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Sumatran orangutans are imperiled by the pet trade, report finds

April 16, 2009 |  6:07 pm

Orangutans are facing increasing danger as a result of the pet trade While deforestation is the most pressing danger facing Indonesia's few remaining wild orangutans, a new report from wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic suggests that the pet trade is becoming increasingly damaging to the species.

Chris Shepherd, acting director of Traffic's southeast Asia operation, said Sumatran orangutans continue to be captured for use as pets or exhibits in local zoos, despite legal protections and campaigns to increase awareness of the apes' plight. Traffic blamed poor enforcement of existing laws for the high number of orangutans captured.  "Without serious penalties, this illegal trade will continue, and these species will continue to spiral toward extinction," Shepherd said.

The group used data in part gathered from ape rehabilitation centers, which often receive adult orangutans from the public when they grow too large to be kept as pets.  But the apes' owners face no real consequences, according to Shepherd.  From the Associated Press:

More than 140 orangutans were brought to one such center on Sumatra island between 2002-2008 — numbers that mirrored those in the '70s, when the trade went largely unchecked, the British-based group said.

"If this situation continues, the Sumatra orangutan could well face extinction," said Wendy Elliott, species manager at WWF International.

Sumatran orangutans, a species genetically distinct from Bornean orangutans, are considered critically endangered; an estimated 7,300 animals remain in the wild.  Bornean orangutans are listed as endangered.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Mutia, a 16-year-old Sumatran orangutan, sits chained to a pipe at an abandoned garment factory.  (She was rescued by conservationists in September.)  Credit: Binsar Bakkara / Associated Press

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