Orangutans are “highly likely” to become extinct if current trends continue, according to a study released Friday which found that the apes’ population in Borneo had plunged by more than 100,000 in 16 years.
The region’s orangutans live exclusively on Sumatra and Borneo.
The widest study since 1999 was conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in the German city of Leipzig and other institutions. The steepest declines on the Southeast Asian island were found in areas where tropical forests were cut down for timber and to make way for palm oil plantations, shrinking the jungle habitat of the apes. Other major factors were “conflict killing, poaching, and the collection of baby orangutans for the pet trade,” the authors of the study said.
They also found the apes, known for their broad faces and dark-brown fur, may survive better than expected in smaller forests and fragmented landscapes because they walk on the ground more often than researchers realized. This allows them to survive on plants which are not part of their natural diet.