysia. The conditions which make the habitat ideal for orangutans are the same conditions which make the region ideal for the cultivation of oil palm: a tropical climate with plenty of rain. And it just so happens that these two countries account for more than 85% of the global production of palm oil. As a result, outside of protected areas, orangutan habitat has been hugely fragmented by the expansion of oil palm. How are we to save the orangutan given these circumstances? Science To address complex issues successfully, it is important that research and science play a part. The organisation I direct, Orangutan Land Trust, is assisted by a formidable Scientific Advisory Board made up of some of the leading experts in orangutan and wildlife conservation, peatland protection, forestry, sustainability and more. These experts help us determine the best strategies for saving orangutans and their rainforest habitat. Understanding precisely where orangutans and oil palm overlap and how orangutans behave and adapt to these fragmented landscapes is critical to developing sustainable and impactful solutions. Resilient landscapes The work of Borneo Futures, with lead scientists Dr Erik Meijaard and Dr Marc Ancrenaz, has provided great insight. In a report commissioned for the PONGO Alliance (Palm Oil and NGO Alliance, which brings together some of the largest oil palm companies, NGOs and experts), they discovered that 10,000 orangutans live in areas allocated for industrial oil palm in Borneo alone. It was clear that the strategy of trying to remove orangutans from oil palm landscapes was not tenable. The fact is, orangutans are found in vast numbers in these landscapes, and so we must find a way to develop resilient landscapes for both people and wildlife. Developing solutions Dr Ancrenaz’s research in the highly fragmented Kinabatangan landscape in Sabah showed that orangutans can and do move across oil palm estates and although they cannot survive exclusively on the fruit of the oil palm or the shoots of young palms, they can manage if they can find safe patches of forest along the way with a variety of food sources. Research has shown that orangutans can do well in selectively logged, secondary forests as well. Basically, as Dr Ancrenaz describes it, large terrestrial species like orangutans and elephants that find themselves in these landscapes need 3 things to survive: sufficient food resources, space to move and find mates, and to not be killed. Safe havens Where does sustainable palm oil fit in? To begin with, under RSPO, growers are not permitted to clear forests or develop on peatlands. Orangutans thrive in peatland swamp forests. Growers are also required to conserve or enhance areas of High Conservation Value (which includes the presence of rare, threatened or endangered species like the orangutan.) Additionally, growers are responsible for ensuring that rare, threatened or endangered species not be captured, harmed or killed. PONGO Alliance is a platform that demonstrates that growers can, in fact, create safe havens with abundant food sources and forest corridors to improve connectivity for species like the orangutan. A boycott is no solution Palm oil is here to stay. The demand for all edible oil crops continues to rise, and palm oil, the highest yielding of these crops, is both versatile and ubiquitous. If a blanket boycott of palm oil which fails to distinguish between conventional and sustainable palm oil did take hold and result in lowered production of palm oil, then other lower-yielding crops would take its place. In places like the tropics, replacing oil palm with these other crops would only multiply the risk to the remaining rainforests and the biodiversity within them. How to contribute When consumers demand sustainable palm oil, they send a message to brands and retailers that they expect that the products they buy do not contribute to deforestation and biodiversity loss. And when these brands and retailers follow through with committing to sourcing only sustainable palm oil, they contribute to the survival of the orangutan. Make sustainable palm oil the norm I have helped rescue orangutans from oil palm plantations, nursed them back to health or sadly sometimes watched them die. I have seen the forests I love in Kalimantan bulldozed and burned for oil palm. I’ve met local people whose lives have been made unliveable due to land-grabbing and destruction of their forest larder. So it is with the greatest of conviction and a lot of investigation behind me that I stand by my position that if we are to save the orangutans and their forest habitat, and address the catastrophic impacts associated with conventional palm oil production, we MUST do all we can to make sustainable palm oil the norm. That’s why we encourage all brands and retailers using palm oil to source 100% Certified Sustainable Palm Oil today, and become part of the solution.

Forests. For Orangutans. Forever.

Human activities – in particular deforestation, poaching and wildfires – have been catastrophic for orangutans and lead to the loss of orangutan habitats and the decline of orangutan populations. But despite being critically endangered, the orangutan is still alive and kicking! Thus, there still is time to implement holistic but strict solutions to halt the loss of orangutan habitats and the decline of orangutan populations.

