Why would villagers attack Orangutans?

Why would villagers attack Orangutans?

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I read today in the news that villagers in Borneo were attacking refugee Orangutans. Why would they do this?

In It's Not Just Conflict That Motivates Killing of Orangutans by Davis et al. (2013), the authors identify number of conflict and non-conflict reasons reported in the study why orangutans were killed in a certain part of Indonesia:

Conflict reasons:

  • pest
  • fear/self-defence
  • paid or forced to kill
  • orangutans interrupted logging or forestry operations

Non-conflict reasons:

  • traditional medicine
  • food
  • to sell or keep young as pets
  • hobby/sport hunting
  • for other trade of animals or meat
  • killed accidentally or opportunistically while hunting other animals

The results from this survey are depicted in this graph:

Obviously in this case they were not attacked for food. The impression I got from the article makes me think it was probably motivated by people viewing them as pests or as a threat/danger. It is almost certainly more of a social reason than a biological reason. However, in the absence of specific evidence, it is probably not helpful to speculate why this occurred.

Orangutans share about 97 percent of the same DNA as humans, yet they are among some of the most hunted and exploited animals on the planet. These primates can be found primarily on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, which also happen to be the home of ever-expanding palm oil production. Palm oil is a vegetable oil that is used in around 50 percent of consumer goods. The palm plant thrives in a tropical rainforest climate, making the native rainforest of Borneo and Sumatra highly susceptible to deforestation for these plantations. The orangutan has suffered incredibly due to the loss of their forest habitat. Unable to take shelter from humans in the rainforest, orangutans are constantly pushed into contact with humans. Seeing orangutans as a threat to palm oil crops, sadly, these gentle primates are targeted and killed by palm producers. In addition to this threat, orangutans are also endangered by the exotic pet trade.

Peni, the orangutan, knows the dangers of human-orangutan conflict first hand. When she was three years old, Peni witnessed the death of her mother who was tortured by villagers in a remote section of Borneo. The two orangutans had been spotted in the village of Peniraman after a landslide nearby forced them out of the forest. The majority of the forests in the area had been converted to palm plantations, leaving very little opportunity for Peni and her mother to take shelter. Seeing the pair of orangutans, villagers ambushed them, tied them up and started throwing rocks at the animals. After rendering the mother unconscious, they were then able to throw them both into a cage. Luckily, a vet from International Animal Rescue was able to intervene and take the two orangutans into custody.

Unfortunately, Peni’s mother died from the injuries she had sustained, an experience that is just as traumatizing to an orangutan child as it is to a human. Thankfully, Peni was able to escape a similar fate due to the intervention of International Animal Rescue (IAR).

Pledging to the Roundtable

Orangutan-friendly forests once provided contiguous habitat for the tree-dwelling apes throughout South and Southeast Asia, from India to China to Indonesia. Human settlement shrank and fragmented the forest range, and with it the orangutan population. According to a 2006 study by Cardiff University molecular ecologists Beno î t Goossens and Michael Bruford, there were an estimated 315,000 orangutans in Sumatra and Borneo in 1900. Today, only an estimated 60,000 orangutans remain in the wild. They live solely in the peat-swamp forests of Borneo and Sumatra.

These peatlands were once deemed too remote and nutrient-poor for agriculture. With the advent of large-scale logging and plantations, however, they started getting cleared for development. The oil palm boom of the 1970s kicked deforestation into hyperdrive. It began in Malaysia and by the 1990s spilled over into neighboring Indonesia. Together the two countries account for 80 percent of the world&rsquos palm oil.

Habitat loss not only starves orangutans, it brings them into closer contact with humans. The contact can be lethal. In a study published in PLOS in 2012, conservation biologist Erik Meijaard and his colleagues found that between 2,383 and 3,882 orangutans were killed every year in Borneo. They derived this range from nearly 7,000 interviews conducted with villagers about human-animal conflict.

In the first rounds of deforestation, when the number of displaced orangutans became too many to ignore, palm oil companies and NGOs airlifted them to rehabilitation centers or intact forest elsewhere. But relocating the apes is no longer an option, according to Karmele Sanchez, director of International Animal Rescue (IAR) Indonesia program, an NGO rehabilitating primates. &ldquoThe habitat is so heavily disturbed and fragmented," she says, that "there isn't near enough forest to put all rescued orangutans.&rdquo Instead of overcrowding protected areas like national parks, Sanchez urges plantation operators to accommodate their resident orangutans onsite. For RSPO members, this means a greater emphasis on HCV inholdings within their plantation tracts.

