Sunday, June 16

New population of wild orang utans confirmed

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NATURAL HABITAT: An orang utan nest at Ng. Delok, Ulu Ai. — Photo by Michael Ngelai of Heart of Borneo initiative.

KUCHING: The presence of a ‘significant population’ of wild orang utans in Ulu Sungai Menyang, Lubok Antu district has been confirmed through a recent survey led by Forest Department Sarawak (FDS) under the Heart of Borneo (HoB) initiative.

It is a milestone for the state as it is believed to be the first wild orang utan population discovered outside of a national park or sanctuary.

According to a FDS press statement, the population of wild orang utans in the state was previously believed to be between 1,200 to 3,000 individuals, with 95 per cent of the state’s orang utans found in the Batang Ai National Park and Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary.

With this new finding, the state’s estimated orang utan population could increase by as much as 15 per cent.

The local Iban community, tour guides and foreign tourists have previously reported sightings of orang utans in Ulu Sungai Menyang, which is situated between the Upper Ai River, the Indonesian border and the Batang Ai Lake.

However, this is the first time that researchers have officially recorded and established the presence of orang utans in the area.

The recent survey was conducted in mid July as part of a FDS initiative to identify areas of High Conservation Value Forest.

The survey was a collaborative research effort involving FDS, Sarawak Forestry Corporation, non-government organisation Wildlife Conservation Society and in-bound tour operator Borneo Adventure together with the involvement and support of local communities.

Orang utans presence was determined through the identification of new nests (or sleeping platforms), actual sighting of orang utans and vocal recordings in the areas surveyed.

Based on orang utans density estimates from earlier studies in a similar forest in Batang Ai National Park, the estimated population of orang utans in Ulu Sungai Menyang could be as high as 200 individuals.

The recently discovered orang utan population is distant and distinct from the populations in the Lanjak Entimau and Batang Ai protected areas.

As such, the Ulu Sungai Menyang area is an extremely High Conservation Value Forest that is crucial to orang utans conservation in the state, the press statement said.

The orang utans are one of the state’s iconic species and are totally protected under the Wildlife Protection Ordinance.

The conservation of Ulu Sungai Menyang and its wild orang utans population represents the state government’s continuing commitment towards the conservation and protection of wildlife as well as towards community development, the press statement concluded.