Land-cover changes predict steep declines for the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii)

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Science Advances  04 Mar 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 3, e1500789
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500789


Positive news about Sumatran orangutans is rare. The species is critically endangered because of forest loss and poaching, and therefore, determining the impact of future land-use change on this species is important. To date, the total Sumatran orangutan population has been estimated at 6600 individuals. On the basis of new transect surveys, we estimate a population of 14,613 in 2015. This higher estimate is due to three factors. First, orangutans were found at higher elevations, elevations previously considered outside of their range and, consequently, not surveyed previously. Second, orangutans were found more widely distributed in logged forests. Third, orangutans were found in areas west of the Toba Lake that were not previously surveyed. This increase in numbers is therefore due to a more wide-ranging survey effort and is not indicative of an increase in the orangutan population in Sumatra. There are evidently more Sumatran orangutans remaining in the wild than we thought, but the species remains under serious threat. Current scenarios for future forest loss predict that as many as 4500 individuals could vanish by 2030. Despite the positive finding that the population is double the size previously estimated, our results indicate that future deforestation will continue to be the cause of rapid declines in orangutan numbers. Hence, we urge that all developmental planning involving forest loss be accompanied by appropriate environmental impact assessments conforming with the current national and provincial legislations, and, through these, implement specific measures to reduce or, better, avoid negative impacts on forests where orangutans occur.

  • Great apes
  • conservation
  • habitat loss
  • predictive modeling
  • glm
  • deforestation

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