How Fire Hoses Are Helping Orangutans Find a Mate

Photo: mirsasha

Decades of deforestation in development in the forests of Borneo have done a number on the love lives of the endangered orangutans that call the region home. Although there are still thousands of orangutans in the area, groups have become isolated from one another in patches of jungle bordered by rivers and palm oil plantations, threatening the breeding capacity of the species. Now, thanks to government intervention and some old fire hoses re-purposed as forest bridges, these orangutans have a way to reconnect with one another after so many years apart.According to a report from the Canadian Press, the first of these fire hose bridges were installed in Borneo seven years ago, but up until recently, experts weren't sure if the orangutans knew what they were for. Just last year, however, an animal was videotaped traversing a bridge -- encouraging conservationists that the forest infrastructure could help reconnect orangutans that have become isolated, thereby expanding their breeding groups and helping to ensure the survival of the species.

For Marc Ancrenaz, who co-founded the conservation group Hutan, which is working on the project with the Malaysian government, bringing together groups of orangutans in the forests of Borneo couldn't be more urgent for the endangered species.

"It takes a while for the animals to get used to [the bridges]," says Ancrenaz. "If we are not able to reconnect them, they will go extinct very soon."

In the last 15 years, the island's orangutan population has plummeted dramatically as their native forests have been cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. Officials now estimate that, unless something is done to combat the problem of habitat loss and limited breeding groups, the species could go extinct in the next six decades.

Ancrenaz admits that the solution being offered to the orangutans is merely a "quick fix" until cleared patches of forest regrow -- which will only be possible if the government continues its commitment to keep plantations away from the animal's protected habitats.

Such projects to save a highly threatened species are both noble in their aim and elegant in simplicity. So often efforts to keep animals from going extinct can seem so daunting -- but with a little imagination, even an unsuspecting old fire hose can be re-purposed as a lifeline. And while work being done in the forests of Borneo is commendable, it just goes to show what good can be done when preservation becomes a priority.

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Tags: Animals | Conservation | Malaysia