Orang-utans once lived in an area ranging from the foothills of the Himalayas and south to Java. Now they only survive on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.
Orang-utan populations on the two islands are now considered as two distinct species: the Sumatran orang-utan and the Bornean orang-utan.
Over the last 60 years, the Bornean orang-utan population has fallen by over 50%, and over the last 75 years, the Sumatran orang-utan population has fallen by over 80%, and now only around 6,000 survive on Sumatra and 57,000 on Borneo.
Orang-utans spend most of their time in the treetops. Their strong arms stretch out longer than their bodies (up to 2m across) and allow them to swing through the rainforest canopy or to hang from branches eating fruit and leaves.
Challenges and threats
The most serious threat to orang-utans is the destruction of their rainforest habitat
. In the last 100 years an estimated 80% of suitable orang-utan habitat in Borneo has disappeared, and only around 10% of Borneo’s forests are strictly protected.
The main causes of this habitat loss are conversion to plantations
, clearance for agriculture, commercial logging
and associated infrastructure development. Not only is conversion, clearance and logging often illegal or if legal undertaken badly but they also result in the development of roads in previously inaccessible areas, which – if not locked or guarded – provide easy access to poachers.
Despite legal protection in Sumatra and Borneo, orang-utans are often killed for their meat or caught for the pet trade
. Between 1994 and 2003, a total of 559 orang-utans and gibbons were found in rescue centres, zoos, privately owned collections, and on sale in 35 wildlife markets across the islands of Java and Bali.
What is WWF doing?
WWF has been working on orang-utan conservation since the 1970s, in partnership with both international and local organisations and groups including national, provincial and district governments, research institutions, universities and local communities. This work is guided by a specific Species Action Plan for orang-utans, and includes:
- Conserving orang-utan habitat: We are working in both Borneo and Sumatra to secure well-managed protected areas and wider forest landscapes connected by corridors.
- Promoting sustainable forestry and agriculture: Our work on sustainable production of commodities – including forest products and palm oil – also contributes towards the protection and conservation of major orang-utan habitats on the islands, as well as to mitigating human/orang-utan conflict.
- Halting the pet trade. We work with TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network) to help governments enforce restrictions on the trade in live animals and orang-utan products. We also help to rescue orang-utans from traders. Many are taken to refuges where they can recover and be rehabilitated, and are eventually released back into the wild.