Our website is best viewed on a device with a screen width greater than 320px. We'd still love to hear from you, email admin@opf.org or call us on 08456 521 528.

Habitat Loss

Palm oil deforestation

Deforestation of orangutan habitat is largely driven by a deadly combination of logging (legal and illegal), the expansion of crop production (notably palm oil), the expansion of the plantation forests (namely for the pulp and paper industry), forest fires, and mining. A 2018 World Resource Institute report found that Indonesia currently has the third highest deforestation rate of any county in the world. The primary forests of Kalimantan have been hit harder than any other part of Indonesia in the last 5 years, with Sumatra and Kalimantan experiencing the most extensive primary forest loss in 2016 and 2017. Central Kalimantan—the Indonesia province with the largest number of the world’s remaining wild orangutans—has been consistently ranked high on primary forest loss rankings for several years now. In addition to the direct loss of habitat, there are flow-on effects from the opening up of the forest and introduction of network roads, allowing access to hunters and poachers to previously inaccessible forest. A 2007 UNEP report estimated that 70% of timber harvested in Indonesia was done so illegally and that it's occurring in 37 of the country's 41 National Parks.

Palm oil has become one of the major threats to orangutan habitat in recent decades. By 2016, the area under palm oil production in Indonesia had grown to 12 million hectares, (NEPCon, 2016) but considerably more forest than this has been lost. Often logging occurs on the pretext of being for palm oil but is merely to gain income from the sale of timber. Palm oil is the world’s most productive oil seed and demand for the product has been growing by more than 9% per year in the last decade. This is being driven by not only the food and cosmetic industry but more recently its usage as a biofuel.

In February 2018, scientists who carried out a 16 year survey revealed the shocking fact that more than 100,000 orangutans have been killed in Borneo since 1999, (Current Biology/Maria Voight), and the future looks bleak, as roughly 62% of Kalimantan’s lowland forest, the habitat of the orangutan, is under concession, earmarked for deforestation or development (Abood et al., 2015).

Orangutan rescue

The creation of ‘forest islands’: these are areas of land too small to support an orangutan population and result in animals caught on these islands starving to death or turning to desperate food seeking measures.

The vulnerability of these areas to forest fires increases. The draining of peat land provides the perfect combustion material for Kalimantan’s famous uncontrollable infernos.

Micro-climate changes impact fruiting in the forests: when local conditions deteriorate, orangutans are forced to move to new areas in search of food, bringing them in conflict with humans and often ending in them being killed as ‘pests’.

Palm oil deforestation


Orangutan populations are threatened by forest fires, man made and natural, every year. Large forest fires in 1997, 1998, and 2015 killed thousands of orangutans through physical injury, smoke inhalation, starvation, and human-orangutan conflict as orangutans entered developed areas to escape the fires and search for food. In 2015, exacerbated by extreme El Nino conditions, the fires were devastating, more than half a million people were treated for respiratory infections, at least 19 people died and the loss of forest equated to an area the size of Wales. Amongst others, two large-scale orangutan emergency rescue missions were mobilised by BOS Foundation and BKSDA, (Forestry Agency), over a 24 day period to rescue 76 orangutans. 75 of those orangutans were and translocated (moved into safer forest), however one orangutan was found severely injured with air rifle shots leading to permanant loss of sight and was taken to Nyaru Menteng.

Palm oil deforestation

Pet Trade

The practice of keeping wild animals as pets is widespread in many parts of Indonesia and many other parts of the world. In fact, Indonesian has some of the largest and most notorious wildlife markets in the world. Primates do not escape the trend, and orangutans fetch a particularly high price both in Indonesia and abroad. Orangutans that enter the illegal wildlife trade may end up as household pets, photo props, or performing animals, all living in inadequate and often dire, conditions. Trafficked orangutan infants may be drugged and stuffed in backpacks or packed in crates with other wildlife or goods, and it's estimated that only one in six survives the journey and those that do are left severely traumatised.

Palm oil deforestation

Like all great apes, orangutans have slow life histories, and for the first few years of their lives, are docile, sweet and gentle. However, at around 5 years of age, an orangutan already has the strength of an adult male human, and by maturity, will be as strong as 5–7 adult male humans, with an unpredictable and possibly aggressive nature that makes them unsuitable as pets.  At this stage many orangutans kept as pets are killed or kept in confinement.

Palm oil deforestation

Poaching and Hunting

Orangutans are still hunted as a source of food, and orangutan mothers are killed and their babies stolen for the pet trade. Due to habitat loss orangutans can be left starving and they are often killed if they ventureinto palm oil plantations or too close to villages in search of food.

About Us » The Threats

Subscribe to our e-newsletter:

sign up now  

sign up now  

Access Key Enabled Navigation

Keywords for: Learn about the threats to orangutans, and help us to tackle them

threats to orangutans, deforestation of orangutan habitat, deforestation, palm oil, forest fires, indonesia, cosmetic industry, united nations environment programme, unep, the last stand of the orangutan, state of emergency, sumatra, illegal logging, orangutan rescue, starving to death, kalimantan, micro-climate change, illegal trade, pet trade, java, centre for orangutan protection, nature alert, international conventions, poaching, orangutan conservation, BOS, borneo,bornean, orangutans, orangutan, survival, charity