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ORANGUTANS THREATS

Habitat destruction and fragmentation is by far the greatest threat to this species. This problem is caused by commercial logging, and forest clearance for oil palm plantations and agriculture. Huge tracts of forest have been cleared throughout the orangutan's range as legal and illegal logging devastates their habitat. Orangutans are also exploited and evidence suggests that they are also hunted in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

Habitat loss - Uncontrolled fires present a grave threat: WWF-Indonesia estimates that nearly two million hectares of land were burnt in Indonesia in 1997, and that thousands of fires occurred mainly in central and west Kalimantan and southern Sumatra. There is a much higher incidence of fire in logged areas than in natural forest. In 1997, 160 logging companies were accused of involvement in the fires, but only 46 of these were investigated fully. Thousands of hectares of land were also affected in Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysia.

Hunting - The direct exploitation of orangutans by humans is another major problem, with these animals still being killed for food. Orangutans are also hunted in retaliation when they move into agricultural areas and destroy crops. This occurs more in times of environmental stress when orangutans can't find the food they need in the forest. There have been reports of local hunting pressure as a result of recent fires. Because of ensuing food shortages, the species has become an easy target for hunters. There are no cultural taboos against eating orangutans and they are large and slow targets. Females in particular are most often hunted. Where they are caught with their offspring, these are often kept as pets. At the same time, there has been an increase in orangutan skulls in local towns.

Illegal trade - The pet trade is another major problem. An estimated 1,000 orangutans may have been imported into Taiwan for the pet trade between 1985 and 1990. It is thought that for each orangutan reaching Taiwan, as many as three to five additional animals die in the process.

Orangutan trade has also been reported in Kalimantan where both live and dead orangutans are sold. Orangutan skulls can fetch up to US$70 in towns. Recent enforcement of the law in Taiwan has reduced the importation of orangutans, but the trade remains a threat in Indonesia where there is still demand for orangutans as pets. (Source WWF)