Palm-oil plan may save the world's last orangutans

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London, July 23 (ANI): A team of conservationists in Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo, is planning to join forces with the palm oil industry to figure out how to protect the world's last orangutans.

According to a report in New Scientist, many believe that if the orangutan is to have a chance of surviving anywhere, it will be in Sabah.

Both the industry and the government say there is virtually no suitable land left there for new plantations and there are just about enough wild orangutans to ensure the survival of the species.

The key now is to join up their remaining habitats.

Many rehabilitation centres are becoming overcrowded, partly because some orangutans can never be rehabilitated but also because the release criteria are stringent.

The centres want to release animals into protected rainforest, with no risk of poachers, loggers or plantations, but few of these areas now exist in either Malaysia or Indonesia.

Sabah's 26,000-hectare Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is home to about 1000 orangutans.

The sanctuary has been heavily fragmented by oil palm plantations, and is now an archipelago of animal "islands".

For large animals like orangutans and pygmy elephants, these fragments are unnaturally restricted habitats.

The Nature Heritage Conservancy has joined up with a local NGO called LEAP and the UK-based World Land Trust to raise funds and buy up pieces of land to link the sanctuary's fragments as wildlife corridors.

So far, they have bought up about 200 acres at a cost of 280,000 dollars. These are tiny patches of land in the grand scheme of things, but highly strategic in location.

Two other forest reserves, Kulamba and Tabin, now need to be linked to the sanctuary, but the gaps between them are so heavily planted with oil palms that buying small segments of land will not do.

In October, conservationists will seek a commitment from palm oil growers to create corridors within their plantations.

In the long term, the government plans to create sustainable logging reserves that can house wildlife too.

Results from a 55,000-hectare trial area called Deramakot suggest the approach is feasible, but growing suitable forests will take decades.

According to Sam Mannan, the head of the forestry department, in the meantime, palm oil will be vital to see the government through its economic famine. (ANI)

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