In 2010, Greenpeace activists ran a TV ad showing a man chomping into a Nestlé&rsquos chocolate bar only to find, to his horror, blood dribbling down his chin. Cut to a jungle scene of a screaming orangutan. Then the punch line: &ldquoAsk Nestlé to give rainforests a break.&rdquo

Partly in response, Nestlé joined the RSPO and temporarily docked one of its most environmentally egregious palm oil suppliers, Jakarta-based Sinar Mas. The company also redesigned its "responsible sourcing guidelines" to only buy palm oil from law-abiding plantations that maintained peatlands, as well as &ldquohigh carbon&rdquo and &ldquohigh conservation value&rdquo forests on their property.

But some environmentalists are unconvinced that such efforts are effective. Hardi Baktiantoro, co-founder of the Center for Orangutan Protection in Jakarta, Indonesia, likens them to &ldquomopping the floor while ignoring the still-gushing tap that&rsquos causing the puddle in the first place.&rdquo Others, like Michelle Desilets of the policy think-tank Orangutan Land Trust in Derbyshire, England, remain agnostic: &ldquothe RSPO is not a perfect solution but it is the only way to get larger consensus&rdquo on orangutan conservation and protection on palm plantations.

But whereas the RSPO may be useful for setting industry standards, its efficacy for enforcing them is another matter. When RSPO member company First Resources, based in Singapore, converted its HCV patches into palm plantations, IAR filed a complaint with the standard-setting consortium. That was 10 years ago the case is still pending. Even the model HCV enclave that PT-KAL so proudly showed me was smaller than what was recommended by the biodiversity assessors it contracted. Why should companies go overboard with HCV set-asides when they could lose their forest leases for under-exploiting their conditional "use permits"? The RSPO has yet to reconcile this incongruity between its own charter and Indonesian licensing laws. It does not help that RSPO sanctions are not binding, anyway. The organization's charter says companies will be kicked out for flouting their commitments, but repeated NGO "hit lists" of violators have led to few reprimands.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that some conservationists see the RSPO as a cynical exercise in &ldquogreenwashing&rdquo&mdashdressing up business-as-usual practices with a semblance of environmental stewardship while shirking any real change. After all, the whole endeavor was conceived for PR purposes to begin with, notes Marc Ancrenaz, co-founder of the Malaysia-based NGO, HUTAN. &ldquoCompanies comply because they want a good image.&rdquo

Sonny Sukada, the sustainability director at PT KAL&rsquos parent company ANJ, maintains that the reduced size of the HCV area was needed to &ldquoalign&rdquo the company&rsquos commitment to local communities and its planting objectives, in addition to conservation needs.

In an e-mail, RSPO communications manager Letchumi Achanah acknowledged that the RSPO complaint system was a &ldquolong process.&rdquo But she defended the speed of negotiations as necessary to &ldquoengage&rdquo the complainers and the offending party &ldquorather than taking action on the involved party,&rdquo which might &ldquoformally end a complaint sooner but leave no avenue for improvement on the ground.&rdquo As for greenwashing, Achanah noted, &ldquopalm oil production has been linked to deforestation, violation of labor rights and displacement of local communities.&rdquo The RSPO was set up to address this &ldquourgent concern.&rdquo

Cheeky orangutan scoffing villager's coconuts knocked out by dart gun in epic rescue

A wild orangutan was shot down from a tree with a dart gun after munching his way through a villager&aposs coconut garden.

An epic rescue mission to safely relocate the hungry ape was caught on camera, capturing the dramatic moment he collapsed into a net.

The owner of the land in West Borneo has been praised by International Animal Rescue for not taking matters into his own and beating or gunning down his unwanted intruder.

Vets estimate the large male was around 15 years old and had been forced to forage from a rural village after his home forest had tragically burnt down in a devastating blaze.

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Karmele L Sanchez, Director of IAR Indonesia, thanked the residents of Penjalaan village for the action they took.

She said: "We greatly appreciate the action of the villagers and the owner of the coconut garden in reporting the existence of the orangutan rather than taking action themselves and creating a human-orangutan conflict situation.

"We are very happy that people are aware and understand how to deal with potential conflicts of this nature."

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Towards the end of March this year, reports started flooding in of an orangutan hanging around the entrance to people&aposs gardens in Penjalaan Village.

