Though still critically endangered, the orangutan population in Sumatra is nearly twice as large as scientists thought.
Orangutans have long been a symbol of the dire need to protect the world’s fragile species, but a recent study suggests that they may be doing a lot better than previously thought. According to a report from the BBC, a survey of wild orangutans in Sumatra reveals that there are roughly 14,600 individuals in the population, more than twice the amount conservationists once thought.
While the wild orangutan population is clearly more robust than previous data suggested, they remain critically endangered and face massive threats from humans in the form of habitat destruction and poaching.
The data doesn’t necessarily suggest that Sumatran orangutans are on the rise either. Researchers believe that previous surveys may have missed a significant number of animals sleeping in nests high up in the trees. The world’s largest tree-dwelling mammal, it’s easy to understand how they could keep from being spotted from the ground.
The last survey of Sumatran orangutans, carried out in 2004, put their population at 6,600. A preliminary study in 2015 revealed that orangutans were popping up in unexpected spots, in high elevation areas and recovering forests where logging activity had ceased.
The data might suggest that orangutans can live in more types of environments than one believed, but the study’s authors reiterated that it doesn’t mean the population is on the rise.
“The known current range is now 17,797 square kilometers, roughly 2.56 times larger,” said Serge Wich, a primate biology professor at Liverpool John Moores University. “Since 2004, Sumatran orangutan numbers have undoubtedly declined, and they continue to do so at an alarming rate because of ongoing deforestation and poaching/persecution.”
The news that there are more orangutans than once believed is certainly welcomed by animal lovers and biologists alike, but it remains critical that nations take steps to ensure the safety of these endangered species for generations to come.
A press release describing the details of the study can be found here.