Orangutans: reintroduction vs habitat preservation

EDG researchers have established the best strategies for maintaining orangutan populations in Borneo and Sumatra for more than 20 years on a limited budget. They found that protecting the forest homes of orangutans is the most cost‐effective way of boosting the great apes’ chances of survival in the long‐run.

“The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the Sumatran orangutan as critically endangered, and the Bornean species as endangered,” says Hugh Possingham, a co-author on the study. “Unless we act quickly, most orangutan populations that don’t have adequate protection face a dire future.”

Currently, the two main strategies to conserve orangutans are rehabilitating and reintroducing ex‐captive or displaced animals, and protecting their forest habitat to decrease threats such as deforestation and hunting. In the study, the researchers analysed which strategy or combination of strategies, and under what conditions, is the most cost‐effective at maintaining wild orangutan populations.

“Money is limited in conservation, and it is important to know how best to spend it,” says Howard Wilson, the lead author of the study. “We found that the choice between habitat protection and rehabilitation depends on the cost of rehabilitation per orangutan and the rate of deforestation.

“If we want to maintain orangutan populations for less than 20 years, then reintroduction is best. But if we’re aiming for long‐term species conservation, protecting their habitat is by far the best strategy. This is because reintroduction costs twelve times as much per animal compared with protecting its habitat, so rehabilitation is only a cost‐effective strategy at very short timescales.”

Possingham says the study suggests that the Indonesian and Malaysian governments as well as non‐governmental organisations should allocate as much of their resources as possible to protecting orangutan habitats, rather than rehabilitating individual animals.


Wilson HB, Meijaard E, Venter O, Ancrenaz M, Possingham HP (2014). Conservation Strategies for Orangutans: Reintroduction versus Habitat Preservation and the Benefits of Sustainably Logged Forest. PLoS ONE 9: e102174. doi:10.1371/journal. pone.0102174 http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0102174

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