Sumatra criticised over orang-utans

The survival of orang-utans and gibbons on the Indonesian island of Sumatra is threatened by inadequate enforcement of laws against illegal trade in the animals, a new study shows. Numbers of critically endangered orang-utans captured mainly for the pet trade exceeded the levels of the 1970s, according to the wildlife trade-monitoring network Traffic.


Records of orang-utans and gibbons put into rehabilitation centres serve as an indicator of how many of the animals were held illegally, said the report. Orang-utans end up in such centres after they become too old and big to be held as pets. An estimated 2,000 have been confiscated or turned in by private owners in Indonesia in the last three decades but no more than a handful of people have ever been successfully prosecuted.


According to Vincent Nijman, author of the report for Traffic South-east Asia: “With hundreds of orang-utans and gibbons present in such centres, and dozens added every year, it is hard to view these numbers as anything other than an indictment against Indonesia’s law-enforcement efforts.” 


The study recommends that the root causes of the wildlife trade be examined and that laws be better implemented for the protection of orang-utans, gibbons and Sumatra’s other wildlife. Despite considerable investment in conservation, their numbers continue to decline in the wild. The most recent estimate was just 7,300 surviving Sumatran orang-utans.


TRAFFIC is a joint programme of the environmental organisations WWF and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).


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