In 2018, a comprehensive study laid bare the reality for Earth’s orangutans: Since 1999, we’ve lost about half of them. That’s some 150,000 orangutans, gone from the jungles of Borneo and Sumatra—their only wild habitat.
Orangutans are classified as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the global authority on the conservation status of species. The treetop-dwelling mammals are one of dozens of jungle species, including the Sumatran tiger and the Javan slow loris, that share that same grim distinction: Their populations having plummeted so significantly that they face a high threat of going extinct in the wild.
A major reason is that jungle animals are losing their homes. In 2017 alone, Earth lost 39 million acres of tropical tree cover—a total area the size of Bangladesh, according to a study published by the World Resources Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization. Natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires played a role, but land-clearing for agriculture is the primary driver of large-scale deforestation, the study concludes.
The Amazon rainforest, by far, has taken the biggest hit. A full 17 percent of the Amazon has been wiped clean over the last 50 years, mostly to create land for cattle ranching, according to researchers at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Animals affected by this shrinking habitat range from the white-cheeked spider monkey to the Rio Branco antbird to the jaguar.
Across the globe in Southeast Asia, large swaths of forest in Borneo and Sumatra have been cleared for the cultivation of palm oil—used for cooking and in a wide variety of food products and cosmetics.
For an animal like the orangutan, which spends most of its time in treetops in a very narrow habitat, this tree-clearing is devastating. That blow is compounded by the fact that orangutans breed very slowly. Females only give birth once every eight years, making it difficult for populations to boom, even in the best of conditions. (Read more about the elusive lives of orangutans.)
Orangutans and other jungle animals also face poaching threats. As land is cleared and roads and trails are built through tropical forests, poachers gain easier access to wildlife. Many animals are killed for food or body parts, or are captured for the pet trade, like the blue-throated macaw in the Bolivian Amazon. The bird is critically endangered; only a few hundred remain in the wild. Various conservation groups have worked with the Bolivian government to ensure continual protection of the bird’s nesting sites. (Read more about how parrots are poached for the pet trade.)
One Bolivian bird conservation nonprofit group named Armonía has worked to mitigate local demand for the blue-throated macaw’s feathers, which traditionally have been used in ceremonial headdresses. The group has led educational workshops in the Moxeño community (based in north-central Bolivia, close to the macaws’ habitat) on perils the birds face. The group also worked with the community to develop eco-friendly, synthetic alternative feathers, and Armonía estimates that they and the Moxeño have together saved over 6,000 macaws of four different species that may have otherwise been poached for headdresses.
Here are photos of 14 jungle animals, all of whom struggle to thrive in shrinking forests around the world.