08/02/2008, 00.00
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Orangutan risks extinction by 2011

Their presence in India and Malaysia is decreasing rapidly, while they seem to have disappeared in other countries. Illegal deforestation and palm oil plantations threaten their habitat. Experts: extraordinary efforts are needed to stop the decline.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The number of orangutans in Indonesia and Malaysia is in rapid decline, above all because of illegal deforestation and the expansion of palm oil plantations. The ape risks extinction within a few years, if adequate measures are not taken, says a study that has appeared in the scientific journal Oryx.

Serge Wich, a scientist at the Great Ape Trust in Iowa (United States) says that there are 6,600 on the island of Sumatra (Indonesia), a 14% decline compared with 2004, while there are no longer any in the province of Aceh. In Malaysian Borneo, since 2004 they have declined by 10%, to 49,600.

In Indonesia and Malaysia, the only countries where these apes still live, illegal forest clearing is widely practiced. Moreover, there are increases in palm oil plantations, driven by the great demand for biofuel.

Wich asserts that "there are still declines even though there have been quite a lot of conservation efforts over the past 30 years", and that "unless extraordinary efforts are made soon, it could become the first great ape species to go extinct".

The study notes that Indonesia has announced initiatives to save the species, at the UN conference on climate change in 2007, while Aceh has declared that it will stop forest clearing. To protect the habit, it would be important to provide economic incentives that would stop deforestation.

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