American Elephants


A rare and welcome boost for one of the world’s most endangered great apes. by The Elephant's Child

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Good News! A new orangutan population has been found in Indonesia.  A team surveying forests snuggled between jagged, limestone cliffs on the eastern rim of Borneo island counted 219 orangutan nests, indicating a “substantial” number of the animals said Erik Melijard, a senior ecologist for the U.S. based The Nature Conservancy.

“We can’t say for sure how many,” he said, but even a cautious estimate would indicate “several hundred at least, maybe 1,000 or 2.000 even.”

The team also encountered an adult male— which threw branches at the crew as they tried to take photographs— a mother and a child.  There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans left in the wild, 90% of them in Indonesia, and the remainder in neighboring Malaysia.

These countries produce palm oil, used not only in food and cosmetics, but it is in great demand for making “clean burning” fuels in Europe and the United States.  Some rain forests where the animals spend most of their lives, have been clear cut.  Palm oil plantations, a lucrative source of employment and palm oil production, have led workers to kill orangutans as marauding pests, in spite of efforts to save the animals.

The inaccessibility of the area where the new population was found, as well as its poor soil and steep topography have shielded the area from development.  A Canadian scientist, Birute Mary Galdikas, who has spent nearly 40 years studying orangutans in the wild, says that most of the remaining populations are small and scattered, which makes them vulnerable.

The orangutan is called the “man of the forest.”  The story inadvertently shows how very difficult it is to get good estimates of the numbers of a species in the wild.




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