An expert team consisting of the BKSDA Kalimantan Barat, IAR Indonesia and the LPHD responded to the calls and found the &aposold man of the forest&apos tucking into coconut reeds.

Their attempt to herd him back to its habitat failed because it had been torn apart by fire in 2019.

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It was instead decided that a mission would be organised over the following month to translocate the primate, named Jala, to the Tanagupa forest region in the area of Batu Barat Resort.

Members of the joint task force kept a close eye on the orangutan until moving day, when a dart gun was pulled out to sedate him for transit on a small river boat.

Almost immediately after being shot and the drug entered his bloodstream, Jala was completely knocked out and fell down into the net readied by his rescuers.

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Vets checks and samples taken from Jala all revealed normal results meaning he was declared fit for moving to pastures new, far away from any villages.

Wildlife Rescue Unit, the Natural Resources Conservation Centre, representatives from Gunung Palung National Park, IAR Indonesia and the Village Forest Management Agency of Penjalaan all clubbed together to make the rescue happen.

Stunning images show the huge effort from various organisations to move the teenage ape across water, to a habitat where he is not stealing food from back gardens.

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International Animal Rescue reports that at the end of Jala&aposs lengthy journey, he nimbly climbed up a tree the moment the door of his transport crate opened.

Head of Gunung Palung National Park, M. Ari Wibawanto said: "We will continue to monitor the movement of orangutans while in the Gunung Palung area and ensure a safe and healthy life for them."

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The Director of Biodiversity Conservation, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Indra Exploitasia, has recently stated that the best efforts had been made by the government to ensure the survival of orangutans.

On the back of the rescue, Karmele L Sanchez has issued a rallying cry for unity in protecting wild habitats.

Sanchez added: "Now is the time for all parties involved, whether NGOs, private companies, government agencies, communities and institutions to stand shoulder to shoulder and look for solutions on issues of habitat."

A new study from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Munich has produced the first ever blueprint of the orangutan genetic code to surprising results.

The first blueprint of the orangutan genetic code has confirmed that they share 97 percent of their DNA with red-haired people.

“At first we couldn’t believe our findings, but when you think about it now, it all makes sense, the resemblance is uncanny,” said Professor Otto von Weisenberg from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Munich.

Scientists estimate that about 12 million years ago the human ancestors of the red-haired people interbred with the ancestors of the common orangutan and still share 97% of their common DNA today.

“The theory that red-haired people were genetically linked to orangutans is not new, but now we have undeniable proof,” acknowledged Professor Weisenberg.

In 1926, Russian biologist Gogomir Ivanov artificially inseminated a female orangutan with semen from a red-haired Irish man to prove his theory that both species had a common ancestor.

Although Dr. Ivanov claimed that the experiment resulted in a 38-pound human-orangutan hybrid baby that died only after a few days, his results were attacked by the Eastern Orthodox Church at the time and his experiment was branded heretical and a fraud.

“A human-orangutan hybrid would be theoretically and technically feasible because of the common DNA of both species but completely unfeasible from an ethical standpoint,” Professor Weisenberg admitted.

In 1966, an Indonesian man made headlines after claiming that his mother admitted to him on her deathbed that he had been conceived from the union between her and an orangutan that had sexually assaulted her.

Although Panang Yanam Bunteran never underwent any scientific examination, his body, face, and genitalia were covered since his birth with a thick layer of orange hair and he suffered a tragically ill fate after being hunted down and killed by local villagers who believed he was the incarnation of Panampak, a local demon.

For thousands of years, the orangutan has been a victim of human abuse. Early humans considered it a food source and hunted it to the point of extinction in many areas. Orangutans once ranged throughout Southeast Asia. They now live on only 2 percent of that original range.

The greatest threat to orangutans is habitat destruction. The relentless clearing of rain forests to create plantations on the islands has reduced their habitat by 90 percent in the last 50 years. The animals are driven into forest areas that are too small to support them. Seeking food, the orangutans often wander onto nearby plantations. They are then killed or injured by workers protecting the crops.

In late 1997, orangutans and other wildlife in Southeast Asia suffered terribly from devastating wildfires and smoke that swept across the region. The fires resulted from man-made and natural causes. Farmers in the region rely on slash-and-burn agriculture, a process whereby a forest is cut down and all trees and vegetation are burned to create cleared land. When the El Niño weather pattern delayed the seasonal monsoon rains, hot and dry conditions fanned the fires. Many orangutans died in the fires or from smoke inhalation. Others were killed by frightened villagers as they escaped the burning forests. In 2000, the Indonesian news agency announced that the population of orangutan in Indonesia had dropped by one-third in the three years after the fires, noting that the animals had still not recovered. Individual orangutans were still found wandering outside their former habitat.

