Most visitors to Indonesia hope to see the Sumatran tiger. However, this beautiful animal rarely shows itself. Unfortunately, human development and destruction has already pushed two other tiger species in Indonesia into extinction. The Javan tiger was declared extinct in 1994 and the Bali tiger was last seen several decades before that. Fewer than 300 Sumatran tigers are left in the wild and the number is dropping steadily.
If habitat destruction and poaching across Asia are not stopped, wild tigers have just a few years to survive. Tiger bones and body parts are sold on the black market for use in traditional Chinese medicines. This demand alone is putting tremendous pressure on these beautiful animals. Meanwhile, the forests where they live are being destroyed for timber, mining, and farming–especially palm oil plantations. Each animal needs up to 20 square miles to survive and forests are a vanishing resource in many regions.
The orangutan is another favorite attraction among wildlife enthusiasts. In Indonesia, its name means man of the forest. The orangutan is the only great ape found in Asia and it is highly endangered because of habitat destruction and illegal poaching. Orangutans live in the wet and hot forests of Sumatra and Kalimantan (Borneo).
The orangutan is one of the most impressive and famous apes in the world. The orangutan is the largest tree-dwelling animal on the planet and the second-largest great ape behind the gorilla. A full grown male is as large as a man, but several times stronger. The mature male has large, fleshy cheek pads and a heavy throat pouch. It can weigh more than 250 pounds. The full-grown female is about half that weight.
Adult orangutans have an intelligence level similar to that of a five-year-old child. They move through the forest high in the canopy, swinging from tree to tree. Orangutans range over large areas in pursuit of food, including fruit, bark, leaves, flowers, and insects. They live a nomadic lifestyle that depends on food availability.
The males frequently come down to the ground to travel longer distances, while the females rarely leave the trees. They have a solitary lifestyle, unlike other species of monkeys or apes. However, mothers will intentionally bring their young together to play. They make new beds high in the trees every day because they refuse to use the same bed more than once.
Females are not sexually active until they are about 15 years old. They usually reproduce about once every seven years, because the mothers care for their babies for about five years. Females rarely give birth more than three times in their life, which is the longest birth interval of any mammal. This fact doesn’t bode well for a species under siege.
Orangutans also are the victims of an illegal pet trade. Illegal poachers take the baby orangutans after killing their mothers. They sell the babies as pets in places such as Taipei.
Indonesian law has protected orangutans since 1925, but enforcing the law and confiscating orangutans from people is a complicated process. In the past, when a government official found someone possessing an orangutan, the animal either had to be released immediately or put to sleep. Since the government rarely had the facilities or the training to properly prepare the animals for release into the wild, and since no one wanted to destroy the animals, few orangutans were confiscated. Thanks to the development of orangutan rehabilitation centers, such as Camp Leakey, Wanariset Station, and others, captured orangutans now have a better chance to return to the wild. Unfortunately, reintroduction is very challenging and does not always work.
Habitat destruction is the greatest threat to the survival of the orangutan. It depends on the rainforest to survive. More than half of the world’s tropical rainforests have been destroyed in the last 30 years and some estimate that 80 percent of the orangutan’s habitat has been destroyed in just the last 20 years. Illegal logging, slash-and-burn agriculture, gold mining, and forest fires threaten their survival. Only about five percent of the surviving orangutans live in protected areas, such as nature reserves and national parks, which means this species might be gone from the wild in 10 years.
The current number of wild orangutans is estimated at fewer than 60,000 animals on both Sumatra and Borneo combined. There were twice as many just 10 years ago.