Borneo: a Safe Place for Orangutans
In the Malay language, “orang” means “person” and “utan” is derived from “hutan,” which means “forest.” The name of the orangutan, Asia’s only great ape, literally means “person of the forest.” These animals once lived throughout much of Southeast Asia, but now 90 percent of the world’s orangutans live in Indonesia. The endangered Bornean orangutan numbers between 40,000 and 50,000, while the population of its critically endangered Sumatran counterpart has dwindled to less than 7,000.
In 1971, Biruté Mary Galdikas, a student of the paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey, and Rod Brindamour, her husband at the time, founded a research and conservation facility in the Tanjung Puting National Park in Borneo that they called Camp Leakey. Rehabilitated captive orangutans were released there until 20 years ago.
Tanjung Puting National Park — 1,174 square miles of peat and freshwater swamp forest on the southern coast of Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo — is prime habitat for orangutans. It is also home to the endemic proboscis monkey, clouded leopards, Malaysian sun bears and more than 230 species of birds. The park authorities employ local villagers as guards to patrol rivers and forest, an effective strategy in deterring illegal activities like logging.
Camp Leakey houses scientists, camp staff members, students and park rangers, and is one of three research outposts in Tanjung Puting National Park where semiwild orangutans living in the surrounding forest often drop by for bananas and company.
A road cuts into tropical rain forest in Kalimantan. The widespread conversion of the orangutan’s primary habitat to palm oil plantations is driving the animal to extinction. Hunting is also a grave threat: A study published in November in the journal PLoS One, carried out by the Nature Conservancy and 19 other private organizations, found the rate of orangutan killings in Indonesian Borneo to be higher than previously thought. Every year, an average of 1,970 to 3,100 orangutans are killed, enough to drive the species toward extinction in 10 to 15 years, the study authors concluded.
Each year about 2,000 international tourists visit Camp Leakey. Admission fees support the research and conservation efforts of Orangutan Foundation International — founded by Dr. Galdikas, now a leading authority on the orangutan — as well as its British sister organization, Orangutan Foundation United Kingdom, and Yayasan Orangutan Indonesia, a local nongovernmental organization started by Dr. Galdikas’s husband, Pak Bohap bin Jalan. (via The NYT Science)