London, April 13 (ANI): Conservationists have recently discovered a new population of orangutans in a remote area of Indonesia, giving a rare boost to one of the world's most endangered great apes.
A team surveying mountainous forests in eastern Borneo counted 219 orangutan nests, indicating a "substantial" number of the animals, Erik Meijaard, of the US-based charity The Nature Conservancy, told the Guardian.
"We can't say for sure how many," he said, but even the most cautious estimate would indicate "several hundred at least, maybe 1,000 or 2,000 even".
The team of ecologists encountered an adult male, which angrily threw branches as they tried to take photographs, and an adult female and her offspring.
There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans left in the wild, 90 percent of which are in Indonesia and Malaysia.
The animals' rainforest habitat is being destroyed at alarming rates to make way for lucrative palm oil plantations.
Indonesia and Malaysia are the world's top producers of palm oil, which is used in the food and cosmetics industries.
Demand for the oil as a "clean-burning" fuel has accelerated in the US and Europe.
According to Meijaard, a significant orangutan population exists in eastern Borneo due to the steep topography, poor soil and general inaccessibility of the rugged limestone mountains shielding the area from development.
"Most populations are small and scattered, making them vulnerable to extinction," said Birute Mary Galdikas, a Canadian scientist who has spent nearly four decades studying the animal in the wild.
"So yes, finding a population that science did not know about is significant, especially one of this size," she said, noting that those found on the eastern part of the island represent a rare subspecies, the black Borneon orangutan.
Conservationists say the next step will be working with local authorities to protect the area and others outside Indonesia's national parks.
A previously undiscovered population of several hundred of the apes was found recently on Sumatra.
According to Paul Hartman, who heads the US-funded Orangutan Conservation Service Programme, "That we are still finding new populations indicates that we still have a chance to save this animal." (ANI)