Nov 182011

A juvenile orangutans walks at a care center in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, on the island of Borneo, where hundreds of orangutans learn skills needed to survive in the wild. Photo: Associated Press

Tourists to Southeast Asia are often drawn to the region because of its diverse wildlife — including the intelligent orangutans. At the Singapore Zoo, visitors can even havebreakfast with orangutans, long a favorite of visitors to the city.

But some villagers in Indonesia — home to 90% of the 50,000 or so orangutans left in the wild — may instead eat the apes themselves for breakfast.

According to a survey of nearly 7,000 villagers in Kalimantan, part of the Indonesian island of Borneo, 750 to 1,800 orangutans were been killed between 2009 and 2010. The survey — the first of its kind — found that the animals are primarily being killed to protect farmers’ crops and for their meat, and sometimes are captured as pets.

“There is still the perception that these orangutans are a pest,” said Elis Nurhayati of the Nature Conservancy, one of the nongoverment organizations involved in the survey.

She added that while a sizeable number of villagers captured the animals, only a small percentage actually killed them. The animals are considered endangered according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, and are a protected species.

Ms. Nurhayati said that the orangutans are often not killed primarily for their meat or to produce traditional medicine, but out of a fear that they may attack villagers’ crops. After they are killed, the villagers “make use” of the orangutans — of which males can weigh 250 pounds, or 110 kilograms – by consuming their meat.

Findings from the survey, a joint effort between the Nature Conservancy and 18 local NGOs in Indonesia, were compiled into a report that appeared in the journal PLoS One focusing on the conflict between humans and orangutans, and aiming to look at new ways of approaching conservation.

Ms. Nurhayati stressed that this survey, an initial report and the first of its kind, contained only preliminary findings into the fate of the orangutans.

But as forests in Indonesia are increasingly cleared to make way for palm-oil plantations and to make pulp and paper, it is inevitable that humans are coming into conflict with the animals — often leading to their capture or killing. Dr. Erik Meijaard, the main author of the report, told the Associated Press that these practices reveal a more serious threat to the existence of the orangutans than previously believed.

“But our surveys also indicate that killing of orangutans is happening deep inside forested areas, where orangutans are hunted just like any other species,” Mr. Meijaard told the AP. “This may be an uncomfortable truth, but not one that we can ignore any longer.”

The news comes just after the Western Black Rhino and the Javan Rhino are said to be extinct, a consequence of poachers killing the animals for their prized horn.

 “The conservation efforts [of the orangutan] now are really in the hands of the people,” said Ms. Nurhayati. ** [rs]


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