Orangutans are a critically endangered species, yet they play a vital role in their ecosystem. Found only in the rain forests of the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra, Orangutans spend most of their lives in trees.
This means that forest degradation will immediately impact Orangutan populations. In fact, the World Wildlife Fund reports that 100 years ago, there were more than 230,000 orangutans throughout Southeast Asia. Today, there are around only 104,700 Bornean orangutans (endangered) and 13,800 Sumatran orangutans (critically endangered).
There are a number of groups working hard to restore ecosystems in Sumatra. Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS) and its partner Yayasan Orangutan Sumatera Lestari (YOSL) have managed successful community-led reforestation projects in Sumatra since 2004. Since then, they have planted over 1.6 million trees and restored over 2,000 hectares of degraded land.
Conservation groups and local communities have worked together to protect and restore critical orangutan habitats. Awareness and continued support are required to maintain success in the long term.
What is causing the orangutan to become critically endangered?
Deforestation/Loss of habitat
Deforestation is fast accelerating due to forests (and the orangutans’ habitats) being destroyed for palm oil plantations and other agricultural plantations. Additionally, mining, timber and small-scale logging are also damaging rainforests.
Orangutans are an easy target because of how slow and large they are, so for those seeking food, they are more prone to be targeted than faster animals. What’s more, orangutans are killed because they move into agricultural areas and eat crops.
The illegal wildlife trade
Female orangutans are hunted more than males for their offspring. This is because the young are often sold as pets worldwide, and sadly, many young orangutans die in the process of being shipped. Despite laws against it, there is still demand for orangutans as pets.
It is not only live orangutans that are in demand. Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) are also known for their trade in orangutan skulls.
How can you help?
- Support a zoological park dedicated to wildlife conservation
Educate yourself by visiting a zoological park that offers education to visitors on captive breeding programs and habitat preservation. It is incredibly important to support such places and organizations because they help provide financial aid and assistance to projects in the wild, such as those that help orangutans.
For example, the Gulf Breeze Zoo, a 50 acre zoo located in the Panhandle of Florida, combines entertainment and education. Gulf Breeze Zoo CEO/Corporate Director Eric Mogensen says that “We want our guests to enjoy their visit, learn more about the animals in the park.”
- Work with organizations that are working to protect orangutans
There are many organizations that strive to protect wild animals. For example, Save the Orangutan is an organization that helps displaced and orphaned orangutans from being put in the pet trade. Once the orangutans have been rescued, they are rehabilitated before being released back into the wild.
A quick Google search can reveal many ways to help protect the orangutans, and you will find many organizations that help in different ways. Read their “About Us” pages so that you know exactly how they help.
- Avoid palm oil
Rainforests are cleared to make room for palm oil plantations, causing orangutans to lose their home and head to built-up areas and residential areas for food. When this happens, they are at risk of being killed over the crops.
Although palm oil is being used in many products,you can make a conscious effort in finding products free from palm oil or made from deforestation-free palm oil. By doing so, you are putting pressure on organizations that are not using sustainable practices and this may cause them to alter their practices.
As people are turning away from unsustainable products, palm oil alternatives (like used ground coffee) are starting to become much more common. What’s more, rather than looking towards Malaysia and Indonesia for palm oil, you should source it locally.
- Buy FSC-certified products
As you purchase new furniture for your home, you should look for the Forest Stewardship Council certified label (FSC) on wooden products (including paper). This certified label means the product was made by sustainable practices, limiting your carbon footprint.
Typically, the FSC label can be found on decking, sheds, tools, bird boxes, garden furniture and shelves (as well as much more). The FSC website provides a full list of products that you can get FSC-certified.
There are three types of FSC labels: 100%, FSC Mix or FSC Recycled.
- Adopt an orangutan
Adopting an orangutan is a great way to contribute to their survival. Your donation goes towards the charity’s conservation project while making you feel much more involved in the process. An adoption kit is a great way to educate children as they will typically receive a photo, adoption certificate and species card.
- Make more environmentally friendly decisions
Reduce your waste and carbon footprint by making more eco-friendly decisions. Recycle, reduce, and reuse. Walk or cycle to work if you can, carpool with a coworker, and use eco-friendly alternatives like energy-saving lightbulbs, etc.
You should also reduce your food waste, as not doing so is not only more expensive, but it is also contributing to more demand for certain foods. Do this by writing down what is in your fridge and planning meals for when you go food shopping. And remember that best-by dates are often not an expiration date.
- Educate yourself (and others)
Take all of the above points and educate yourself, and others, on how you can put it into practice and why you should do so. You need to put thoughts into action if you are to contribute to conservation efforts for rainforests, orangutans, or other causes.
Educate yourself with news updates by researching online and speaking with conservation experts. Remember that it is not only the orangutan in danger of being made extinct.
Giving to animal charities allows organizations to dedicate their time and resources to helping animals who cannot help themselves. Sadly, it is because of us humans and how we inhabit the earth that’s causing certain animals to become extinct; therefore, we should do everything in our power to stop causing damage to the planet.