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Orangutan Rescued Amid Sea of Palm Oil

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Orangutan Rescued Amid Sea of Palm Oil
By Rhett A. Butler, Mongabay.com | May 7, 2015
Last Updated: May 7, 2015 12:19 pm
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A large male Sumatran orangutan is released, some 50 kilometers from where he was rescued in the Leuser Ecosystem. Photo: Paul Hilton for OIC.

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Conservationists rescued another orangutan stranded in Sumatra by expanding oil palm plantations, spotlighting continued fragmentation and destruction of red ape habitat on the Indonesian island.

The rescue, which took place in early April, was conducted by the Orangutan Information Centre (OIC) in response to a report of an adult male orangutan isolated in an fragment forest surrounded by oil palm plantations. The orangutan was found to be in poor health, according to Krisna, OIC’s Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit field coordinator.

“Our vet checked his condition and after being trapped in such a small area of forest lacking food, he was found to be very underweight. He also had a bullet in his chest which we removed on the scene,” the conservationist said in a statement. “It’s clear that had we not been able to conduct the rescue, his future was to die starving here, or make a run for it where he could have been shot at and killed.”

After the check up, the orangutan was taken to a larger block of forest and released. He was the sixty-fourth orangutan rescued by OIC in North Sumatra and Aceh in the past three years, including eleven so far in 2015, according to OIC Director Panut Hadisiswoyo.

“That’s 11 in just 3 months so it’s a real concern,” said Panut, who last week was honored with the prestigious Whitely Award for conservation. “Plantations are not safe places for orangutans. We often have to cut bullets out of the orangutans during rescues. People may try to shoot them to protect crops, to kill a mother in order to capture her baby to sell, or just for sport in some cases.”

The rescue took place just outside a plantation run by PT. lbris Palm, which has been mired in controversy over findings that it violated Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) standards by clearing forests despite the presence of orangutans. lbris Palm is in the process of appealing the RSPO’s suspension of its membership. The company argues that the area was secondary forest and the orangutans represented a transient population — neither of which clear it of wrong-doing, according to RSPO criteria, which require companies to pause forest clearing when orangutans are sighted. Since the complaint, the company has established its own orangutan monitoring team.

The site of the rescue lies within a heavily degraded block of forest that is isolated from areas of quality habitat by oil palm plantations and agriculture, according to satellite imagery available on Global Forest Watch. Most of the clearing and degradation within the forest “island” occurred prior to 2000.

The case nonetheless illustrates the ongoing decline of orangutan habitat as a result of plantation expansion in Sumatra. According to data from the University of Maryland, the island lost 2.86 million hectares of primary forest in just 12 years, from 2000 and 2012. Primary lowland forest cover in Sumatra now amounts to less than 4.5 million hectares, or 9 percent of Sumatra’s land mass.

Sumatra’s orangutan population is estimated at less than 7,000 in the wild. The bulk of these orangutans are found in the Leuser Ecosystem, a tract of forest and peatlands, in Aceh and North Sumatra. Leuser is a high conservation priority because it is the only place on Earth where rhinos, orangutans, tigers, and elephants live in the same habitat.

This article was written by Rhett A. Butler, the head administrator for news.mongabay.com. This article has been republished with permission, original article here.