The future of the orangutan is heavily debated as ongoing habitat destruction, illegal wildlife trade and hunting cause declining populations. The vulnerability of the orangutan is best revealed in the palm oil debate. It is true that palm oil is a major threat to orangutans. Unsustainable practices such as deforestation, forest fires and habitat fragmentation put the future of viable orangutan populations at risk. The palm oil sector is especially relevant because the majority of orangutans live outside protected areas. (In fact, in Borneo alone, over 10,000 orangutans live in areas allocated for industrial oil palm.) Here orangutans live in degraded forest, isolated forest patches in a plantation landscape. But they are still there and can play an important role if we want to connect and protect orangutans in the wild.

Orangutan Habitat Loss

We believe that orangutans are best protected in their natural habitat. Sadly, much of this habitat is impacted by human activity: such as oil palm and timber plantations, logging, mining and small farms, for example. Only 36% of orangutan habitat is located in protected areas, while 49% is located in timber concessions, 9% in tree plantations and 6% in oil palm estates (see image right).

That means you have to work with people living and working in orangutan habitat if you want make an impact. We condemn unsustainable practices such as deforestation, use of fire and harm of wildlife in and around plantation areas. But we support and encourage those plantation companies that save and protect forest on their land, plant trees to create wildlife corridors and manage orangutans on their plantations.

Source: Wiggs and Cunningham, 2022

Orangutan Population Decline

Our Theory of Change

Whether we like it or not, human activities occur throughout much of the remaining orangutan habitat and exacerbate its loss and the decline of orangutan populations. That’s why we choose to work with sustainable palm oil companies that protect forest and plant buffer zones and corridors to conserve orangutans in the wild.

deforestation poaching wildfires
habitat loss certified products
population decline responsible tourism

>>How does OLT address the three main drivers: (1) Deforestation for commercial agriculture and silviculture, (2) poaching orangutans for bushmeat and the pet trade and (3) wildfires linked to climate change and slash-and-burn practices?<< what does OLT do to address orangutan habitat loss and orangutan population decline???<<

Everyone can play a part to support solutions for the survival of the orangutan. By demanding only sustainable, deforestation-free ingredients in the products we buy, we can change the way the palm oil industry operates to one that protects wildlife and their habitats.

References

  • Wiggs, C and J Cunningham 2022 Orangutan landscapes at risk: The role of industrial tree concessions in protecting key forest habitats (Aidenvironment), PDF accessed 1 August 2022

Read more about our solutions in our latest posts.

“The single most important thing consumers can do to save orangutans is to demand sustainable palm oil.”
Lone Droscher-Nielsen

Our Team

Led by Michelle Desilets, Executive Director and Lone Droscher-Nielsen, President and Trustee, with a combined experience of over 50 years in orangutan conservation, OLT is backed by a formidable team of experts who help determine the strategy of the organisation

Michelle Desilets – Executive Director
Lone Droscher-Nielsen – President & Trustee
Prof David Chivers – Chair & Trustee
Thijs Pasmans – Trustee
Judith Murdoch – Trustee
Dr Erik Meijaard – Advisory Board
Dr Marc Acrenaz – Advisory Board
Dr Ian Singleton – Advisory Board
Fitrian Ardiansyah – Advisory Board
Dr Carl Traeholt – Advisory Board
Dr John Payne – Advisory Board
Dr Serge Wich – Advisory Board
Bart W van Assen – Advisory Board
Juliarta Bramansa Ottay – Advisory Board
Michelle Desilets – Executive Director

Michelle Desilets – Executive Director

Michelle Desilets is the Founder and Executive Director of Orangutan Land Trust and has been working in orangutan conservation for 27 years. Michelle previously founded and directed the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation UK.

Lone Droscher-Nielsen – President & Trustee

Lone Droscher-Nielsen – President & Trustee

Lone Droscher-Nielsen is President and Trustee to Orangutan Land Trust. She has worked in orangutan conservation since 1993 and founded what is now the world’s largest primate rescue centre, the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Reintroduction Project in 1998. Numerous television programmes have been made showcasing her work in saving over 1000 orangutans, including Orangutan Diary and Orangutan Island. Lone is knighted in her native Denmark.

Prof David Chivers – Chair & Trustee

Prof David Chivers – Chair & Trustee

Professor David Chivers, MA, PhD, ScD, FLS, FZS, FRGS, was born in April 1944, and from Merchant Taylors’ School, Northwood, he came up to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, in 1963, to read veterinary medicine. Reading Physical Anthropology in his third year, showed him that he could combine his boyhood interest in natural history with a growing interest in our relatives, so he registered for a Ph.D. and went off to the Malay Peninsula for two years to study the ecology and behaviour of the siamang.

