Despite legal protection in Indonesia since 1931, orangutans are still captured from the wild and kept in households as status symbols. In some areas orangutans are hunted for food. Investigations by TRAFFIC, the global wildlife monitoring network, shows that lack of law enforcement against this illegal trafficking poses a serious threat to orangutans. Females give birth to just one infant at a time every eight or nine years, making their populations very susceptible to even very low levels of hunting. Experts estimate that even as little as 1% of females lost each year through hunting or other unnatural causes could put a population on an irreversible trajectory to extinction.
Orangutan habitat in north Sumatra is being lost at an extremely high rate, mainly due to fire and conversion of forests to oil palm plantations and other agricultural development. This species depends on high-quality forests. Widespread forest fires, many set deliberately to clear land for plantations, are becoming a regular disaster. Not only do fires destroy vast areas of orangutan habitat, but thousands of these slow-moving apes are thought to have burned to death, unable to escape the flames.
A plan to build a major road in northern Sumatra threatens one of the largest-remaining areas of the orangutan’s habitat. Not only will the road fragment the forest, but it will also open up access for illegal logging activities and human settlements. The project is progressing despite proof that conserving the region will help long-term sustainable development.