Parasites threaten orangutans

Joint research on the effects of malaria infections and parasites on orangutans conducted by Gadjah Mada University’s School of Veterinary and the Czech Republic’s Masaryk University found that there were many new parasite species currently infecting orangutans.

The research, which has been carried out since 1999, took place in Leuser National Par in North Sumatra and forests in Central Kalimantan.

According to the research results, the attacks on orangutans could reduce the orangutan population, which has been on the decline due to forest conversions.

“We successfully discovered various new species of parasites through the research we started in 1999,” said Wisnu Nurcahyo, an orangutan parasitology researcher from UGM’s School of Veterinary, on Wednesday.

The new species of parasites include Strongyloides sp.; Mammomonogamus sp.; Chilomastix mesnili; Endolimax nana; Troglodytella abrassarti; Pongobius hugoti; Balantidium coli; and Lemuricola pongoi.

Orangutans are prone to parasite attacks and infections that are common in humans. Human illnesses such as Tuberculosis, Hepatitis, Scabies, Typhoid, intestinal infections caused by parasites, bacteria, and viruses, as well as respiratory tract infections, can also easily affect orangutans.

Orangutans, which have once interacted with humans, are very susceptible to various diseases. If domesticated orangutans are released to their natural habitat, various diseases can affect orangutan populations in the habitat.

“The diseases are one of the biggest threats against orangutan survival,” said Wisnu.

He said, however, that the research team found that orangutans could cure their illnesses by eating certain fruits and leaves.

“That’s why the research also examined several aspects related to herbal medicine available in the forests that could be used to cure the orangutan’s illnesses,” said Wisnu.

Ivona Foitova, a researcher from Masaryk University’s School of Science, added that herbal medicinal plants from forests could be applied on humans. Using their local wisdom, the Dayak people in Central Kalimantan also benefitted herbal plants [often used by orangutans] to maintain good health.

The researchers said that they were currently focusing on investigating malaria infections on orangutans allegedly infected by Plasmodium knowlesi, which possibly could infect humans.

“If this kind of malaria infects human beings, the consequences could be fatal,” Wisnu stressed.

In Kalimantan, there is an estimated 200,000 orangutans. In Sumatra, the figure is much lower, only around 7,500, as their natural habitat in the Sumatran forests continue to narrow due to excessive forest conversions.

“During the last 20 years, orangutan habitats have declined by 80 percent,” said Wisnu.

Foitova said wildlife trade also contributed to the declining orangutan populations. Moreover, orangutans could be traded at quite a high price, Rp 15 million (US$1,548) to Rp 50 million each. (ogi/ebf)

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