Australian Orang-utan Project

To promote the survival of orang-utans in Indonesia and Malaysia


Orang-utans live on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra in South-east Asia and are the only great apes found outside Africa. The populations on the two islands have been separated for more than a million years. Scientists now consider them as distinct species: the Sumatran (Pongo abelii) and the Bornean orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus), and the zoos of the WAZA Network manage them as two different breeding populations.


Orang-utans have been of conservation concern for many years. Already in 1963, WAZA - then still called IUDZG - adopted a resolution condemning illegal trade in orang-utans and obliging members not to purchase orang-utans from illegal sources. In 1967, it was resolved that "no member will purchase, offer to purchase, sell, offer to sell, capture, encourage the capture of, donate, accept as a gift, or deposit or trade orang-utans" (as well as a some other species). In 1967, the International Studbook for the Orang-utan was established.


It is estimated that only between 25 and 50,000 orang-utans exist in the world today. Of these, the vast majority are found in Borneo, with just a tiny population surviving in Sumatra. Over the past 100 years orang-utans have lost 91 per cent of their populations.


The most serious threat to orang-utans is the destruction of their rainforest habitat. In the last 20 years an estimated 80 per cent of suitable orang-utan habitat has disappeared, and only around two per cent of what remains is legally protected. The main causes of this habitat loss are commercial logging, clearance for agriculture, and conversion to plantations. Not only does commercial logging destroy the forest, it is often done illegally, creating roads into previously inaccessible areas, which provides access to poachers. Fires pose an increasingly serious threat to the orang-utan's habitat. It is estimated that in 1997 alone 10 million hectares of land were burned in Indonesia. When areas of forest are destroyed, the orang-utans lose both their home and source of food (fruit and leaves).


Despite legal protection in Sumatra and Borneo, orang-utans are often killed for their meat - their slow movements making them easy targets. More serious is the trade of body parts, particularly skulls, which continues despite the efforts of the authorities to stop it. The market of orang-utans as pets thrives in many Asian countries.


Because orang-utans reproduce slowly, any loss of individual is very serious as the population takes many years to recover. Statistics show that a one per cent increase in the death rate could bring orang-utans to extinction within three decades.


In 1998, the Australian Orang Utan Project (AOP) started with a view of ensuring the survival of both Sumatran and Bornean orang-utans in their natural habitat and promoting the welfare of all orang-utans. Currently, the AOP supports the following activities:


1. Orang-utan Protection Units in Sumatra
The Sumatran Orang-Utan Project releases orang-utans into the Bukit Tigah Puluh National Park according to the IUCN Guidelines for Re-introductions. AOP funds the training, equipment and wages of the OPUs that protect the national park and the orang-utans.


2. The Lamandau Orang-utan Reserve in Central Kalimantan
In partnership with the Orang-utan Foundation UK, AOP funds half the costs of protecting and developing the Lamandau Reserve in Central Kalimantan, where Orang-utan Foundation International (OFI) releases orang-utans according to the IUCN Guidelines for Re-introductions.


3. The Peat Swamp Restauration Project in Central Kalimantan
In partnership with Ou-Trop, AOP funds the damning of old logging canals in this area. The old logging canals are threatening to drain and destroy the entire rainforest that supports a population of approximately 3,000 orang-utans.


4. The Forest Rangers in Sabah (Malaysia)
AOP works with the Kinabatang Orangutan Conservation Project (KOCP) to protect the orang-utans that live along the Kinabatang River. AOP currently fully funds one Forest Ranger.


5. The Orang-utan Care and Quarantine Centre in Central Kalimantan
AOP contributes to the running costs of the OFI Care Centre in order to support the quarantine and care of orang-utans that will be reintroduced to AOP's Buluh Lamandau release site.


WAZA Conservation Project 05011 is supported by Perth Zoo, Adelaide Zoo, and the National Zoo and Aquarium in cooperation with ARAZPA, GRASP and other partners. 


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