Why Care About Orangutans?
For our first newsletter, we start with a reminder of why orangutans matter to all of us despite how removed they seem from our daily lives. Each monthly newsletter will present additional reasons to care along with updates and actions aimed at saving them from extinction.
The first reason to care about orangutans is based on their role as “keystone” species representing the hope and health of at least 222 species of mammals, 420 species of birds, 100 types of fish, 394 species of fish and a whopping 15,000 varieties of plants. Orangutans play a critical role in seed dispersal, propagating the forest that provides shelter and sustenance for all the other inhabitants in their ecosystems. Their survival bodes well for the fate of all the other forest species including the indigenous people who depend on the forest for their home, livelihood, food, water, and culture. For orangutans to survive, they require safe, adequate, and biologically intact forest ecosystems in Borneo and Sumatra where they are found.
As a keystone species, loss of orangutans would reflect sufficient degradation of their forest home to trigger the mass extinction of most of the other species in it. Significant threats such as habitat destruction and fragmentation, illegal pet trade, and human-orangutan conflict are real and increasing. It may seem distant, but the collapse of their ecosystems thousands of miles away is but another block removed from the Jenga tower of our earth and our quality of life.
Let’s Build a Patrol Post
Sure, it looks humble and basic at under 400 square feet, with no running water or electricity, and built on stilts in the middle of nowhere. However, this plain and unassuming structure provides trained orangutan patrol teams a place to shelter and stash provisions during their patrol rotations in the remote interior of Borneo (home to the highest population of wild orangutans).
Recent research (Santika et al, 2022), shows that habitat protection and patrol are superior to other necessary but less cost-effective measures of orangutan conservation such as rehabilitation, translocation, and reforestation. Staffed patrols are strong deterrents to rampant illegal wildlife poaching, slash and burn land clearing, human-orangutan conflict, and illegal logging.
We urgently need to build four additional patrol posts to safeguard over 100 critically endangered orangutans on 8,000 acres of biologically rich but unprotected orangutan habitat in Borneo. Our goal is to build at least one of these posts this year. Once we raise the funds, our partner on the ground in Borneo, Orangutan Foundation International, will oversee construction, and provide the indigenous patrol teams to staff it.
Please consider giving what you can and no donation is too small. To support this project on a one-time or monthly-recurring basis, use the donation button below and designate “Forest Protection” from the drop-down menu. Encouraging your friends, family, group, or organization to give will multiply your giving.
Let’s build this together!
Orangutans and the Pandemic
The pandemic brought the world to its knees, and we are still collectively working our way out of it. For orangutans, the past two years presented new risks and challenges, reminding us of the delicate nature of their survival.
Indonesia closed its borders in 2020 due to the coronavirus and many non-Indonesian orangutan conservation personnel left in the chaos of the early days. With a diminished number of research and conservation staff to monitor orangutan activity, there was a significant information void as to how wild orangutans were doing during the pandemic. Additionally, national parks throughout Borneo and Sumatra—home to a significant number of wild orangutans, were closed for the past two years, further curtailing orangutan patrol teams and leaving these populations unprotected.
At the outset of the pandemic the orangutan research and conservation community held its breath in fear of the coronavirus becoming an extinction tipping point through the spread of the virus to orangutans. Whether wild or wild-born captive (i.e., rescued orangutans in rehab/care centers) the risk was substantial given that orangutans and humans share 97% of their DNA. It’s worth noting that orangutans are at high risk in general to exposure to all human diseases. To date, there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 transmission to orangutans thanks in large part to the extraordinary measures taken to mitigate the risks. This risk mitigation included closing the National Parks to prevent tourists from having close contact with orangutans, the tendency of wild orangutans to stay primarily in the forest canopy with minimal direct contact with humans, and the commitment of rehab/care centers to take exhaustive efforts with PPE and stringent protocols to safeguard wild-born captive orangutans. Some captive-bred orangutans in zoos and sanctuaries have also been vaccinated.
At the start of the pandemic, hundreds of wild-born captive orangutans were at rehab/care centers as is usually the case. These wild-born captive orangutans include those orphaned when their moms are killed, those rescued or confiscated from illegal wildlife trafficking or private citizens who keep them as pets, and those injured in human-orangutan conflicts (generally on or near palm oil plantations). While rehab/care center staff went to great lengths to protect wild-born captive orangutans in their care, they were forced to limit “forest breaks” to all but the youngest orangutans due to very limited staff. Because juvenile orangutans are so strong, they require at least two staff members when going for “forest breaks.” The reality of this is that most orangutans in their care were confined to relatively small cages during the entire two years. Although the rehab/care centers provide enrichment for the orangutans, staying in a cage for two years is extremely stressful for the orangutans. Adding to this was the fact that permits to release rehabilitated orangutans back into the wild were halted resulting in a greater than usual number of confined orangutans at the rehab/care centers.
Rehab/care centers, with hundreds of wild-born captive orangutans at any given time, were especially challenged in meeting the challenges of the pandemic. Their already-stretched budgets were completely blown up by the expense of PPE, extra enrichment, and securing food, medicine, equipment, etc., during a time when added cost to access and deliver all of this was beyond normal. Even access to staffing became a logistical nightmare. Having adequate staff to take care of infant orangutans requiring 24-hour care, provide veterinary care, and all the other critical requirements that are a part of running an orangutan rehab/care facility were overwhelmingly difficult.
In the past two months the Indonesian government began issuing permits for release again and rehab/care centers are starting to release the backlog of orangutans. While setting them free is a wonderful moment, there is trepidation regarding releasing them into forests that have been and still are unprotected. Reports on wildlife trafficking in Borneo and Sumatra during the pandemic have indicated that initially it may have dropped but may have resumed or increased as opportunistic poachers and trafficking syndicates exploited the situation. Details on the extent of orangutan and other endangered species poaching in Borneo and Sumatra during the past two years are only beginning to emerge.
All in the orangutan conservation community are picking up the pieces of the past two years and extracting lessons from what happened during the pandemic. The collective work of building a future for orangutans continues. Both existing and emerging threats such as continuing deforestation and fragmentation, relocation of the capital of Indonesia to Borneo (home to the largest number of wild orangutans), the skyrocketing appetite for live animal poaching, and continued uncertainty of COVID and future pandemics, etc. are problems and challenges before us all.
Save Orangutans Now promotes the celebration and preservation of orangutans and all other species and their ecosystems. Every living thing is a critical part of the whole of nature. Art is an active way to capture and express nature whether the medium is crayons, paint, photography, sculpture, Procreate, collage, origami, etc. We are excited to start a digital “Gallery” on our website to showcase and share artwork that captures the spirit of all aspects of the natural world. The artwork will also be used in our Blog/Newsletter, social media and special email releases. We encourage children and adults alike to share their artwork by submitting a .jpg/.jpeg file of the artwork along with the name of the artist to SaveOrangutansNow@gmail.com. Let your creative side speak for orangutans and nature and encourage your kids or anyone you know to join in.
Donate When You Shop on Amazon Smile
If you’re looking for a simple way to continue supporting Save Orangutans Now, start using Amazon Smile when you shop on Amazon. You shop as you normally would on the site, at no extra cost to you, and you don’t need to make a separate account. Amazon donates 0.5% of the purchase price from your eligible AmazonSmile purchases to Save Orangutans Now when you designate us as the charity you want to support.
Spread the Word
Save Orangutans Now is all about educating and engaging a critical mass of people to save orangutans. You play an invaluable role in helping us achieve this goal by spreading the word. Please help us reach more people by forwarding this email to friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, etc. and following us on social media—FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram (see links below). Orangutans can use all the help they can get.