Another major threat to orangutans is capture. Thousands of females have been slaughtered so their offspring could be captured and sold as pets. Some childless couples even raise the animals as children, dressing them in human clothes. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the demand for orangutan pets was especially strong in Taiwan, where a children's television show featured a pet orangutan. Of those infants that are captured in the wild, up to 50 percent die during transport.

Several protected reserves have been established in the orangutan's range, including the Gunung Lueser National Park in northern Sumatra and the Tanjung Puting National Park in Borneo. Conservationists and wildlife researchers have also established camps to help train orangutans that were once pets to return to their natural habitat. However, most of these orangutans have spent too much time among humans and cannot exist in the wild. In 2002, there was some good news. An expedition into the remote wilds of Borneo discovered a large and previously unknown population of the species, comprising perhaps the largest remaining orangutan population. But as clearing of the forests continues at a rapid rate, this population, too, is in jeopardy.

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Alba, who is approximately six years old, was joined in her new home by three other orangutans – a four-year-old female called Radmala, a six-year-old female called Kika, and Unyu, a four-year-old male.

They received round the clock observation by staff who monitor their health and behaviour.

Then, in December 2018, Alba was released into the Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park following a more than 24-hour journey from her rehabilitation center.

The Natural Resources Conservation Agency made the decision to release Alba into the wild at the time because she had become physically strong and learned essential behaviours for survival.

She was electronically tagged by the foundation and regularly monitored by a medical team.

Alba enjoying some watermelon on a branch while she was being restored to full health by a conservation group in Kalimantan

A much healthier Alba eagerly awaiting her imminent release into the Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia

She is back to full health and the authorities are confident she can survive in the wild with light supervision

Here's the moment Alba is released from her cage, striding boldly in her glossy white coat into the Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park

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'Alba has no inferiority complex as we imagined before. She is very confident compared to other orangutans,' said veterinarian Agus Fathoni to The Associated Press at the time.

Fathoni added the real threat to Alba's life was from poachers who consider her a valuable target because of her special condition.

This week, the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation said Alba was spotted as it monitored three other orangutans who were recently released.

"After we learned that she can build nests, forage independently and is no longer dependent on human assistance we concluded that she can survive in the forest," said Indra Exploitasia, the environment ministry's director of biodiversity conservation.

Alba's rescue was some rare positive news for the critically endangered species, which has seen its habitat shrink drastically over the past few decades largely due to the destruction of forests for logging, paper, palm oil and mining.

Plantation workers and villagers are sometimes known to attack the animals because they see them as a pest, while poachers also capture them to sell as pets.

How endangered are orangutans?

Orangutans, reddish-brown primates known for their gentle temperament and intelligence, are critically endangered and only found in the wild on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and on Borneo, which is divided among Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which declared Borneo's orangutans critically endangered in 2016, says their numbers have dropped by nearly two-thirds since the early 1970s as plantation agriculture destroyed and fragmented their forest habitat.

Indonesian orangutans survive forest fires and village stoning

The malnourished mother and her youngster were found traumatised and hugging one another when they were saved by International Animal Rescue.

Frightened locals reportedly hurled rocks at them and tried to tie them up.

Rescuers say the mother, who was extremely thin, had sustained wounds to the skin.

Primates escaping forest fires in Indonesia often head to villages in search of food, but many locals view them as pests - resulting in an increase in human-animal conflict.

She was also injured by a rope that had been tied around her wrist.

The rescue team anesthetised both animals in West Kalimantan province last month so that they could be safely released after medical tests to a protected area of forest for monitoring.

Many apes have been forced to flee their forest homes to escape thousands of forest fires that have engulfed the country this year.

Many of the fires were illegally started for land clearance purposes and have raged out of control in the dry weather conditions.

The UK-based IAR says that it has carried out more than 12 operations over the last two months to save orangutans that have strayed from their natural habitats.

Many Indonesian forests have for months been shrouded in thick haze caused by the fires, which in turn has contaminated air across neighbouring countries in south-east Asia.


