September 6, 2005

Indonesian orangutans under siege-green groups

JAKARTA -- Hundreds of orangutans are killed or captured every year on the Indonesian part of Borneo island as part of an illegal trade that is driving the primates toward extinction, green groups said on Tuesday.

A study by global conservation organization WWF and wildlife trade monitor TRAFFIC shows between 200 and 500 Borneo orangutans are traded in various parts of Indonesia each year. The vast majority are infants sold as pets.

The report said at least one other orangutan died with each infant trade, usually the mother, meaning the total loss from the wild each year was likely to be much higher.

The total population of orangutans in Kalimantan, Indonesia's part of Borneo, was estimated to be as low as 40,000, the report said. The annual removal of such a large number of orangutans from the wild could be a death sentence for the population, it added.

To date, no one had been prosecuted for involvement in the trade.

"This is an alarming finding," said James Compton, director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

"It clearly shows that there is a large discrepancy between what national conservation laws aim to achieve and what happens on the ground," he said.

An orangutan costs about $400 on Indonesia's main island of Java, two to three times the original price paid to hunters in Kalimantan, the report said.

Capturing, killing, possessing and trading orangutans is illegal in Indonesia where violations can lead to a maximum five-year imprisonment.

Indonesia's Forestry Ministry calculates an area of orangutan habitat half the size of Switzerland is lost each year.

A United Nations-sponsored project puts Borneo and Sumatran orangutans among the dwindling six species of great apes.

Already, numbers of Sumatran orangutans have plunged to around 7,000 from 85,000 in 1900 and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program estimates they could be down to less than 250 within 50 years as their habitat is literally hacked to pieces for profit.

They also say if logging, hunting and the replacement of vast tracts of forest for oil palm plantations could be halted, then orangutan numbers could be stabilized on Sumatra.