The extractive industries in Borneo and Sumatra overlap significantly with orangutan habitat. Concessions given out for timber extraction and mining especially coincide with orangutan habitat, with developments related to oil and gas exploration being less of a threat. Some 29 percent of orangutan habitat in Borneo is allocated to timber and 15 percent to mining. For Sumatra, these figures are respectively 4 percent and 9 percent.
No comprehensive studies have been conducted on the impact of mining on orangutans. Anecdotal information and our own observations suggest that where open-pit mining and orangutan habitat overlap, orangutans are either translocated or mostly ignored in the mine development process, with detrimental outcomes likely for the orangutans. This is primarily a concern in East Kalimantan Province where coal deposits significantly overlap with orangutan habitat, especially around the Kutai National Park, but also elsewhere in the province. Other threats exist in a number of bauxite deposits in West Kalimantan that also overlap extensively with orangutan habitat. To a much smaller extent such open-pit mining is occurring in Sumatra as well.
The impacts of timber extraction on orangutans have been studied in much more detail than those associated with mining. Orangutans generally cope relatively well with selective logging activities, although they may temporarily vacate an area with intense human disturbance. Depending on the level of damage done in the logging process, orangutans may recover to pre-logging densities if timber harvest amounts are low and residual forest damage limited. In many cases, however, such damage is significant and orangutan densities tend to be much lower. An additional problem is that potential timber revenues from heavily logged forests are low, creating incentives to convert them to mono-cultural plantations, such as oil palm or pulp and paper plantations, which almost exclusively have no carrying capacities for orangutans.
The costs to companies of improving their environmental management can be significant. In markets where companies can thrive by ignoring environmental legislation, there needs to be significant incentive to entice logging and mining operators to invest in orangutan-friendly forest management. Pressure from the public, shareholders, and investors can help when directed at those companies that do not practice sustainable management, although these are often smaller companies with limited exposure to international, environmentally sensitive markets.
We provide recommendations to companies aiming to bring their management practices in line with the goals of orangutan conservation, but we emphasize that the cost and benefits of such practices need to be considered. Minimizing costs and maximizing benefits might be the quickest way to get companies to commit to greener management under the presently depressed economic conditions.