The Sumatran orangutan is currently listed by the IUCN as critically endangered and the Bornean species as endangered. Unless effective conservation measures are enacted quickly, most orangutan populations without adequate protection face a dire future. Two main strategies are being pursued to conserve orangutans: (i) rehabilitation and reintroduction of ex-captive or displaced individuals; and (ii) protection of their forest habitat to abate threats like deforestation and hunting. These strategies are often mirrored in similar programs to save other valued and endangered mega-fauna. Through GIS analysis, collating data from across the literature, and combining this information within a modelling and decision analysis framework, we analysed which strategy or combination of strategies is the most cost-effective at maintaining wild orangutan populations, and under what conditions. We discovered that neither strategy was optimal under all circumstances but was dependent on the relative cost per orangutan, the timescale of management concern, and the rate of deforestation. Reintroduction, which costs twelve times as much per animal as compared to protection of forest, was only a cost-effective strategy at very short timescales. For time scales longer than 10-20 years, forest protection is the more cost-efficient strategy for maintaining wild orangutan populations. Our analyses showed that a third, rarely utilised strategy is intermediate: introducing sustainable logging practices and protection from hunting in timber production forest. Maximum long-term cost-efficiency is achieved by working in conservation forest. However, habitat protection involves addressing complex conservation issues and conflicting needs at the landscape level. We find a potential resolution in that well-managed production forests could achieve intermediate conservation outcomes. This has broad implications for sustaining biodiversity more generally within an economically productive landscape. Insights from this analysis should provide a better framework to prioritize financial investments, and facilitate improved integration between the organizations that implement these strategies.
Orangutan survival is threatened by habitat loss and illegal killing. Most wild populations will disappear over the next few decades unless threats are abated. Saving orangutans is ultimately in the hands of the governments and people of Indonesia and Malaysia, which need to ensure that habitats of viable orangutan populations are protected from deforestation and well managed to ensure no hunting takes place. Companies working in orangutan habitat also have to play a much bigger role in habitat management. Although the major problems and the direct actions required to solve them-reducing forest loss and hunting-have been known for decades, orangutan populations continue to decline. Orangutan populations in Sumatra and Borneo have declined by between 2,280 and 5,250 orangutans annually over the past 25 years. As the total current population for the two species is some 60,000 animals in an area of about 90,000 km(2) , there is not much time left to make conservation efforts truly effective. Our review discusses what has and has not worked in conservation to guide future conservation efforts.
We examined mitochondrial DNA control region sequences of 73 Kinabatangan orangutans to test the hypothesis that the phylogeographical structure of the Bornean orangutan is influenced by riverine barriers. The Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary contains one of the most northern populations of orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) on Borneo and is bisected by the Kinabatangan River, the longest river in Sabah. Orang-utan samples on either side of the river were strongly differentiated with a high Phi(ST) value of 0.404 (P < 0.001). Results also suggest an east-west gradient of genetic diversity and evidence for population expansion along the river, possibly reflecting a postglacial colonization of the Kinabatangan floodplain. We compared our data with previously published sequences of Bornean orangutans in the context of river catchment structure on the island and evaluated the general relevance of rivers as barriers to gene flow in this long-lived, solitary arboreal ape.
The conservation of charismatic and functionally important large species is becoming increasingly difficult. Anthropogenic pressures continue to squeeze available habitat and force animals into degraded and disturbed areas. Ensuring the long-term survival of these species requires a well-developed understanding of how animals use these new landscapes to inform conservation and habitat restoration efforts. We combined 3 y of highly detailed visual observations of Bornean orangutans with high-resolution airborne remote sensing (Light Detection and Ranging) to understand orangutan movement in disturbed and fragmented forests of Malaysian Borneo. Structural attributes of the upper forest canopy were the dominant determinant of orangutan movement among all age and sex classes, with orangutans more likely to move in directions of increased canopy closure, tall trees, and uniform height, as well as avoiding canopy gaps and moving toward emergent crowns. In contrast, canopy vertical complexity (canopy layering and shape) did not affect movement. Our results suggest that although orangutans do make use of disturbed forest, they select certain canopy attributes within these forests, indicating that not all disturbed or degraded forest is of equal value for the long-term sustainability of orangutan populations. Although the value of disturbed habitats needs to be recognized in conservation plans for wide-ranging, large-bodied species, minimal ecological requirements within these habitats also need to be understood and considered if long-term population viability is to be realized.
Southeast Asian deforestation rates are among the world's highest and threaten to drive many forest-dependent species to extinction. Climate change is expected to interact with deforestation to amplify this risk. Here we examine whether regional incentives for sustainable forest management will be effective in improving threatened mammal conservation, in isolation and when combined with global climate change mitigation.
