The Malaysian state of Sabah says it will phase out logging in large of parts of Borneo's forests where endangered orangutans live. Environmentalists say the move would help boost efforts to save the red apes.

Malaysia is heeding warnings by environmental groups that massive commercial logging is endangering the habitats of orangutans in the rainforests of Borneo.

The Sabah state government this week announced it would phase out  by December 2007  logging activities in the Ulu Segama and Malau forests. The area covers more than 200,000 hectares of forest - and is home to a third of the wild orangutan population in Sabah.

The World Wildlife Fund says there are about 30,000 red apes left on Earth - most of them in Malaysia (Borneo) and Indonesia (Borneo and Sumatra). Their numbers have dropped 90 percent in the past century.

John Payne, who is with the WWF's office in Sabah, has welcomed the news to protect Orangutan habitats.

"Orangutans generally in Sabah and in Borneo tend to be a species of the lowlands and it is those areas that tend to be the most attractive to agriculture development," he explained. "It so happened that the areas the government has set aside for sustainable forest management are the last remaining low lands of natural forest area of Sabah. Those forest areas have the largest remaining orangutan populations, not only in Sabah, but certainly in Malaysia Borneo."

The WWF says about 80 percent of natural orangutan habitat in Borneo has disappeared during the past 20 years due to logging and forest clearing for rubber and oil palm plantations, among other uses.

Sabah's economy relies heavily on income from timber and plantations. Officials say the state stands to lose millions of dollars from the logging ban.

But in recent years Sabah has started reforestation and conservation programs. The government says it would involve environmental groups like WWF and the community in the new conservation effort.