Unsustainable Logging Threatens Great Ape Populations

Posted on 12 September 2009
Portrait of a young Orang-utan (<i>Pongo pygmaeus</i>).
Portrait of a young Orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus).
All species of great apes are (critically) endangered, and their continued existence depends on the conservation of the tropical rainforests. Recognizing that the majority of great apes live outside of formal protected areas, where logging is the most common land use, a new WWF report 'Great Apes and Logging' compares the consequences of different types of logging for a variety of species in general, and for great apes in particular. This comparison was based on scientific studies and information provided by large timber companies and conservation societies.

Download the report

In the Congo Basin, only 10–15% of the forests in the areas inhabited by the chimpanzee, bonobo and gorilla are legally protected, either as national park or nature reserve. In Indonesia and Malaysia, where the orang-utan dwell, only 20% of the forests are legally protected. Many times that area of forest is leased as logging concession, in some countries this is up to 90% of the area. 

Effectively protected national parks and nature reserves are preferable habitats for great apes. However, since many great apes dwell in logging concessions, their continued existence depend, therefore, to a great extent on how well they can survive in these managed forests. 

Report conclusions and recommendations

The authors of the report found that in contrast to other types of logging, responsible logging in accordance with internationally recognized Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) principles is a good guarantee for the preservation of adequate living conditions for great apes. In tropical forests, FSC certification requires independent audits and allows for selective logging while requiring maintenance or enhancements of high conservation value forest areas.

FSC principles also require that habitat conditions for rare and threatened species must be preserved. For great apes, this means that fruit trees – an important food source – are maintained. The report concludes that though vast protected areas such as national parks and nature reserves offer ideal habitats for great apes, FSC-certified forests can be useful supplements to such protected areas and can also form ‘corridors’ between individual, isolated great ape habitats.


Great apes live in countries with great challenges related to forest governance and law enforcement. The fundamental threats to the great apes are illegal hunting, conversion of natural forests, and illegal or destructive logging practices that reduce and degrade their habitats. Under FSC standards, illegal hunting and logging must be controlled. Among the authors’ recommendations are: the creation of a network of effectively managed parks and FSC-certified logging concessions; stricter policies from governments on the purchase of responsibly managed timber; and more awareness among consumers of the availability of FSC-certified timber.

In the United States and around the world, FSC-certified products including paper, lumber, plywood, toys and furniture, carry a label to help consumers identify them. Learn more about the FSC and the Global Forest & Trade Network

Threats to the Great Apes

In the past 50 years, the number of great apes living in the wild has halved. All four great ape species – bonobo, chimpanzee, gorilla and orang-utan – are considered ‘endangered’ or ‘critically endangered’ and are at risk of extinction. In the short term the threats consist mainly of poaching and disease, however most experts agree that the advancing destruction and accompanying fragmentation of their habitat will come to represent a greater threat in future.The center of gravity of the African great apes’ distribution lies in the extensive forests of the Congo Basin, running from Gabon to Western Uganda. The area of forest in this region is expected to decline by 30% in the next 50 years. More than half of the gorillas and chimpanzees in the Western Congo Basin reside in logging concessions, while only 17% dwell in protected areas.

There are two species of orang-utan. Both are genuine forest dwelling species, inhabiting Malaysia and Indonesia. It is estimated that in the last century the Bornean orang-utan lost 80% of its habitat and its continued existence is endangered. The most important factor behind this habitat loss is the conversion of natural forests and pulp into land uses, most notably oil palm plantations. The Sumatran orang-utan lost less habitat because the species mainly inhabits forests on steep slopes, where logging and agriculture advance more slowly. Only roughly 10% of the forest on Borneo is strictly protected. It is crucial to conserve the remaining 90%; half of which consists of logging concessions. Researchers estimate that 75% of the Bornean orang-utans reside in these logging concessions