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Borneo Mammals Near Extinction Expected to Double by 2080

Jan 22, 2015 03:51 PM EST

Thanks to climate change, habitat loss and hunting, the number of Borneo mammals at near-extinction is expected to double by the year 2080, an astonishing new report says.

However, researchers say if we take action now and focus conservation efforts on protecting vital rainforest habitat, some of these species may have a fighting chance. If not, half (30-49 percent) of the region's mammals will see their habitats shrink by at least a third.

The study was published in the journal Current Biology.

One such species at risk is the Bornean orangutan. A century ago there were approximately more than 230,000 orangutans worldwide, the World Wildlife Fund says, but now the Bornean orangutan is estimated to number about 41,000 (and the Sumatran about 7,500). That is the result of lush tropical forests being cut down to make way for oil palm plantations and other agricultural uses, and if such activities continue, their populations are only expected to decrease further.

Already, Borneo - the world's third largest island, accounting for one percent of the Earth's landmass and yet about six percent of global biodiversity - has lost over half of its forests. In the last 30 years alone, a third of it has disappeared.

If rates of deforestation continue this way, modeling and satellite images show that at least 15 carnivores, 8 primates and 21 bat species would be at risk of extinction by 2080, according to the report. The flying fox and otter civit in particular are struggling as climate change impacts their lowland forest habitat.

But all is not yet lost. The team from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology says improved forestry management is crucial and could be the difference between life and death - especially for areas outside existing reserves. For instance, about 50 percent of orangutans are found outside of protected areas where they are most vulnerable.

"Only a modest amount of additional land on Borneo (~28,000 square kilometers, or 4 percent of the island) would be needed to safeguard many mammal species against threats from deforestation and climate change," lead researcher Dr. Matthew Struebig told BBC News.

"It is not so much that species would be doomed, but more that their area requirements would unlikely be met in the land available for conservation," he explained.

So while currently the outlook looks dismal, Struebig and his colleagues find that it is not hopeless, and immediate conservation action could help meet future biodiversity goals.

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