Innovation That Matters

Passageways let orangutans cross plantations safely | Photo source The Earthshot Prize

Creating passageways for orangutans through palm oil plantations

Springwise Earthshot

A project in Borneo shows that, with the right policies, orangutans and plantations can co-exist

Spotted: Having once occupied vast swathes of South China and Southeast Asia, orangutans are now found only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. And even here their numbers are under threat. What can we do to protect these magnificent creatures?

An increase in the number of palm oil plantations is contributing to the decline in Borneo’s orangutan population. Annual palm oil production has increased from 2 million tonnes in 1970 to 71 million tonnes in 2018. As the number of plantations has increased, orangutans have been forced to cross private land as they move between fragmented areas of forest. Because they can cause expensive damage, many landowners have historically killed them to prevent economic losses.

While it was long thought that orangutans need pristine forests to survive, research by conservation group Hutan shows that orangutans can live in degraded forests – adapting how they eat, move through the landscape, and even find a mate.

Hutan’s findings show that a policy of zero killings and removals is essential. The organisation has therefore established the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Programme (or KOCP) to create ‘passageways’ for animals to pass through fragmented forests safely. KOCP then educates landowners about the importance of these passageways.

Other conservation innovations spotted by Springwise include a system for monitoring biodiversity through soundscapes, an app that identifies endangered primates, and a charcoal company helping to protect endangered cheetahs.

Written By: Matthew Hempstead



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