We investigated why orangutans are being killed in Kalimantan, Indonesia, and the role of conflict in these killings. Based on an analysis of interview data from over 5,000 respondents in over 450 villages, we also assessed the socio-ecological factors associated with conflict and non-conflict killings. Most respondents never kill orangutans. Those who reported having personally killed an orangutan primarily did so for non-conflict reasons for example, 56% of these respondents said that the reason they had killed an orangutan was to eat it. Of the conflict-related reasons for killing, the most common reasons orangutans were killed was fear of orangutans or in self-defence. A similar pattern was evident among reports of orangutan killing by other people in the villages. Regression analyses indicated that religion and the percentage of intact forest around villages were the strongest socio-ecological predictors of whether orangutans were killed for conflict or non-conflict related reasons. Our data indicate that between 44,170 and 66,570 orangutans were killed in Kalimantan within the respondents’ active hunting lifetimes: between 12,690 and 29,024 for conflict reasons (95%CI) and between 26,361 and 41,688 for non-conflict reasons (95% CI). These findings confirm that habitat protection alone will not ensure the survival of orangutans in Indonesian Borneo, and that effective reduction of orangutan killings is urgently needed.

Citation: Davis JT, Mengersen K, Abram NK, Ancrenaz M, Wells JA, Meijaard E (2013) It’s Not Just Conflict That Motivates Killing of Orangutans. PLoS ONE 8(10): e75373.

Editor: Jason M. Kamilar, Midwestern University & Arizona State University, United States of America

Received: February 10, 2013 Accepted: August 15, 2013 Published: October 9, 2013

Copyright: © 2013 Davis et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funding: The Adopt-an-Acre program and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provided funding and technical support. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing interests: Erik Meijaard is presently employed by People and Nature Consulting International (PNCI), but was not working for them at the time the study was conducted. Marc Ancrenaz and Nicola K. Abram are members of the Borneo Futures Project at PNCI. The work that went into analyzing and writing up the results of this study was unpaid. PNCI had no role in the study. The affiliation with PNCI does not alter the authors’ adherence to all the PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.

Palm Oil Plantations

In today’s world, the main threat to the survival of wild orangutan populations is the massive expansion of palm oil plantations in Borneo and Sumatra.

What is palm oil?

Palm oil is obtained from the fruit of the oil palm tree, and it is the most commonly used vegetable oil in the world. In Indonesia, palm oil has replaced coconut oil as the main cooking oil, just as it has replaced peanut oil in Myanmar. Also, palm oil can be found in 50% of all consumer goods, ranging from personal care products, household care products, processed food, and even in biofuels.

Fun fact: Have you ever wondered what is the ingredient allows your cosmetic products and toiletries attain their creamy consistency? It is palm oil!

Why is there a rapid increase in palm oil plantations?

Surging global demands for palm oil has fuelled extensive rainforest destruction to make way for palm oil plantations throughout Indonesia and Malaysia. Together, these countries account for 85% of the world’s palm oil production. In just the U.S. alone, demands for palm oil has tripled in the last 5 years.

This is further exacerbated by the benefits that the palm oil industry brings to the Indonesian economy. The palm oil is a huge industry, accounting for 11% of Indonesia’s export earnings and is the most valuable agricultural export. Overall, it is also Indonesia’s third largest export earner. With a rapidly growing population placing economic pressures on the Indonesia, the increase in sale of palm oil would help to improve its economy.

How does this affect the orangutans?

To accommodate the rapid expansion of palm oil plantations, massive areas of rainforests which are home to the orangutans are clear cut to open up land for cultivation. In Sumatra, a minimum of 10.8 million hectares have been converted into palm oil plantations.

Often, farmers and plantation developers deliberately and illegally engage the use of the slash-and-burn technique to clear the land to make way for these plantations. Not only do fires destroy expansive areas of the orangutan habitat, thousands of these slow-moving orangutans are unable to escape the flames and are burned to death. Orangutans who managed to flee the flames are frequently killed brutally by villagers for meat or as agricultural pests.

For the luckiest orangutans that survived the ordeal, they are taken in by rescue centres and are released back into the wild when possible. In 2006, a minimum of 120 rescued Bornean orangutans were suffering from dehydration, smoke inhalation or wounds inflicted by villagers.

Sadly, even protected areas such as national parks are not immune from fire. As the number of plantations increase adjacent to and even within national parks, so do the numbers of wildfires. Between 2002 and 2004, more than 50% of all recorded burnt area was in conservation forest.

Watch the video: Liana Chua. HumanOrangutan Relations (February 2023).