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Orangutans becoming ghosts of the rainforest

BY DIONNE LISTER

Orangutans are, in my opinion, one of the most adorable creatures on this earth. They look so much like us that I think of them as people, and in fact, they share 97% of our DNA. There are two types of Orangutans, with one, the Sumatran (Pongo Albelii) listed as critically endangered with fewer than 7,000 in the wild, and the other, the Bornean (Pongo Pigmaeus), being listed as endangered with around 50,000 in the wild. As their names suggest, one lives on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, the other the island of Borneo in Malaysia and Indonesia.

These hairy primates are part of the Great Ape family of which gorillas and chimpanzees are also members. They are quite intelligent with the ability to reason and think, and can make tools out of sticks and use leaves as shelter from the sun or as umbrellas. They have been named in Malay and their name translates to ‘person of the forest’.

They have evolved in harmony with their environment and spread plant and tree seeds in their droppings, with some seeds only able to germinate after passing through an Orangutan: they are a critical part of the rainforest environment in which they live. If their habitat is not interfered with they can live to be about forty-five years old, and in captivity the oldest surviving orangutan lived to be fifty-eight.

They are endangered because their habitat is disappearing. Why is it disappearing? I’ll give you three guesses, but I bet you only need one – humans. Their rainforests are being cleared for plantations, in particular palm oil plantations, as Indonesia is one of the world’s largest suppliers. The orangutans die when they are either killed by the workers, killed in the fires used to clear the forest, or starve when their food sources are destroyed. These gentle animals are also hunted for their meat or their babies! To eat one of these beautiful primates is almost cannibalism. I find their situation heartbreaking and worry that these ‘people of the forest’ may soon just be ‘ghosts of the forest’.

What can we do to help? There are currently around 1,000 orphaned orangutans living in shelters and they need support. You can ‘adopt’ an orangutan through the Australian Orangutan Project, or make a donation to the Sumatran Orangutan Society  and the Orangutan Foundation International. Become part of the solution, instead of the problem, and let’s help them now, before it’s too late.

What do you think?


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