With fewer than 14,000 Sumatran orangutans and 800 Tapanuli orangutans remaining in the wild, these species are already in a very precarious position, and if an individual orangutan was to contract Covid 19, it could devastate already critically endangered populations.
Orangutans are at risk of contracting human respiratory diseases – even a common cough or cold can be fatal to an orangutan. If a wild orangutan catches Covid 19, it could spread throughout the population and have devastating impacts.
In response to this risk, the Indonesian government have shut down national parks to protect both wildlife and people. This is good news, these are the right precautions to take, but there are some unintended consequences.
Bukit Lawang is a popular gateway to Gunung Leuser National Park for tourists looking for a chance to see orangutans in the wild. Many people there rely on ecotourism for their livelihood – forest guides, guesthouse and restaurant owners and more. Due to the pandemic, their income has disappeared overnight. Their food security is tenuous, and they don’t know when visitors will be allowed to return. There are several other communities around the Leuser Ecosystem who are equally dependent on ecotourism, and also facing the same uncertainty
There’s no equivalent of the furlough scheme in Indonesia, and rural communities are being hit really hard. The longer the global lockdown goes on, the more desperate people will become – Sumatran Orangutan Society’s monitoring has already picked up on a spike in deforestation in northern Sumatra.
All of this is against the background of ongoing forest clearance for roads, plantations, and even renewable energy projects.
BUT…this doesn’t mean Sumatran Orangutan Society is giving up.
Where possible, forest patrols and orangutan rescues are ongoing, and staff are monitoring and tending reforestation sites while keeping themselves as safe as possible. Sumatran Orangutan Society staff are working hard to continue to support and sustain their frontline partners, and ensure that they can be responsive to any changes in the situation and get funding to the right people as quickly as possible.