Orangutans in Borneo: Habitat Declining

As we describe in the Sanctuary book, orangutan populations across Indonesian Borneo are in trouble. If not for the work of Dr. Biruté Galdikas, and the creation of Tanjung Puting National Park, established under Dr. Galdikas’ co-management authority in 1988, it is doubtful the remaining 6,000 orangutans under her general care within the nearly 960,000 acres of the park would be protected. As it is, 40% of Tanjung Puting is now degraded, leaving 576,000 acres, or more than two thousand square kilometers, in pretty good shape. Other than this genetically viable population at Tanjung Puting, orangutan populations elsewhere in Borneo are fragmented and desperate.

Human over-population, says Dr. Galdikas, is the primary problem. Despite Indonesia’s highly successful family planning program, the BKKBN, the country now has over 240 million people and is growing. That is a far cry from the 6 million inhabitants of Alfred Wallace’s time in the mid-19th century.

Dr. Galdikas accepted a DSF Research Fellowship in 2007 and it was DSF’s great privilege to be able to document some of her work, and that of her colleagues, in the tropical peat swamps of Kalimantan. Dr. Galdikas’ field research in Borneo constitutes the longest continuous field study with primates ever undertaken. Hundreds of orangutan orphans, their parents often killed by hunters, infants left to starve, now look to Dr. Galdikas and her remarkable care-giving staff, as family. Moreover, Dr. Galdikas’ blueprint for conservation in southern Kalimantan promises to greatly extend the contiguous, primary forest corridor that could prove critical to the future of these fellow primates most like humans.

In addition to the work with Dr. Galdikas, DSF has also endeavored to illuminate some of the problems and success stories inherent to family planning in Indonesia, recognizing that demographic pressure is the fuel destroying so much remaining habitat and biodiversity.

In the film and book, “No Vacancy,” luminaries like Professor Dr. Yaumil Chairiah Agus Akhir (President, National Family Planning Coordinating Board), Professor Dr. Haryono Suyono (of Indonesia’s Peace and prosperity Foundation), Dr. Biran Affandi (Founder, Klinik Raden Saleh and Chair of the Study Group on Human Reproduction at the University of Indonesia) and Dr. Firman Lubis (Executive Director of the Yayasan Kusuma Buana), all provided valuable time to DSF and film partner, Population Communication of Pasadena.

The resulting portrait yields a vision of population stabilization; of replacement sized families (a total fertility rate closer to 2.2, down from 5.7 when family planning first started in this largest of Islamic nations). Nearly forty million people have not been born in Indonesia because of the methodical family planning initiatives here. But much work remains to help Indonesians lessen their considerable impact on biodiversity.