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Borneo’s orang­utans face severe threats from land cover and cli­mate change, says UN

pub­lished 02 August 2015 | mod­i­fied 02 August 2015

Bornean orangutan at Paignton ZooOver 80 per­cent of the orangutan’s remain­ing habi­tat in Bor­neo could be lost by the year 2080 if the island’s cur­rent land-​use poli­cies remain intact, accord­ing to a new United Nations report.

The report ‘The Future of the Bornean Orang­utan: Impacts of Change in Land Cover and Cli­mate’, which was pub­lished by the United Nations Envi­ron­ment Pro­gramme (UNEP) and Liv­er­pool John Moores Uni­ver­sity, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Great Apes Sur­vival Part­ner­ship (GRASP), states that the mas­sive con­ver­sion of Borneo’s forests for agri­cul­tural devel­op­ment — pri­mar­ily oil palm — will leave the endan­gered orang­utans frag­mented and fac­ing extinc­tion in a num­ber of areas.

In addi­tion, the envi­ron­men­tal impact of cli­mate change exac­er­bated by the defor­esta­tion of Bor­neo could result in severe floods, tem­per­a­ture rises, reduced agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity and other neg­a­tive effects.

The report was pre­sented at the GRASP Regional Meet­ing — South­east Asia, which was held 2728 July on Bor­neo in Kota Kin­a­balu, Malaysia:

The cur­rent poli­cies for land con­ver­sion on Bor­neo are sim­ply unsustainable
Dr. Serge Wich, lead author of the report »

Our mod­els show that the effects will worsen over time, lead­ing to greater and greater loss of suit­able land, not just for orang­utans, but for the human pop­u­la­tion as well,” added Serge Wich.

Bor­neo is Asia’s largest island and is jointly ruled by three nations: Malaysia and Brunei in the north, and Indone­sia in the south. Borneo’s defor­esta­tion rate has been among the world’s high­est for over two decades, and 56 per­cent of the pro­tected trop­i­cal low­land forests — an area roughly the size of Bel­gium — was lost between 1985 and 2001.

The Future of the Bornean Orang­utan uses dif­fer­ent cli­mate and land-​cover sce­nar­ios for the years 2020, 2050 and 2080 and mod­els the indi­vid­ual and com­bined effect of both fac­tors on the orang­utan habi­tat. In each, dra­matic rises in tem­per­a­ture brought on by defor­esta­tion and the loss of land cover cause seri­ous dam­age to the island’s bio­di­ver­sity, with the com­bined model show­ing an even more pro­nounced impact than either fac­tor alone.

UNEP Exec­u­tive Direc­tor Achim Steiner urged adop­tion of pro­grammes that mea­sure the nat­ural cap­i­tal of a region and offer pay­ment for ecosys­tem ser­vices to mit­i­gate these threats. “Now, it is time to uti­lize these approaches and divert from an unsus­tain­able path­way to devel­op­ment,” he wrote in the report’s fore­word. “It is clear that a future with­out sus­tain­able devel­op­ment will be a future with a dif­fer­ent cli­mate and, even­tu­ally, with­out orang­utans, one of our clos­est relatives.”

An esti­mated 55,000 Bornean orang­utans remain in the wild, split into three dis­tinct sub­species. But orang­utans’ soli­tary nature and slow repro­duc­tive rates leave them par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to for­est loss. Mod­els incor­po­rat­ing pro­jected changes to cli­mate and to land cover indi­cate that 6881% of the cur­rent orang­utan habi­tat might be lost by 2080.

Report rec­om­men­da­tions

Among the report’s rec­om­men­da­tions to curb the impact of agri­cul­tural con­ver­sion are:
1. Imme­di­ate iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and pro­tec­tion of pri­or­ity orang­utan pop­u­la­tions and habi­tats;
2. Con­nec­tion of key orang­utan sites through the cre­ation of cor­ri­dors, so as to ensure the species’ mobil­ity and via­bil­ity;
3. con­ver­sion to more sus­tain­able meth­ods of agri­cul­tural use for palm oil and other crops; and
4. Sup­port for REDD+ and other for­est pro­tec­tion programmes.

(Source: UNEP press release, 29.07.2015)

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