Sabah orangutan decline not due to palm oil industry, says council

The Malaysian Palm Oil Council says the 30% decline in orangutan population refers to protected forest areas surrounding oil palm estates.

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) says the reported 30% decline in orangutan population in the forested areas of oil palm estates in Sabah is not due to the industry.

Its CEO Kalyana Sundram said the 30% decline referred to protected forest areas surrounding oil palm estates.

Kalyana Sundram said the recent survey by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) highlighted three main findings.

First, the accuracy of orangutan population estimates in Sabah had improved due to increased survey efforts. Second, the orangutan population in Sabah had been stable for over 15 years from 2002, and third, the small population of orangutan surrounding oil palm plantations had declined at varying rates.

While there was a decline recorded in three of the eight regions surveyed, he said, there was also a marked increase in most of the regions, with some as high as 400%.

“WWF also stated that further studies are needed to determine the exact reasons for the change in numbers,” Kalyana Sundram said in a statement today.

“The bigger picture here is that the overall orangutan population has been stable for the last 15 years. This would not have been possible without the collaboration of the Malaysian palm oil industry which is one of the most important stakeholders in wildlife conservation in Sabah.”

Reuters, which reported the WWF findings yesterday, said at least 650 orangutan were lost in protected areas of Sabah’s eastern lowlands between 2002 and 2017, while the overall population of orangutan in Sabah remained steady at around 11,000.

It also said orangutan numbers fell by 30% and 15%, respectively, in Kulamba and Tabin, in eastern Sabah, between 2002 and 2017.

“While the orangutan population has stabilised in large forest areas, their numbers declined in forest patches within oil palm landscapes of the eastern lowlands of Sabah,” it quoted the WWF as saying.

It said the recent study was the most intensive ever done on any great ape in the world.