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Bornean orangutan on verge of extinction

July 9, 2016

The Bornean orangutan has been placed on a critically endangered list by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Whale sharks and a species of hammerhead shark are also now endangered.

Auswilderungscamps für Orang Utans in Indonesien
Image: picture alliance/dpa

Habitat loss and hunting threaten to wipe out the charismatic Bornean orangutan, a leading conservationist body said on Friday. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) based near Geneva, Switzerland also said that the world's largest fish, the majestic whale shark, and a hammerhead shark species are now endangered.

The IUCN issued a new "Red List," identifying the Bornean orangutan as "Critically Endangered," or on the verge of extinction. It stated the whale shark and widehead hammerhead shark populations were being rapidly put at risk due to overfishing.

"It is alarming to see such emblematic species slide towards extinction," Jane Smart, Director of IUCN's Global Species Program, said in a statement. "These new IUCN Red List assessments emphasize how urgent it is for the conservation community to act strategically to protect our planet's incredible diversity of life."

The population of Bornean orangutan has fallen from about 288,500 in 1973 to 100,000 today, with numbers expected to drop to 47,000 by 2025. If nothing is done to protect their habitat and stop hunting they will be extinct in 50 years, IUCN said.

"As orangutans are hunted and pushed out of their habitats, losses to this slow-breeding species are enormous and will be extremely difficult to reverse," Erik Meijaard, an IUCN assessor of the species said in the statement.

Oil palm and rubber plantations, logging and clearance of land for other purposes have shrunk the orangutan's habitat on Borneo, an island divided between Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Adding to the decline is hunting, which kills about 2,000 to 3,000 of the long-armed apes every year.

"If hunting does not stop, all populations that are hunted will decline, irrespective of what happens to their habitat," IUCN said. "These findings confirm that habitat protection alone will not ensure the survival of orangutans."

The Sumatran orangutan has been critically endangered since 2008.

Walhai Schnorchel Schnorchler
Image: Getty Images/Scott Tuason


The whale shark, the world's largest fish measuring up to 12.65 meters (41.5 feet), has also been put on the "Endangered List." The population of the slow moving fish has been cut my more than a half over the past 75 years due to fishing and injuries from ship propellers.

The fish is hunted for its meat and fins, which are used for soup in some Asian countries.

While some countries such as India, the Philippines and Taiwan have implemented conservation plans to halt large-scale whale shark fishing, they are still hunted in China, Oman and in international waters. The whale shark also gets caught as a by-catch alongside tuna, which is also under threat from overfishing.

IUCN said unregulated fishing of the widehead hammerhead shark had also moved it from the "Near Threatened" to "Endangered" category.

Due to a "hammer" that can be as wide as half the shark's length, it is susceptible to being caught in fishing nets.

cw/jm (AP, AFP)