The Oil Palm

New orang-utans populations discovered and protected in Malaysia

Malaysian government authorities have committed to protect a population of newly discovered orang-utans. The commitment highlights Malaysian conservation initiatives which effectively protect the country’s orang-utan populations and biodiversity.

The announcement calls into question accusations made by Western campaigners that orang-utans are threatened with rapid extinction in Malaysia, and that the palm oil industry is responsible for driving the alleged extinction.

While some forest lands zoned for agricultural development have been converted to plantations, Malaysian agricultural development has been carefully orchestrated to ensure the country protects biodiversity and ample habitat for orang-utan populations. Over 50% of Malaysia remains forested.

International conservation group, the Wildlife Conservation Society, has praised the recent efforts of the Malaysian authorities in “protecting a globally significant orang-utan population”.

Researchers from the Sarawak Forest Department, assisted by Sarawak Forestry Corporation, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Borneo Adventure discovered the new population of orang-utans in February 2013.

The government of Sarawak subsequently announced it would protect the newly discovered orang-utan population and their habitat. The population was found near Batang Ai National Park and Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary in Sarawak, throughout an area of about 14,000 hectares.

The recent discovery and subsequent conservation initiative demonstrates efforts taken by Malaysian authorities to protect orang-utan populations. The species are formally protected under Malaysian conservation regulations, while the country has an extensive network of national parks dedicated to protect biodiversity.

The recently discovered population is reportedly a subspecies of the Borneo orang-utan. Scientists have identified two species of orang-utans, with the Borneo species are more abundant than the Sumatran variety. There are significant populations of Borneo orang-utan located in Malaysia, with an estimated 50 000 – 60 000 Borneo orang-utans in the wild.

Despite the recent discovery, reliable data and research quantifying orang-utan populations is largely lacking. Local Iban communities had reportedly been aware of the existence of orang-utans in the area, but populations were not officially known until a population survey was undertaken.

The discovery of new populations raises further possibilities that significant undiscovered population of orang-utans reside in remote Malaysian forested areas. Given the unreliable population data, orang-utan numbers may increase further as new populations are ‘recovered’ or indigenous knowledge of local forests is incorporated into conservation databases.

A survey of a nearby area in 2012 also found a significant population of orang-utan, which may have increased the orang-utan population of Sarawak by as much as 15% according to reports at the time.

The field surveys conducted in February found a total of 995 orang-utan nests in the area. Nests were also discovered in the remote areas analysed through aerial surveys.