A recent count by an international team showed about 14,600 orangutans in the Sumatran wild –- some 8,000 more than previously thought.
That's the good news from a new study that appears in the journal Science Advances.
The bad news is that the study is titled "Land-cover changes predict steep declines for the Sumatran orangutan," so there's considerable downside to the up.
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According to the researchers, the increased estimate for the orangutans is not because of some unexpected population boom. Rather, the scientists say, the increase is due to their having taken a more thorough count than those of previous surveys.
The team found, for example, orangutans living at elevations previously thought too high, which meant nobody looked for them there. Furthermore, they found orangutans more widely distributed in logging areas than expected. And, finally, the great apes turned up in places that simply went unexplored in prior counts.
The animals, then, were there all along. But, they're no less safe now as a species, the scientists say.
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The researchers forecast a loss of about 4,500 individuals of the species by 2030, using current land-use plans as the basis for computer models that projected orangutan populations against future deforestation scenarios.
"It was very exciting to find out that there are more Sumatran orangutans than we thought, but this does not mean that we can be complacent," said study lead author Serge Wich, of Liverpool John Moores University, in a statement.
"Numerous development projects are planned in the area that, if they are not stopped, could sharply reduce the number of orangutans over the coming years," he warned.
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Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) are exclusive to the island and one of only two species of orangutan (the other being Bornean orangutans, Pongo pygmaeus, from Borneo). Their habitat has been under threat from forest clearing that has driven them from their homes and put their lives at risk.
Wich said conservation experts will continue working with the Indonesian government to push for building plans that either steer clear of orangutan ranges or disrupt to a minimum the animal's habitat.
"A difficult task," he said, "but we all hope that we can turn the tide for the Sumatran orangutan."