Minister: Humans to blame for declining orangutan population, not palm oil

Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin

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KUCHING, Aug 19: Federal Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities (MPIC) Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin today has refuted allegations of palm oil being branded as an ‘orangutan killer’.

She was referring to campaigners who have embarked on disseminating provocative statements that include “an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production”, “25 orangutans are lost every day”, and that “orangutans will be extinct within the next five to 10 years”.

She explained that while it is true that orangutans in Borneo have become an endangered species, it is also equally true that many other animal species have become endangered due to the explosion of the human population on planet Earth.

“Recent evidence revealed that hunting is among the biggest contributors to the Bornean orangutan population decline over the last 200 years. In Kalimantan, Bornean orangutans were often shot for their meat or due to the human-orangutan conflict.

“Historical data shows that the decline of orangutans was observed as far back as the 19th century, way before the start of significant oil palm development in the 1970s,” she said in a statement in conjunction with International Orangutan Day, which is celebrated every year on Aug 19.

She further said according to the global database Statista, changes in land and sea use in the Asia Pacific make up only 43 per cent of the factors threatening wildlife populations, while more than 50 per cent is due to species over-exploitation, invasive species and diseases, hunting, pollution, and climate change.

She also mentioned that to showcase that humans and nature can co-exist in harmony, Malaysia allotted 43 square kilometres (sq km) of protected land at the edge of the Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve in Sabah as a rehabilitation site for orangutans.

“Today, around 60 to 80 orangutans live independently in the reserve while approximately 25 orphaned orangutans are housed in the nurseries,” she added.

At the same time, she stressed that with the exponential growth of the human population on the planet, a world without palm oil could surely lead to a global food crisis, given that the golden oil makes up over 60 per cent of the global edible oils market.

She also said that in the quest to find a middle ground between oil palm cultivation and minimising the destruction of nature, Malaysia had implemented various initiatives to conserve and protect its wildlife and biodiversity.

For example, MPIC has initiated the Malaysian Palm Oil Green Conservation Foundation (MPOGCF) through the Malaysian Palm Oil Council and is joining forces with Sabah Wildlife Department to support wildlife rescue and conservation efforts which includes the establishment of Sabah’s Wildlife Rescue Unit with the main task of rescuing and translocating distressed wildlife including orangutans.

In addition, MPOGCF initiated the 1-Million Forest-Tree Planting programme in 2019, a 10-year Rehabilitation of Orangutan Habitat Project in collaboration with the Sabah Forestry Department at Lower Kawag, Ulu Segama Forest Reserve in Lahad Datu, Sabah, as part of the industry’s initiative, with an estimated investment of RM28 million.

MPOGCF has also funded two key orangutan conservation initiatives in the Borneo States: ‘Population Survey on the Orangutans living in Sabah’s agricultural landscape’ by the Borneo Conservation Trust together with HUTAN, which was completed in 2018, with survey areas that include assessing the status of orangutan conservation as well as the trends in orangutan distribution, densities and conservation threats, among others; and ‘Orangutan Conservation Programme in Sarawak’, a collaboration with the Sarawak Forestry Corporation since 2014 which was completed in 2017 with the publication of a full scientific report alongside orangutan conservation efforts in Sarawak’s protected areas; the national parks of Ulu Sebuyau, Sedilu, Gunung Lesung and Maludam.

Zuraida also said according to Donna Simon, a researcher and the orangutan conservation manager at World Wide Fund Nature (WWF), in her research article, ‘Changes to Sabah’s orangutan population in recent times: 2002–2017’, the population of orangutan in Sabah has been stabilised for 15 years (2002–2017).

“MPOGCF is also collaborating with Zoo Negara in funding the upgrading works of its Ape Centre, with a total estimated investment of RM 1.1 million.

“In tandem with clearing the gross misconceptions over the wellbeing of orangutans, it is equally vital for MPIC to counter misinformation and false information on Malaysia’s golden oil via ‘The Global Movement to Champion the Goodness of Palm Oil’ campaign,” she emphasised. — DayakDaily