Captive orangutans in Indonesia may be released back to the wild

Posted on March 7, 2011

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A baby orangutan clings onto its mother at a release site in Tanjung Hanau, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.

A half-century ago, more than three-quarters of Indonesia, was blanketed in plush tropical rainforest. But today it’s a different story; the growing demand to feed the world with  pulp, paper and more recently palm oil (which is used in everything from lipstick and soap to “clean-burning” fuel) has seen half those trees destroyed leaving the organtuan on the verge of extinction.

Primatologist, Birute Mary Galdikas has devoted the most of her adult her life to studying and living among these red-headed great apes. And now, for the first time in years, she has hopes of releasing them into the wild after a pledge by a development company to protect an area of forest.

If the promise is to be believed, then the Hong Kong-based business will safeguard a 91,000-hectare (224,866-acre) peatland forest along Tanjung Puting National Park’s eastern edge. The agreement forms part of Indonesia’s promise to try to cut down on its carbon emissions.

Young orphaned apes can’t be released directly into parks like Tanjung Puting – home to 6,000 orangutans – because of a 1995 decree that prohibits the release of ex-captives into forests with large wild populations, because of fears they’ll introduce diseases like tuberculosis and their home range may overlap with existing apes. The small patches of trees that are left are inadequate for their breeding needs and massive appetites. Borneo – shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei – is one of the most biologically diverse places on earth. It is the main supplier worldwide of palm oil and home to 90 percent of the orangutans left on this planet.

For more information on this story visit the Orangutan Foundation International

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