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The Bornean Orangutan Population Was Halved From 1999 To 2015: Can The Critically Endangered Species Bounce Back?

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The Bornean orangutan population was halved over a 16-year period from 1999 to 2015, a drastic drop for the critically endangered species that might be too tough to recover from.

Orangutans are one of the closest relatives of humans, with the two species sharing 97 percent of DNA. Orangutans possess sharp intellect and unique cultures, such as Bornean orangutans using leaves to clean their chins like napkins. It is disheartening to see such amazing animals slowly dying off.

Bornean Orangutan Population Dwindles

A team of researchers calculated that the Bornean orangutan population dropped by about 148,500 from 1999 to 2015, with a further 45,000 decrease projected by 2050.

To determine the population decline, Maria Voigt, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, and Serge Wich, from the Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom, along with their colleagues from 38 international institutions, compiled field surveys that were conducted over the 16-year period.

The researchers estimated the size of the Bornean orangutan population by finding out how many orangutan nests were observed from 1999 to 2015.

Will The Bornean Orangutan Population Bounce Back?

The island of Borneo, which is divided between Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia, has suffered from dramatic deforestation, with the jungles that has served as home for the orangutans being converted over the years into plantations for paper pulp and palm oil.

However, according to Voigt, hunting is "at least a major driver if not the major driver" for the rapid decline of the Bornean orangutan population. The species have been hunted for their meat in Borneo, and orangutans are sometimes killed when humans are frightened or startled by them, such as when orangutans find their way into plantations or gardens in search for food. However, even occasional killing could lead to the species' extinction, as the Bornean orangutans have a very long reproductive cycle that averages only one baby every six to eight years.

Voigt said that the Bornean orangutan's survival will depend on how well the species' habitat is protected and on raising awareness that killing may lead to the extinction of the critically endangered species.

All hope is not yet lost, though, as Voigt and her team believes that the Bornean orangutan population will not go extinct soon. This is because stable populations of the species have been established in larger national parks in Borneo, specifically in the parts owned by Indonesia and Malaysia.

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