Sumatran Orangutans - on the edge of extinction
The Sumatran orangutan is classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, the World Conservation Union. There are now only around 14,600 remaining in the wild. Orangutans were found in forests across Sumatra but now only survive in two provinces: North Sumatra and Aceh. Experts suggest that they could be the first Great Ape species to become extinct in the wild. The greatest threats to their survival are habitat loss and the illegal pet trade.
Habitat LossIndonesia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, and Sumatra has lost almost half of its forests in the last 25 years.
The Leuser Ecosystem, a 2.6 million hectare expanse of forest spanning the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra, is one of the world's most important biodiversity hotspots. It was designated an UNESCO Tropical Rainforest Heritage Site in 2004, but has since been placed on a list of World Heritage in Danger due to the ongoing threats. The ecosystem incorporates the Gunung Leuser National Park, and is the last stronghold for the Sumatran orangutan. You can read about the latest threats to the ecosystem here.
The orangutans' forest home is being felled and turned into oil palm plantations on a massive scale, logging continues even within national parks, and road networks divide the remaining forests into isolated fragments. Human-orangutan conflict is now frequent in farmlands, as orangutans raid crops in search of enough food for survival.
The expansion of farmlands and the building of new roads opens up the forest, making it easier for hunters and poachers to capture orangutans and other protected wildlife.
Orangutans are protected by legislation dating from 1931, which prohibits the owning, killing, or capture of the species.
However, the illegal trade in orangutans continues to decimate remaining wild populations, often linked to logging and clear cutting for plantations. A mother orangutan is almost always killed to capture her infant. It is estimated that for every orangutan orphan that is sold, six to eight orangutans die in the process of capture and transport.
In international law, orangutans are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), prohibiting unlicensed trade. However, there is a huge local, national, and international demand for infant orangutans to be kept as pets.