Restoring a Home for Orangutans in Malaysia

A partnership between conservation groups, governments, and tourism is supporting the Borneo Forest and the great apes that live there.

Oct 5, 2020

Borneo is an island teeming with biodiversity and home to thousands of species including at least 222 mammals, 420 birds, 100 amphibians, and thousands of plants according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). And it is home to the Bornean orangutan whose name means “man of the forest” in Malay.

But this great ape that is only found on two islands in Indonesia and Malaysia is critically endangered due to habitat destruction and illegal hunting. There isn’t much forest left. In fact, the population of orangutan’s has halved in the last 40 years according to WWF.  But now, there is good news about the species.

When WWF-Malaysia and the Sabah Wildlife Department conducted a survey in 2007, according to a WWF article, they found that the apes are still holding on in the Bukit Piton Forest Reserve but they were cut off by palm oil plantations and the Segama River from other population groups.

“Even though the area was heavily degraded, Bukit Piton Forest Reserve was reported to have between 170 and 300 orangutan individuals,” WWF-Malaysia’s Fredinand Lobinsiu said in the article.

“However, the population was isolated and its badly degraded habitat was not viable to support orangutans in the long term. With limited trees, there was more competition for food and space for nesting. The risk of fire was also much higher due to the dry conditions and open canopy. Extreme growth of lianas was strangling and killing many of the remaining trees.”

That’s why WWF started a forest restoration program that year in collaboration with other nonprofit organizations and the Sabah Forestry Department. WWF focused on a pilot site of 2,400 hectares and began planting trees; almost 350,000 trees.

WWF planted 55 different indigenous tree species that were hardy or fruit trees to provide food for the orangutans and today, Bukit Piton looks like a forest again. The orangutans in the reforested area have stabilized and they are building nests in the newly planted trees.

The Semenggoh Wildlife Center is also helping to save the great apes. It is one of four orangutan rehabilitation centers worldwide according to DW. The center rehabilitates and transfers apes rescued from captivity or habitat loss back into the wild, and educates locals about the importance of the great apes to the environmental health of the forest. It is also an eco-tourism site.

“We are keeping these beautiful apes, and creating a safe place for them to move here in the forest,” warden Nor Emel Farnida Biniti Jaddil told DW.

Tourism is boosting the local economy and driving the forest restoration efforts. “If people are able to have the image of this wild animal living in the wild setting, I believe we can touch their hearts," said Jaddil. "They will also become our assistants to protect other parts of nature, the forest, and other animals as well.”

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.