This Week's Most Heartbreaking Story: A family of Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) was photographed clinging to the sole remaining tree in their former forest habitat after the rest of it had been chopped down for a palm oil plantation. The orangutans were all starving by the time they were rescued. They were actually lucky: most orangutans in similar situations have been killed.
But Wait, There's Good News: Not all orangutan news is awful. Elsewhere on Borneo, a small, previously unknown population of the rarest Bornean orangutan subspecies—the Northwest Bornean orangutan, P. p. pygmaeus—has been located close to Batang Ai National Park. The Wildlife Conservation Society found 995 orangutan nests in the park and estimate that there are about 200 orangutans there (the apes build new nests almost every night). The government of Sarawak state has agreed to explore how to keep the forest habitat safe and protected.
When Will They Learn? A lot of reserves and wildlife ranches in South Africa have resorted to chopping off their rhinos' horns to make the animals less attractive to poachers. That's great, but some of these ranchers are stockpiling the disembodied horns just in case trade is every legalized. Well, that didn't work out too well for the Leshoka Thabang Game Reserve, which just had 66 horns valued at an estimated $2.75 million stolen from a safe. Brilliant. Just destroy the darn things next time, okay?
It Gets Worse and Worse: The fungus killing bats throughout North American continues to spread. This time it has been found in Fern Cave National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama, which happens to hold a wintering colony of 1 million endangered gray bats (Myotis grisescens). Read my articles about the bat-killing white-nose syndrome here.
Saving the Last Six: Virunga National Park is down to its last six Grauer's gorillas (also known as eastern lowland gorillas, Gorilla beringei graueri). Here's what they're doing to protect them. (Don't worry, there are a few thousand more Grauer's in other parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.)
New and At Risk: A new tree-dwelling porcupine species has been discovered in in Brazil. Its scientific name, Coendou speratus, means "hope," which it will need since its forest habitat is rapidly disappearing. I covered the new species for Mother Nature Network.
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime: Most wildlife crime goes unpunished, or at best elicits a little slap on the wrist. Japan's Environment Ministry knows that these lax punishments just encourage more crime, so they have proposed increasing their fines and jail time for trafficking in endangered species by up to a factor of 100. That's a good step and one which I hope other countries will follow.
Well, that's it for this time around. For more endangered species news stories throughout the week, read the regular Extinction Countdown articles here at Scientific American, "like" Extinction Countdown on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter.
Photo: Bornean orangutan by Russ Watkins. Used under Creative Commons license