Thijs Pasmans – Trustee

Thijs Pasmans – Trustee

Thijs started as a sustainability officer at MVO – The Netherlands Oils and Fats Industry in 2014. During this time he learned from traders, refiners, manufactures, growers, NGO’s, governments and scientific experts how to go about sustainable palm oil. His best experiences were when he worked with oil palm smallholders and plantation companies in Indonesia in 2017. After he left MVO in 2019, Thijs started as a trustee and content writer for the Orangutan Land Trust.

Judith Murdoch – Trustee

Judith first realised her passion for sustainability when she was the Marketing and CSR Manager at a global edible oils Company. Here she developed strategies for these functions and developed training for customers on all aspects of sustainable palm oil. Judith joined OLT in 2019 to share her supply chain and policy knowledge and helps reach out to companies looking for conservation projects.

Dr Erik Meijaard – Advisory Board

Dr Erik Meijaard – Advisory Board

Dr Erik Meijaard has worked as a forest conservation scientist in Indonesia since 1992. He has broad research interests, ranging from mammal taxonomy and Asian biogeography to conservation economics, forest management, and spatial optimization studies.
Dr Marc Acrenaz – Advisory Board

Dr Marc Acrenaz – Advisory Board

Dr Marc Ancrenaz is the Founder, Director and lead researcher for Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project, and Co-Founder and Scientific Director of Project HUTAN.

Dr Ian Singleton – Advisory Board

Dr Ian Singleton is Director of Conservation at PanEco Foundation and Scientific Director for the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme. He was formerly Senior orangutan keeper at Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust and Animal keeper at Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and Zoological Society of London. He studied at the University of Kent (PhD, Ecology; orangutan ranging behaviour, 1996 – 2000) and the University of Sunderland (BSc(hons), Environmental Science, 1984 – 1987).

Fitrian Ardiansyah – Advisory Board

Fitrian Ardiansyah is Indonesia Country Director at IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative, among others, in charge of ISLA (initiative for sustainable landscapes) and helping coordinate palm oil and pulp and paper programs in Indonesia. He is a Fellow at the International League of Conservation Writers, and a Scientific Advisor for the Orangutan Land Trust. He has helped think-tank organisations including Pelangi Indonesia and Article 33. He was undertaking doctoral research at the Crawford School, the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia.

Dr Carl Traeholt – Advisory Board

Dr Carl Traeholt is the Southeast Asia Programme Director for Copenhagen Zoo.

Dr John Payne – Advisory Board

John (Junaidi) Payne led a Statewide survey of orangutans in Sabah in the mid-1980s, finding that there were about 20,000 individuals. In that period when half of Sabah’s forests had not been logged and oil palm plantations occupied only 2% of Sabah’s land, it was clear that dense breeding populations of the species were linked to low, flat, moist soils, irrespective of forest condition, and the best sites for oil palm. Based on that, he believes that we should help the species adapt over the next half-century to a lowland landscape of oil palm, orang-utan food plants and regenerating forest.

Dr Serge Wich – Advisory Board

Dr Serge Wich – Advisory Board

Dr Serge Wich, OLT Advisory Board, is a biologist/ecologist with a keen interest in primates and tropical rain forests. His work focuses on pure and applied research. He has studied several primate species, but has been mainly focusing on orangutans and their habitat in recent years. He currently is a professor at Liverpool John Moores University in the Research Centre in Evolutionary Anthropology and Palaeoecology.

Bart W van Assen – Advisory Board

Bart W van Assen – Advisory Board

An Indonesianist for over two decades, Bart is endorsed as Quality Panel Member by the High Conservation Value Resource Network, as an independent trainer (P&C Lead Auditor and SCC) by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, and as Certification Coach by The Borneo Initiative.

Bart has an extensive track record covering all disciplines of certification (prosperity, people & planet) in Indonesia. He has cooperated with various for-profit and not-for-profit entities in Indonesia and Malaysia and currently supports KAYON, a start-up initiative promoting a new approach to (tropical) rainforest conservation: pirate–a–tree.

Juliarta Bramansa Ottay – Advisory Board

Juliarta Bramansa Ottay – Advisory Board