KOTA KINABALU- Climate change is causing a rise in temperature and the gradual destruction of plants, which are food sources to the orangutan, said Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu.
"When food becomes scarce, the orangutan will move to higher areas," he said, adding that this would make it harder for them as forests were becoming more isolated and fragmented due to development.
Dr Laurentius said Sabah was home to 80 per cent of the Malaysian orangutan population, making the department custodians of the large majority of the nation's orangutan.
"Therefore, we have to find ways to ensure the survival of the orangutan," he said, in a study co-authored by Dr Benoit Goosens of the Danau Girang Field Centre, a research and training facility managed by Cardiff University and Sabah Wildlife Department.
Dr Benoit said although lowland forests were the favoured orangutan habitat, higher locations in the western side of Sabah would be more favourable to these species.
"Researches show that they (the lowland forests) will be less and less productive as the plant biodiversity changes and their suitability to sustain the orangutan decreases," he said.
"Forests in higher locations in western Sabah that are not prime orangutan habitat today will become more hospitable to the orangutan.
"They will offer a refuge to the orangutan when climate changes affect the lowland forests," he explained.
"Unfortunately, it is difficult and, in some cases, impossible, for wildlife to move from lowlands to higher ground in the present situation of having fragmented and isolated forest patches," Dr Benoit said.
"Hence, there is a need for careful spatial planning now to ensure corridors and forest patches are established as a land bridge which will allow wildlife to move in order to survive."