August 19 is World Orangutan Day. While it’s a day to celebrate one of our closest cousins, it’s also a time to reflect on how we’ve done them a huge disservice.
In Malay, the word orangutan translates to “the person of the forest.” Perhaps that’s why many feel a special bond to the only Asian great apes. The Indianapolis Zoo’s Vice President of Conservation and Life Sciences, Dr. Rob Shumaker, puts it best: “Look into the eyes of an orangutan, and a sentient being looks back.”
Orangutans are sentient beings, so how must they feel when their family members are killed, when their babies are separated from their mothers and when their homes are burned to the ground? The World Wildlife Fund highlights how endangered orangutans are the victims of ongoing habitat loss from palm oil, agriculture and (il)legal logging. They are also the easy targets of hunters and illegal wildlife traffickers who turn baby orangutans into pets because of their large size and relatively slow movement.
We’ve already seen how these threats have affected orangutans. We’ve seen a homeless orangutan heartbreakingly tell us through sign language not to buy palm oil in order to save the orangutan’s habitat. We’ve seen a baby orangutan named Tri nursed back to health after being found on a palm oil plantation. We’ve also seen Pelansgi, another young male orangutan, get the gift of freedom after he was mutilated — and eventually amputated — while trying to escape a snare.
In honor of World Orangutan Day, the Twycross Zoo is letting human redheads in for free, but I think we can do better. I think orangutans deserve better, too. Here are a few ways that we can really help critically endangered orangutans who desperately need us:
Adopt an orangutan — You can help an orangutan in need by adopting an orangutan. You’ll get updates to see how your child-orangutan is doing and the progress he or she is making.
Help save their habitat — There are programs that support the men on the ground fighting to protect the forests that the orangutans call home. Keep in mind that we’re losing six percent of the world’s forests every single year.
Plant a tree — There are programs running in Sumatra and Borneo that will plant a tree for you. Not only will you help combat deforestation and give wild orangutans a home to go to, but you’re also helping the environment because trees reduce our CO2 emissions.
Buy palm oil free — Palm oil is a major driving force behind deforestation and orangutan displacement. Some brands are making it easier than ever by labeling palm oil free products. If you can’t buy palm oil free, then please, at the very least, buy sustainably sourced palm oil.
Volunteer — Okay, this might be a stretch for most of us, but there are programs where you can travel and volunteer to work with orangutans. Organizations working to protect our great ape cousins need volunteers with all types of skill sets. They need volunteers in construction, veterinary care and communications. If you have the means, skills and desire, then this could be a unique and rewarding opportunity.
Stay connected — If you find an organization that aligns with you, then stay connected by subscribing to their email list and staying in touch via social media. The Orangutan Project, Save the Orangutan and The Orangutan Foundation International are all places to start.
Take an ecotour — Ecotourism is driving conservation efforts everywhere. It helps the locals financially and health care wise. It also encourages locals to protect the endangered animals that they call neighbors.
There‘s literally something for everyone to do. So how will you choose to honor orangutans and celebrate World Orangutan Day?
Photo Credit: Chris Lott