Secret Population of Rare Orangutan Discovered in Borneo: New Protection for Primates

First Posted: Apr 11, 2013 02:08 PM EDT

A rare species of orangutan can be found in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. Only numbering about 200 individuals, these primates are listed as the most severely threatened orangutan worldwide. Now, they may be getting a little extra protection. The Government of Sarawak is planning on protecting this population for future generations.

This sub-species of orangutan is known as the Pongo pygmaeus. Like other great apes, these orangutans are highly intelligent, and display advanced tool use and cultural patterns in the wild. In fact, some have even witnessed these creatures using makeshift spears to catch fish. The third heaviest living primate after the two species of gorilla, it can weigh as much as 220 pounds. It consumes everything from wild figs to leaves to seeds to bird eggs to insects. It's estimated that only 3,000 to 4,500 of these animals still exist in the world, 2,000 of which live in Sarawak in Batang Ai National Park and Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary.

Yet this new population was unknown until now. It was only through the efforts of field surveys that they were discovered at all. Researchers covered 154 miles of transects in the hilly, undulating terrain in central Borneo. They were eventually able to locate 995 nests in the area, including fresh ones.

Bornean orangutans continue to drop in population numbers. The species suffers from deforestation due to the creation of oil-palm plantations, and are sometimes hunted.

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-species, 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. 

"It is indeed wonderful to hear the Government's initiative towards protecting these orangutan and their habitat especially when preliminary scientific data indicates the existence of a globally significant population," said Melvin Gumal, Director of Wildlife Conservation Society, Malaysia Program, in a press release.

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