Resilient landscapes for wildlife and people through collaborative solutions

Palm oil is often associated with biodiversity loss. We all know those pictures where orangutans are rescued from destroyed areas and brought to sanctuaries or translocated elsewhere. Research in Borneo led by Hutan and PONGO Alliance suggests that orangutans are actually highly adaptable and that there are other ways to protect these species and to reduce biodiversity loss and population decline in general. Creating conditions in a mixed forest and plantation landscape, in which species like the orangutan are able to live, can help protect local biodiversity. Species like the orangutans are able to adapt to plantation areas, if these are not purely monocultural systems and if wildlife corridors connect natural forest areas.

To best serve both an industry and a species that is critically endangered, PONGO Alliance engages industry with a pragmatic approach. Central to their mission is to work together to achieve collaborative solutions to create a paradigm shift in agricultural practices that reframes the oil palm industry as one that supports rather than destroys orangutan habitat.

Kinabatangan Landscape, home to the orangutan

In this area, the project aims to restore a much-depleted wild orangutan population (formerly around 8,000, now around 800 individuals). The region has about 42,000 ha of protected but highly fragmented forests. Much of the rest of the area was converted to oil palm monoculture 20-40 years ago and many estates are now undergoing replanting phase. The current orangutan population is at a critical tipping point such that without oil palm industry cooperation, viability of this critically endangered and fully protected species in the wild is not assured in the long term.

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Orangutans adapt to the changing landscape

Observations in recent years show that some orangutan individuals spend part of their time in oil palm plantations, including mothers with babies and travelling males. It seems that the younger generation of orangutans could learn to live in a mix of oil palm and forest, if steps are taken to provide more orangutan foods on a large scale within plantations and to stop people from harming or removing orangutans from their plantations.

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Female orangutans live in communities of related females and are intolerant of unrelated females, so simply relocating a female from her current location elsewhere is not a definite solution. Because females have been preferentially lost during land conversion, any remaining female still residing on her ancestral land is of critical genetic value to the species. Males require access across agricultural landscapes between now fragmented protected forests and any remaining natural forests on private lands.

The photo shows an orangutan using a bridge built by PONGO Alliance and Sawit Kinabalu to restore connectivity across tributaries. Support by oil palm growers is crucial to ensure safe passage for orangutans between forest fragments throughout the protected and privately administered landscape.


How Pongo Alliance helps

Consisting of oil palm growers, businesses and conservation practitioners, PONGO Alliance advocates for and supports the conservation of orangutans and other wildlife within oil palm landscapes. Since the protected areas established by the government are too small to support wild species in the long term, PONGO Alliance works with private landowners to contribute space, habitat and foods to orangutans and other rare and endangered species outside of protected areas.


What Pongo Alliance does

PONGO Alliance advocates for collaborative efforts to identify, develop and energize initiatives that deliver adaptive solutions in critical landscapes, where conflicting objectives present threats to wildlife and livelihoods, with a specific focus in those areas where oil palm plantations exist. PONGO Alliance assists the industry to achieve their mandated sustainability goals by making resilient landscapes for wildlife and people a reality.

The works carried out in the initial ground engagement in the lower Kinabatangan landscape includes:

  • Collaboration in scientific survey and providing capacity building of sustainability teams. With the objectives to monitor patterns of orangutan and later, other wildlife use of the plantation landscape. This way, potential conflict can be resolved and coexistence with the critically endangered and fully protected orangutan is supported.
  • Habitat restoration techniques and natural species planting recommendations.
  • Creating space for meaningful and effective dialogue with oil palm growers to mutual benefit in developing field-tested best management practices
  • Development of outreach education materials designed for plantation staff, management and surrounding local communities as well as regional and international general audiences to encourage a more nuanced understanding of both oil palm agriculture and orangutan conservation.

The impacts

PONGO Alliance’s collaborative approach creates enabling conditions for the industry to play an active role in conservation of iconic species like the orangutans. Good coexistence between people and orangutans outside protected areas is crucial.

PONGO Alliance brings together expertise from the industry and conservation practitioners to recreate or to maintain forest corridors and forest patches that act like stepping stones within our production landscapes, further strengthening understanding on orangutan habitat needs in altered landscape and work out how to facilitate human and orangutan co-existence in the long term.

PONGO Alliance is developing guidelines for best management practices to support sustainable palm oil production and wildlife conservation. A key approach is to amplify advocacy towards creation of adequate and safe passage for these species to continue to thrive, and having patches of forest and corridors across these landscapes transformed by human activities.

The future of orangutans will depend on the collaborative attitude of all stakeholders, working together towards a peaceful coexistence between people and orangutans outside and inside protected areas. Work is underway to expand this collaborations efforts, and recently, PONGO Alliance initiated a new project in West Kalimantan.


Call to Action:

Join PONGO Alliance in leading the way to find sustainable solutions to enable peaceful coexistence between wildlife and people.