The approximately 300 (298, 95% CI: 152-581) elephants in the Lower Kinabatangan Managed Elephant Range in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo are a priority sub-population for Borneo's total elephant population (2,040, 95% CI: 1,184-3,652). Habitat loss and human-elephant conflict are recognized as the major threats to Bornean elephant survival. In the Kinabatangan region, human settlements and agricultural development for oil palm drive an intense fragmentation process. Electric fences guard against elephant crop raiding but also remove access to suitable habitat patches. We conducted expert opinion-based least-cost analyses, to model the quantity and configuration of available suitable elephant habitat in the Lower Kinabatangan, and called this the Elephant Habitat Linkage. At 184 km(2), our estimate of available habitat is 54% smaller than the estimate used in the State's Elephant Action Plan for the Lower Kinabatangan Managed Elephant Range (400 km(2)). During high flood levels, available habitat is reduced to only 61 km(2). As a consequence, short-term elephant densities are likely to surge during floods to 4.83 km(-2) (95% CI: 2.46-9.41), among the highest estimated for forest-dwelling elephants in Asia or Africa. During severe floods, the configuration of remaining elephant habitat and the surge in elephant density may put two villages at elevated risk of human-elephant conflict. Lower Kinabatangan elephants are vulnerable to the natural disturbance regime of the river due to their limited dispersal options. Twenty bottlenecks less than one km wide throughout the Elephant Habitat Linkage, have the potential to further reduce access to suitable habitat. Rebuilding landscape connectivity to isolated habitat patches and to the North Kinabatangan Managed Elephant Range (less than 35 km inland) are conservation priorities that would increase the quantity of available habitat, and may work as a mechanism to allow population release, lower elephant density, reduce human-elephant conflict, and enable genetic mixing.
Nature-based tourism can generate important revenue to support conservation of biodiversity. However, constant exposure to tourists and subsequent chronic activation of stress responses can produce pathological effects, including impaired cognition, growth, reproduction, and immunity in the same animals we are interested in protecting. Utilizing fecal samples (N = 53) from 2 wild habituated orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus morio) (in addition to 26 fecal samples from 4 wild unhabituated orangutans) in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, we predicted that i) fecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations would be elevated on the day after tourist visitation (indicative of normal stress response to exposure to tourists on the previous day) compared to samples taken before or during tourist visitation in wild, habituated orangutans, and ii) that samples collected from habituated animals would have lower fecal glucocorticoid metabolites than unhabituated animals not used for tourism. Among the habituated animals used for tourism, fecal glucocorticoid metabolite levels were significantly elevated in samples collected the day after tourist visitation (indicative of elevated cortisol production on the previous day during tourist visitation). Fecal glucocorticoid metabolite levels were also lower in the habituated animals compared to their age-matched unhabituated counterparts. We conclude that the habituated animals used for this singular ecotourism project are not chronically stressed, unlike other species/populations with documented permanent alterations in stress responses. Animal temperament, species, the presence of coping/escape mechanisms, social confounders, and variation in amount of tourism may explain differences among previous experiments. Acute alterations in glucocorticoid measures in wildlife exposed to tourism must be interpreted conservatively. While permanently altered stress responses can be detrimental, preliminary results in these wild habituated orangutans suggest that low levels of predictable disturbance can likely result in low physiological impact on these animals.
Today the majority of wild great ape populations are found outside of the network of protected areas in both Africa and Asia, therefore determining if these populations are able to survive in forests that are exploited for timber or other extractive uses and how this is managed, is paramount for their conservation.
Behavioural observations suggest that orang-utans are semi-solitary animals with females being philopatric and males roaming more widely in search of receptive partners, leading to the prediction that females are more closely related than males at any given site. In contrast, our study presents evidence for male and female philopatry in the orang-utan. We examined patterns of relatedness and parentage in a wild orang-utan population in Borneo using noninvasively collected DNA samples from animals observed to defecate, and microsatellite markers to assess dispersal and mating strategies. Surprisingly, resident females were equally as related to other resident females (mean r(xy) = 0.303) as resident males were to other resident males (mean r(xy) = 0.305). Moreover, resident females were more related to each other and to the resident males than they were to nonresident females, and resident males were more related to each other (and resident females) than they were to nonresident males. We assigned genetic mothers to 12 individuals in the population, while sires could be identified for eight. Both flanged males and unflanged males achieved paternity, similar to findings reported for Sumatran orang-utans.
