Conservationists do 'deal with the devil' to save orang-utans

Agreement sought with palm-oil industry to create ape-saving forest corridors

A A A

Wildlife campaigners have made "a deal with the devil" in a bid to save the orang-utan from being driven into extinction. They have teamed up with the palm-oil industry, widely condemned by conservationists for causing devastation to orang-utans.

But palm-oil companies and the Sabah state government in Borneo have agreed to a project to create wildlife corridors that will link forest areas and create a network of safe havens. They signed up to the pilot scheme last month in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, and will meet again this month in London to try to agree final details. There are hopes the project can be expanded. Dr Marc Ancrenaz, director of the Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Project, agreed the alliance between conservationists and the palm oil industry was like a pact with the devil but said the green lobby had to be pragmatic in its hopes of saving the red ape.

"The oil-palm industry is going to stay," he said. "There's no point in fighting development. We need to look for a solution together to save the orang-utan. By recreating 100m-wide corridors of forest along major rivers we will provide contiguous corridors of natural habitat to link isolated orang-utan populations. The oil-palm industry has to be part of our conservation efforts if we want to succeed, since the major orang-utan populations in Sabah are fragmented by oil-palm estates."

The meeting in London has been organised by the World Land Trust (WLT), which is anxious to keep all sides talking. Mary Tibbet, of the WLT, said: "It's important to get everyone to the table. The palm-oil industry has been vilified but there could be a mechanism in which they are engaged in the conservation of orang-utans.."

Orang-utans live only in Borneo and Sumatra but have been pushed back into ever-smaller areas of their rainforest habitat largely because of intensive logging and agriculture. In the past century, orang-utan numbers in Borneo and Sumatra have slumped by more than 75 per cent, and in Sabah they have crashed up to 90 per cent in 200 years. But Sabah remains a stronghold for the animal, with more than 11,000 orang-utans living there, a fifth of the total estimated wild population.

The palm-oil industry has expanded rapidly over 20 years, encroaching heavily on the forests where orang-utans live, in response to increasing demand from western countries for palm-oil in cooking and in biofuels. Malaysia is the world's biggest producer of palm oil, the country's third-biggest export, worth £11.5bn last year.

Without the corridors, the animals, which dislike travelling either on the ground or through crop plantations, are trapped in small areas of forest. These fragments support only a handful of the apes and in the long term they would die out because the gene pool is too small to be biologically viable.

The World Bank has stopped lending money to the palm-oil industry amid concerns about the impacts of plantation expansion on local people and the effects of deforestation on orang-utans and other wildlife. Companies such as Lush cosmetics and Cadbury New Zealand have stopped using palm-oil because of environmental concerns.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before