Ongoing deforestation and palm oil plantations leave no room for the orang-utan. (Photo: Jamil Sinyor-KOCP)
Genetic study shows humans have pushed orangutans to the brink of extinction
A new study published in the open-access journal PLoS Biology shows strong genetic evidence of a catastrophic collapse in orangutan populations living in the fragmented forests of the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in Sabah, Malaysia. Benoit Goossens, Lounès Chikhi, Michael Bruford, and their colleagues report that the collapse occurred within the past hundred years, and most likely within the past decades—coinciding with massive deforestation, which began in the region in the 1890s and accelerated in the 1950s and 1970s.
“This is the first time that a recent and alarming decline of a great ape population—brought about by man—has been demonstrated, dated, and quantified using genetic information,” says Goossens, a wildlife geneticist at Cardiff University who conducted the genetic study. “Developing effective conservation and recovery programs depends on determining when the decline of a population began, its trajectory, and the original population size.”
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