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Why Orangutans are Going Extinct and What You Can do to Help

Amid the lush rainforests of Indonesia’s Sumatra and Borneo islands, orangutans coexist with elephants, rhinoceros, and tigers – the last place on Earth where these animals roam together. Orangutans, Asia’s only great ape, are among the many species besieged by human-made threats in these rainforests.

These great apes spend a majority of their time on the rainforest canopy, where they eat fruit such as durian, make umbrellas with oversized leaves, and lounge on nests of leaves and branches at the end of the day. They are relatively quiet creatures, minding their own business. Except for the occasional shrill of a baby or a long call from an adult male, you would hardly notice their presence. A century ago, there were more than 230,000 orangutans living throughout Southeast Asia. Today, that number dramatically fell to about 41,000 Bornean orangutans and about 7,500 Sumatran orangutans in the wild.

Human action is bringing these animals to extinction. Their homes are chain sawed and burned to make room for agricultural plantations such as for palm oil, mining, and infrastructure expansion. Humans log – both legally and illegally – to gain short-term profit in the pulp and paper industry, which can lead to deforestation when not sustainably managed.

Orangutans are also targets in illegal wildlife trade. An estimated 1,019 orangutans were documented as captives for the illegal trade within the past seven years.  Great apes like the orangutan have long been seen as status symbols and are even recorded to have traveled great distances as gifts in Egyptian hieroglyphics. The demand for them continues to spur as humans seek them for wealth status.

The indigenous people of Borneo and migrant workers, who come to log or tend agricultural plantations, occasionally hunt and eat orangutans. These individuals might not have any constraints against eating bush meat.

Orangutans are also seen as agricultural pests when they venture into cash crop plantations. This occurs when the animals can’t find food in the forest and are killed in retaliation.

You can help protect orangutans and conserve the rainforest they inhabit. After all, they are one of our closest relatives, sharing 96.4% of our DNA.

Here are ways to help orangutans:

1. Join a cause. There are many organizations that help to protect orangutans and their habitats. Foster an orphan orangutan at Orangutan Foundation International. Purchase a “96.4% Orangutan” print t-shirt at Sumatran Orangutan Society.  Or symbolically adopt an orangutan family at World Wildlife Fund.

2. Buy FSC-certified products. Look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – certified label on wood and paper products. This ensures the product you purchase comes from sustainable forestry.

3. Say no to Paseo & Livi paper products. World Wildlife Fund found two paper product brands made with material from Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), which is responsible for more deforestation than any other company in Sumatra.

4. Avoid Products that contain palm oil. Palm oil plantations are a major source of deforestation, causing orangutans to lose their homes. Avoiding products with palm oil can help protect orangutans, other wildlife, and the rainforest.

5. Become an activist. Start your own fundraiser. Call on government officials. Make your voice heard with the Defenders of Wildlife’s advocate handbook.

6. Go Green. Recycle and buy recycled products. Measure your carbon footprint and learn other ways to conserve our planet.

7. Spread the Word. With your newfound knowledge, spread awareness of the issues facing orangutans and the rainforest. The orangutans need you.

 Image Source: Chem7/Flickr