On the edge ... orang-utans are under threat. Photo: Reuters.
Orang-utans - the "old men of the forest' - could be extinct within 20 years, wildlife campaigners warned today.
Nine tenths of the orang-utan population has been lost from Borneo and Sumatra over the past 100 years, and there are now fewer than 30,000 of these great apes in the world, according to WWF.
Dr Marc Ancrenaz, director of the Kimabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Project, who works with WWF and has studied the primates in Sabah since 1998, said: "Orang-utans, the only living great apes in Asia, would disappear unless immediate conservation measures are taken.
"There are an estimated 13,000 orang-utans remaining in Sabah, northern Borneo, from a population of over 145,000 100 years ago, making this the last stronghold for the animals in Malaysia."
Orang-utans have become endangered due to fragmentation and destruction of their natural habitat.
WWF said this was caused by commercial logging and clearance for oil palm plantations and agriculture.
Almost 80 per cent of all forests in Malaysia have now been logged.
They are also threatened by hunting and poaching for the bush meat and pet trade, and forest fires.
Only 33 per cent of the Sabah orang-utan population is found in protected areas such as parks or wildlife sanctuaries, leaving the rest vulnerable and unprotected.
WWF is working with governments and other conservation organisations in creating and extending protected areas and wildlife sanctuaries where hunting and logging are prohibited.
WWF has also helped the governments to enforce restrictions on the trade in live animals and orang-utan products.
Where live orang-utans are recovered from traders, they are often taken to refuges where they can be rehabilitated and eventually released back into the wild.
Stuart Chapman, head of the WWF-UK species program, said: "Orang-utans are especially vulnerable as they have the slowest reproductive cycle of all the great apes, with an average of eight years between births.
"With this vulnerability comes an increased urgency to act.
"Over 60 per cent of orang-utans are living outside reserves and this catastrophic decline will continue unless conservation efforts are scaled up to tackle habitat loss and poaching in privately owned land."
Actor Brian Capron, best known as Coronation Street serial killer Richard Hillman, is hoping to raise awareness of the plight of the orang-utan when he visits endangered orang-utans in Borneo for a two-week special on ITV's This Morning program.
During the trip, with WWF, Capron will see orang-utans in the wild and visit a rehabilitation centre.
PAParent site: "Focus on Malaysia"