A prime habitat for the endangered orangutan in East Kalimantan’s Kutai National Park has only just recovered from a series of major fires that tore through the area in the 1980s, a conservationist says.
Anne. R. Russon, the director of the Kutai Orangutan Project, told Antaranews.com on Monday that following the fires of 1982-1983 and 1987-1988, “the conservation area is already in recovery.”
She said one indicator of the recovery was the increase in the local orangutan population.
Russon, a researcher from York University in Toronto who has been researching orangutans in Kalimantan for 25 years, four of them in Kutai, cautioned that the national park still faced a lot of dangers that could also threaten the orangutan population.
“We’re grateful that the source of food for orangutans in Kutai National Park is improving, but I’m still worried about the hunting and the conflict with coal and palm oil companies, which can disturb the endangered species,” she said.
“I am very concerned that orangutan hunting and torture still happens because the population of orangutans in the wild has been reduced to only 40,000 to 45,000 individuals.”
Russon said there were between 1,000 and 2,000 orangutan in the 198,629-hectare national park that straddles the three districts of East Kutai, Kutai Kartanegara and Bontang, but that the number of cases of people killing orangutans had stoked international concern.
She said that during her research, she found indigenous groups still hunting orangutans for their meat. Reports of the apes being killed for food are much rarer than reports of deaths at the hands of farmers or plantation workers who consider them pests.
The latest recorded orangutan killing occurred on Nov. 3, Antaranews.com reported, when two residents of Pontianak, West Kalimantan, were charged by police for allegedly killing and eating an orangutan.
They were released last week after initially facing the possibility of up to five years in prison for violating the 1990 Natural Resources Conservation Law.
Authorities have recorded at least four cases of people killing endangered orangutans in and around the Pontianak within the past four years.
In 2010, a female orangutan died in Pontianak’s Sungai Pinyuh subdistrict after being captured by villagers with her baby.
In 2012, another orangutan was killed near Pontianak’s Parit Wak Dongkak subdistrict after sustaining serious burns when locals set a tree near the orangutan’s location on fire. The animal died while being treated for its injuries.
In October this year, an orangutan was found dead in Pontianak’s Peniraman village, with its skull reportedly bashed in.
Orangutans are faced with extinction from poaching and the rapid destruction of their forest habitat, driven largely by land clearance for palm oil and paper plantations.
Wildlife experts warn that shrinking habitats have increased contact between the forest-dwelling orangutan and villagers and is the primary cause of an upswing in human-on-animal violence in Kalimantan and Sumatra.