Found in Indonesia and Malaysia on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, all three species of orangutans (Bornean, Sumatran and Tapanuli) are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. An estimated 148,500 orangutans vanished from Borneo’s forests between 1999 and 2015, and by 2050 an additional 45,300 will be lost based on current rates of habitat destruction according to the latest scientific studies on Bornean orangutan population decline. Sumatran orangutans face similarly bleak prospects and scientists predict that the total Sumatran orangutan population may decline by nearly one-third by 2030. The Tapanuli orangutan, only identified as a separate species in 2017, consists of less than 800 individuals and faces the most immediate risk of extinction of the three species.
Orangutan populations are plummeting due to the destruction of their habitat across Borneo and Sumatra to make way for monoculture agriculture and timber plantations, logging, mining, infrastructure, and hydroelectric power projects. Closely linked to habitat destruction, the illegal killing of orangutans is also a key driver of orangutan population decline. Fire-setting to clear land for agricultural production often results in out-of-control wildfires that burn in and around orangutan habitat that directly and indirectly cause orangutan deaths.
The current outlook for orangutans is dire, yet orangutan range states possess the expertise and capacity to protect critically endangered orangutans and reverse their population declines. Achieving this will require political will at the highest levels and ambitious goal-setting in order to leverage the considerable resources available to take the steps necessary to save these irreplaceable species.