“It is no longer several years away, but just a few months or even weeks before this iconic creature disappears,” said Ian Singleton, director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program. “We are currently watching a global tragedy.”
He described orangutans kept illegally as pets as the “lucky” ones, but says they eventually will become refugees from a forest that no longer exists.
The felling of trees and draining of wetlands to establish palm plantations have reduced the primates’ once-expansive habitat on the Indonesian island to a patchwork of small, detached areas.
Now, wildfires threaten to wipe out the few remaining orangutans that live in them within months if there is a prolonged drought.
Blazes may have already killed a third of the Sumatran orangutans living in an Indonesian swamp forest. The estimated population of the animals at last count was about 200 still living. That forest, in Aceh province, was home to about 3,000 individual orangutans in early 1990.