We investigated the genetic structure within and among Bornean orang-utans (Pongo pygmaeus) in forest fragments of the Lower Kinabatangan flood plain in Sabah, Malaysia. DNA was extracted from hair and faecal samples for 200 wild individuals collected during boat surveys on the Kinabatangan River. Fourteen microsatellite loci were used to characterize patterns of genetic diversity. We found that genetic diversity was high in the set of samples (mean H(E) = 0.74) and that genetic differentiation was significant between the samples (average F(ST) = 0.04, P < 0.001) with F(ST) values ranging from low (0.01) to moderately large (0.12) values. Pairwise F(ST) values were significantly higher across the Kinabatangan River than between samples from the same river side, thereby confirming the role of the river as a natural barrier to gene flow. The correlation between genetic and geographical distance was tested by means of a series of Mantel tests based on different measures of geographical distance. We used a Bayesian method to estimate immigration rates. The results indicate that migration is unlikely across the river but cannot be completely ruled out because of the limited F(ST) values. Assignment tests confirm the overall picture that gene flow is limited across the river. We found that migration between samples from the same side of the river had a high probability indicating that orang-utans used to move relatively freely between neighbouring areas. This strongly suggests that there is a need to maintain migration between isolated forest fragments. This could be done by restoring forest corridors alongside the river banks and between patches.
Plant recovery rates after herbivory are thought to be a key factor driving recursion by herbivores to sites and plants to optimise resource-use but have not been investigated as an explanation for recursion in large herbivores. We investigated the relationship between plant recovery and recursion by elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis) in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, Sabah. We identified 182 recently eaten food plants, from 30 species, along 14 × 50 m transects and measured their recovery growth each month over nine months or until they were re-browsed by elephants. The monthly growth in leaf and branch or shoot length for each plant was used to calculate the time required (months) for each species to recover to its pre-eaten length. Elephant returned to all but two transects with 10 eaten plants, a further 26 plants died leaving 146 plants that could be re-eaten. Recursion occurred to 58% of all plants and 12 of the 30 species. Seventy-seven percent of the re-eaten plants were grasses. Recovery times to all plants varied from two to twenty months depending on the species. Recursion to all grasses coincided with plant recovery whereas recursion to most browsed plants occurred four to twelve months before they had recovered to their previous length. The small sample size of many browsed plants that received recursion and uneven plant species distribution across transects limits our ability to generalise for most browsed species but a prominent pattern in plant-scale recursion did emerge. Plant recovery time was a good predictor of time to recursion but varied as a function of growth form (grass, ginger, palm, liana and woody) and differences between sites. Time to plant recursion coincided with plant recovery time for the elephant's preferred food, grasses, and perhaps also gingers, but not the other browsed species. Elephants are bulk feeders so it is likely that they time their returns to bulk feed on these grass species when quantities have recovered sufficiently to meet their intake requirements. The implications for habitat and elephant management are discussed.
New plantations can either cause deforestation by replacing natural forests or avoid this by using previously cleared areas. The extent of these two situations is contested in tropical biodiversity hotspots where objective data are limited. Here, we explore delays between deforestation and the establishment of industrial tree plantations on Borneo using satellite imagery. Between 1973 and 2015 an estimated 18.7 Mha of Borneo's old-growth forest were cleared (14.4 Mha and 4.2 Mha in Indonesian and Malaysian Borneo). Industrial plantations expanded by 9.1 Mha (7.8 Mha oil-palm; 1.3 Mha pulpwood). Approximately 7.0 Mha of the total plantation area in 2015 (9.2 Mha) were old-growth forest in 1973, of which 4.5-4.8 Mha (24-26% of Borneo-wide deforestation) were planted within five years of forest clearance (3.7-3.9 Mha oil-palm; 0.8-0.9 Mha pulpwood). This rapid within-five-year conversion has been greater in Malaysia than in Indonesia (57-60% versus 15-16%). In Indonesia, a higher proportion of oil-palm plantations was developed on already cleared degraded lands (a legacy of recurrent forest fires). However, rapid conversion of Indonesian forests to industrial plantations has increased steeply since 2005. We conclude that plantation industries have been the principle driver of deforestation in Malaysian Borneo over the last four decades. In contrast, their role in deforestation in Indonesian Borneo was less marked, but has been growing recently. We note caveats in interpreting these results and highlight the need for greater accountability in plantation development.
A recent report, published by the Government of Indonesia with support from the Food and Agricultural Organization and Norway's International Climate and Forest Initiative, states that orangutan populations (Pongo spp.) have increased by more than 10% in Indonesia from 2015 to 2017, exceeding the government target of an annual 2% population increase . This assessment is in strong contrast with recent publications that showed that the Bornean orangutan (P. pygmaeus) lost more than 100,000 individuals in the past 16 years  and declined by at least 25% over the past 10 years . Furthermore, recent work has also demonstrated that both Sumatran orangutans (P. abelii) and the recently described Tapanuli orangutan (P. tapanuliensis) lost more than 60% of their key habitats between 1985 and 2007, and ongoing land use changes are expected to result in an 11-27% decline in their populations by 2020 [4,5]. Most scientific data indicate that the survival of these species continues to be seriously threatened by deforestation and killing [4,6,7] and thus all three are Critically Endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.
