200 rare orangutans found in Malaysian Borneo
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200 rare orangutans found in Malaysian Borneo

A rare bit of good news for the world’s threatened and ever-dwindling orangutan population as a previously unknown population of the rarest subspecies has been discovered on Malaysian Borneo.

Scientists estimate that there are only 3,000 – 4,500 members of Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus in existence, so the discovery by conservationists of an additional 200 of the rare orangs in a 140-square km (54 sq mi) area near Batang Park in Sarawak was a welcome surprise.

From a press release of the World Conservation Society:

Upon confirmation that the area had a globally significant population of the rare sub-species, the Government of Sarawak officially indicated the need to protect this area in perpetuity. It is already a High Conservation Value Forest, considered to have an area of high biological, cultural, economic and livelihood significance.

Asia’s unique great apes, orangutans only exist in Indonesia and Malaysia and only on the shared Indonesian/Malaysian island of Borneo and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The vast majority of orangutans live on Borneo, while the uniquely Indonesian Sumatra orangutans are the most threatened (though numbering slightly higher than Borneo’s Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus). Sumatran orangutans are in grave danger of extinction due to rampant deforestation driven by palm plantations as well as the paper and tropical hardwood industries.

The WCS praised the efforts of the Malaysian government and the state of Sarawak towards orangutan conservation. Around half of all Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus orangutans live in Sarawak’s Batang Ai National Park and Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary

From Science World Report:

This new population discovery is huge for the future of these rare orangutans, though. Since the area has such a significance of the population of this sub-specie, the Government of Sarawak officially indicated the need to protect the area in perpetuity. Government officials plant to hold a dialogue with local communities and other stakeholders in order to discuss options for the location.

Despite this spot of good news, things remain perilous for the surviving members of the Earth’s orangutan population. Recent video footage and photographs illustrates the desperate situation of orangs in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo.

See more photos here.

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Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan Tengah, Borneo, pic: Russ Watkins (Flickr CC)