By Basten Gokkon
The world lost nearly 150,000 orangutans from the island of Borneo in the past 16 years due to habitat loss and killing, and is on track to lose another 45,000 by 2050, according to a new paper in the journal Current Biology.
The study, published Feb. 15, observed 36,555 orangutan nests across Borneo, an island that is shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, between 1999 and 2015. During that period, the researchers reported a steep decline in the number of nests they encountered over a given distance: the encounter rate more than halved from 22.5 nests per kilometer (about 36 per mile) to 10.1 nests per kilometer. That decline, they calculate, represents an estimated loss of 148,500 individual Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus).
The data also suggested that only 38 of the 64 identified spatially separated groups of orangutans, known as metapopulations, now include more than 100 individuals, which is the accepted lower limit to be considered viable.
"They are disappearing even faster than researchers had envisaged," said Maria Voigt, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany and lead author of the new study.
"The major causes are habitat degradation and loss in response to local to global demand for natural resources, including timber and agricultural products, but very likely also direct killing," Voigt wrote.
Forest and oil palm plantation in BorneoPhoto courtesy of Dr. Marc Ancrenaz
Some 288,500 orangutans were believed to live in Borneo in 1973, when three-quarters of the island was still covered with forest. By 2012, the number had dropped to an estimated 104,700 individuals, according to the IUCN.
Within that nearly four-decade span, more than a third of Borneo's rainforests was destroyed due to fire, logging, mining and the proliferation of plantations, particularly oil palms. The scale of the deforestation had a severe impact on the population of the island's orangutans, the largest arboreal animal.
"The decline in population density was most severe in areas that were deforested or transformed for industrial agriculture, as orangutans struggle to live outside forest areas," Voigt said.
The study found rates of orangutan decline were highest—63 to 75 percent–in areas deforested or converted to plantations in both Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of the island, and the Malaysian state of Sabah. Conversely, there were almost no industrial plantations and deforested areas within the orangutan metapopulation range in Sarawak.
"Worryingly, however, the largest number of orangutans were lost from areas that remained forested during the study period," Voigt said.
The loss of orangutans in untouched, or "primary," and selectively logged forests, where the majority of orangutans occur, accounted for 67 percent of the total estimated loss in Borneo between 1999 and 2015. Voigt suggested "a large role of killing" as the main cause for the population decline in these areas, particularly in the absence of plausible alternative explanations, such as infectious diseases of the type observed among African apes.
Last August, the Indonesian government reported that four-fifths of 57,350 wild orangutans in Kalimantan lived outside national parks and other protected areas, leaving them exposed to poaching and conflicts with humans.
"People kill orangutans for their meat, as they hunt other edible species," Voigt said. "Orangutans are also killed when their young are captured for the pet trade."
But some of these killings are also intertwined with deforestation and logging, Voigt noted.
"People on Borneo kill orangutans out of conflict-situations, when the animals are pushed into entering gardens or plantations because their habitat has been destroyed," she said.
"With the increasing development and the resulting deforestation and conversion the interface between wildlife and humans increases, the number of the humans increases and the habitat that is left for orangutan decreases," she added.
Voigt said the study provided only a small snapshot of orangutan-human interactions on Borneo.
Two orangutans were reported killed so far this year in Central Kalimantan and East Kalimantan provinces. Indonesia made global headlines in 2011 when at least 20 orangutans were slaughtered by plantation workers in East Kalimantan under the guise of "pest control."
Voigt's study projects a further loss of at least 45,300 orangutans by 2050, based solely on the direct consequence of habitat loss.
If current deforestation rates hold, some 215,000 square kilometers (83,000 square miles) of forest in Borneo will have been lost between 2007 and 2020, reducing the remaining forest cover to 24 percent, according to a 2012 study by the WWF.
Voigt said her team's findings highlighted the need for a shift in efforts to protect orangutans in Borneo, including habitat conservation and measures to combat the illegal killing.
"This is something that our report could confirm. That even if there is forest, the orangutans are disappearing and more conservation measures are necessary, such as awareness raising, education, support in conflict situations for local communities, law enforcement," she said.
"With most orangutans living outside protected areas, it means we need to get on board the people who manage these areas, i.e. communities and companies."
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) are examples of certification schemes that incentivize these partnerships, by enabling consumers to favor responsible natural resource management.
The Indonesian government in 2016 declared a five-year moratorium on new licenses to establish oil palm plantations across the archipelago. The policy also included revoking forest release permits for the period 2015-2016.
"Our findings are alarming," Voigt said. "To prevent further decline and continued local extinctions of orangutans, humanity must act now: biodiversity conservation needs to permeate into all political and societal sectors and must become a guiding principle in the public discourse and in political decision making processes."
Top 25 Most Endangered Primates: the Most Current List https://t.co/IPIr8ICAJa @ImageOfWildlife @JaneGoodallInst— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1512079511.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
By Mitch Jones
We’ve all seen the results in states across the country of the influence that the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Koch Brothers have amassed. And if you think the results of their agenda to hand more and more power to corporations at your expense are bad, you should really hate the new “trade” deals being negotiated to hand even more power to corporations at our expense.
The Transpacific Partnership (TPP) is being secretly negotiated by 12 countries, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan and Brunei. The Trans Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) includes the 27 nations of the European Union. Both of these proposed trade agreements threaten U.S. food safety rules, infringe upon public and private land with an increased push for fracking, undermine efforts to develop local food systems and increase the privatization of water systems.
While its supporters talk about them as “trade” deals, in reality the TPP and TAFTA would be a permanent power grab by corporations and their financiers that would make it impossible for future generations to choose what laws and rules they want to live under. They would permanently enshrine the very economic system that has lead to greater imbalances in income and wealth and increasing economic crises. These deals would also allow foreign corporations to sue the federal, state and local governments over laws and policies that violate the “trade” deal, but protect us from unsafe food, dirty water and dangerous fracking. It’s outrageous!
How do we know that these deals will give more power to corporations and leave our children, our air and water, and our food safety at greater risk? Because while the American people aren’t being told what’s in the deal, and while members of Congress are being shut out of the negotiations, representatives from more than 600 corporations and corporate interests are able not only to see the text of the agreement, but also are able to help influence what goes into it.
We need to stop these trade deals before they give even more power to corporations. Food & Water Watch just published a new fact sheet, Don’t Fast Track Fracking and Unsafe Food, with extensive details on these trade agreements and provides information on how to contact your representatives to oppose these corporate giveaways.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS BELOW: What do you think would be the result of these trade deals in the U.S.?
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
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And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.