The native forests of Borneo have been impacted by selective logging, fire, and conversion to plantations at unprecedented scales since industrial-scale extractive industries began in the early 1970s. There is no island-wide documentation of forest clearance or logging since the 1970s. This creates an information gap for conservation planning, especially with regard to selectively logged forests that maintain high conservation potential. Analysing LANDSAT images, we estimate that 75.7% (558,060 km2) of Borneo's area (737,188 km2) was forested around 1973. Based upon a forest cover map for 2010 derived using ALOS-PALSAR and visually reviewing LANDSAT images, we estimate that the 1973 forest area had declined by 168,493 km2 (30.2%) in 2010. The highest losses were recorded in Sabah and Kalimantan with 39.5% and 30.7% of their total forest area in 1973 becoming non-forest in 2010, and the lowest in Brunei and Sarawak (8.4%, and 23.1%). We estimate that the combined area planted in industrial oil palm and timber plantations in 2010 was 75,480 km2, representing 10% of Borneo. We mapped 271,819 km of primary logging roads that were created between 1973 and 2010. The greatest density of logging roads was found in Sarawak, at 0.89 km km-2, and the lowest density in Brunei, at 0.18 km km-2. Analyzing MODIS-based tree cover maps, we estimate that logging operated within 700 m of primary logging roads. Using this distance, we estimate that 266,257 km2 of 1973 forest cover has been logged. With 389,566 km2 (52.8%) of the island remaining forested, of which 209,649 km2 remains intact. There is still hope for biodiversity conservation in Borneo. Protecting logged forests from fire and conversion to plantations is an urgent priority for reducing rates of deforestation in Borneo.
Great apes are threatened with extinction, but precise information about the distribution and size of most populations is currently lacking. We conducted orangutan nest counts in the Malaysian state of Sabah (North Borneo), using a combination of ground and helicopter surveys, and provided a way to estimate the current distribution and size of the populations living throughout the entire state. We show that the number of nests detected during aerial surveys is directly related to the estimated true animal density and that a helicopter is an efficient tool to provide robust estimates of orangutan numbers. Our results reveal that with a total estimated population size of about 11,000 individuals, Sabah is one of the main strongholds for orangutans in North Borneo. More than 60% of orangutans living in the state occur outside protected areas, in production forests that have been through several rounds of logging extraction and are still exploited for timber. The role of exploited forests clearly merits further investigation for orangutan conservation in Sabah.
Conservation benefits from understanding how adaptability and threat interact to determine a taxon's vulnerability. Recognizing how interactions with humans have shaped taxa such as the critically endangered orangutan (Pongo spp.) offers insights into this relationship. Orangutans are viewed as icons of wild nature, and most efforts to prevent their extinction have focused on protecting minimally disturbed habitat, with limited success. We synthesize fossil, archeological, genetic, and behavioral evidence to demonstrate that at least 70,000 years of human influence have shaped orangutan distribution, abundance, and ecology and will likely continue to do so in the future. Our findings indicate that orangutans are vulnerable to hunting but appear flexible in response to some other human activities. This highlights the need for a multifaceted, landscape-level approach to orangutan conservation that leverages sound policy and cooperation among government, private sector, and community stakeholders to prevent hunting, mitigate human-orangutan conflict, and preserve and reconnect remaining natural forests. Broad cooperation can be encouraged through incentives and strategies that focus on the common interests and concerns of different stakeholders. Orangutans provide an illustrative example of how acknowledging the long and pervasive influence of humans can improve strategies to preserve biodiversity in the Anthropocene.
Balancing economic development with international commitments to protect biodiversity is a global challenge. Achieving this balance requires an understanding of the possible consequences of alternative future scenarios for a range of stakeholders. We employ an integrated economic and environmental planning approach to evaluate four alternative futures for the mega-diverse island of Borneo. We show what could be achieved if the three national jurisdictions of Borneo coordinate efforts to achieve their public policy targets and allow a partial reallocation of planned land uses. We reveal the potential for Borneo to simultaneously retain ∼50% of its land as forests, protect adequate habitat for the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) and Bornean elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis), and achieve an opportunity cost saving of over US$43 billion. Such coordination would depend on enhanced information sharing and reforms to land-use planning, which could be supported by the increasingly international nature of economies and conservation efforts.