At first glance, you could look at this headline as good news – in most instances, wild animals do not start looking outside their habitat for places to live, unless there are too many and they are being forced out. However, they also start looking elsewhere when they struggle to find food where they are, or as a result of encroachment.
In this instance it is thought to be as a result of construction of a hydroelectric dam. Perhaps more alarming, these are the Tapanuli Orangutans, which only number 800 and which if this dam is completed, will lose most of their range.
As the 8th great ape, it may also be the first great ape pushed to extinction and in their case as a direct choice of the local authorities.
Today the Sumatran rhino is critically endangered. It is thought that not more than 80 exist in the wilds of Sumatra. Not particularly closely related to the Javan rhino, the Sumatran rhino once had a much larger range extending from foothills of the Eastern Himalayas in Bhutan and eastern India, through Myanmar, Thailand, possibly to Vietnam and China, and south through the Malay Peninsula. Indeed the Sumatran rhino is thought to have lost its last remaining mainland member as recently as 2015.
As a result, a breeding centre has been set up on Sumatra to create a captive population with which to boost the wild population.
Unfortunately, they have not done well. This calf is just the third born since the foundation of the centre – the centre was set up in 1996. There have only been another 3 calves born elsewhere in captivity.
As with other Sumatran wildlife, the Sumatran rhino has suffered the dual threats of loss of habitat and the fragmentation of what is left.
There is a great deal of corruption in many parts of the world. In many places politicians are almost expected to give themselves extra benefits – indeed those who do not, are often quite notable for standing out.
In this case, after arresting the politician his house was raided, when the animals were found.
Indonesia is a archipelago of islands. Once connected to the Asian mainland, animals were able to make their way along the peninsular. When sea levels rose in the ancient past they were marooned on the islands.
Once they were found on a few islands including Bali and Java. They are now only found Sumatra. Sumatra is thought to have 400 tigers in 2010. This is down from as many as 1000 back in 1978.
San diago zoo estimate the number remaining in the wild at 400-600, but I cannot find any reason for this higher band.
It is possible that the tiger population has increased a bit, but in certainly has not doubled.
The Tapanuli Orangutan lives on Sumatra but are thought to be more closely related to Bornean Orangutans. Numbering around 800 members, they had a far wider ranging habitat until recently. They are now restricted to about 1000 square km – about 2.5% of their former range.
What is harder, is that these Orangutans are not naturally mountainous animals, but have been driven there by the hunting that has so decimated their numbers.
Workers building a motorway through the Sumatran rainforest got a beautiful shot of a tiger before it ran back into the forest. Due to the destruction of its home the Sumatran tiger is highly endangered so while this sighting is encouraging it also suggests that the continued building is further eating into the habitat that is left.
Unfortunately this road not only endangers local Sumatran tigers but also elephants.
Indonesia is pressing ahead with its desire to build a dam in the Sumatran rainforest. Now when the Dam is filled and floods this vast area of rainforest, all the carbon currently stored in the trees will be released back into the air- either as carbon or as meeting due to the breakdown of the wood under water. Calculations were made suggesting that this damn could take decades or even centuries to reach carbon neutral based on the amount of Carbon released when it is filled.
A recent analysis has shown that the the Dam that would cover 90% of the Tapanuli orangutan population has had the prospects of positive outcomes hugely hyped by it’s backers, and minimising negative facts about the Dam have been buried.
The region is already well connected to the grid with almost all Communities already served. Due to the astounding amount of Forest that would be lost if this damn were to be created, if it were to ever reduce carbon emissions it would take many decades if not centuries for the carbon cost of the dam to be offset by the electricity it creates. Given that in order to stop catastrophic climate change we need to be cutting carbon emissions now it will not help in this fight whatsoever.
The Sumatran rhino was once found throughout out much of Southeast Asia including parts of India, Vietnam, China, Myanmar, Thailand as well as Borneo.
Now that the last known Sumatran rhino living in Malaysia has died it is thought that the Sumatran rhino is extinct on mainland Asia. As you can see by the list of countries that was found in it was once relatedly widespread and its decline has been rapid. While there is still a population of perhaps 80 living in Sumatra, its rainforest is still being cut down the main reason it is so endangered now. As one of the most ancient rhino species it is important that we maintain those members that have left to be able to form founding populations in the countries that is been lost from.
Whether this happens is anyone’s guess, unfortunately though given the demand for rhino horn and the decimation of rhino populations in all the countries they are found it is not certain that this population will will survive.