£568.48: the price on the head of an orangutan
The Times, August 2, 2008 – Lewis Smith, Environment Reporter
An initiative to help to stop orang-utans being driven into extinction has put the price of saving the apes at £568.48 a head.
Conservationists are attempting to save vital areas of forest from destruction by buying them from loggers and farmers to ensure that the apes have enough habitat to survive.
In the first stage of a scheme to buy and preserve thousands of acres of tropical forest in Borneo, conservationists have identified a 222-acre plot that links two protected reserves supporting 604 orang-utans.
The animals are under so much pressure from habitat loss that they face virtual extinction in the wild, with only a few small groups left.
Orang-utans suffer a double whammy from deforestation because the loss of trees deprives them of territory, while the fragmentation of wooded areas limits their ability to travel to meet new mates and find fresh sources of food.
In an effort to fight the effects of fragmentation a campaign has begun to buy thousands of acres of forests from farmers and loggers before they can be chopped down.
By preserving the privately owned land, conservationists will be able to link up small but valuable reserves in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, where orang-utans are already protected.
Other rare animals that will benefit by the forest being saved include Borneo pygmy elephants, the proboscis monkey and several types of hornbill. The first plot to be identified has been offered by a palm oil company to conservationists if they can come up with £343,364 by Christmas. The price means that it will cost £568.48 to save each of the 604 orang-utans known to be living in the neighbouring reserves and an appeal has now been started by the World Land Trust, based in Suffolk, to raise the money in a race against time.
Wildlife experts have identified thousands more acres of privately owned land that they hope to buy to form forested bridges linking up eight other protected reserves that form the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.
Deforestation to make way for palm oil crops is the biggest pressure on orang-utan numbers, which have halved in the past 20 years to an estimated 40,000 to 50,000.
Emma Stuart, a spokeswoman for the WLT, said that the strip of land on offer has the potential to play an important part in protecting orang-utans. “This corridor will create a viable reserve for orang-utans to live in,” she said. Money raised for the appeal will be used by the WLT to buy the land but ownership and land management responsibility will be handed to Leap Conservancy, a nongovernmental organisation in Borneo.
Sir David Attenborough, the WLT’s patron, has previously voiced his support for saving the orang-utan’s habitat: “Every bit of the rain-forest that is knocked down is less space for orang-utans.”