By: Caley Nell
A domino effect is about to cascade in the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia. What can we expect will happen if we lose the Orangutans?
“Orangutan” in the Malay language means “Man of the forest;” they got this name due to their similarity to humans. In fact, approximately 97% of orangutans’ DNA structure matches the human structure of DNA, meaning there is a 99% similarity between the two species. However, orangutans fall under the ape family, distinguished by their coarse, vibrant, red fur.
These gentle creatures spend the majority of their days up in the trees foraging for food, typically wild fruits like lychees, mangosteens, and figs, and slurping water from holes in the trees of Indonesia and Malaysia. Large leaves and other foliage are used to make their nests in the trees where they sleep at night and rest during the day.
There are three species of orangutans that are all suffering a rapid population decline and are expected to be extinct within the next 10 years from human impact.
Why are they important?
Orangutans are vital for their rainforest habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia because they are one of the few animals who can completely swallow the large seeds of some of the fruit they eat. When they digest the fruit their poop is dispersed and the nutrients in the feces fertilize the seeds so more fruit trees grow for them and other animals to enjoy the fruit.
This simple act maintains the variety of species within the rainforest which allows the habitat to be healthy, but if the orangutans were to disappear the rainforest would drastically change. This would create a domino effect within the habitat, affecting numerous plants, animals, and people who live or travel to these areas. For example, The fruit trees that the orangutans eat would become endangered because fewer of them would be growing and rehabilitating the dead or diseased trees.
Why are they going extinct?
Unfortunately, there are only 104,700 Borneo; 7,500 Sumaratan; and no more than 800 Tapanuli left in the wild. In comparison, WWF estimates there were more than 230,000 orangutans a century ago! Their population is rapidly declining from illegal wildlife trade, poaching, deforestation, and climate change. All of these harmful acts are caused by humans.
Illegal wildlife trade: Humans capture baby orangutans and ship them around the world to keep as “pets,” and oftentimes the woman orangutan is killed in the process. According to WWF, “It is thought that for each Orangutanes reaching Taiwan, as many as 3-5 additional animals die in the process.” Recently Taiwan has reduced the shipping of orangutans to their location, but there is still a demand for orangutans’ babies and the species’ skulls.
Illegal hunting: Humans hunt them for food or retaliation since orangutans invade agricultural areas and destroy crops. This normally occurs when they can’t find the food they need due to humans cutting down their food sources and destroying their habitat by using the land for other purposes.
Deforestation: Trees are cut down for palm oil plantations as well as illegal and unsustainable logging in protected areas near orangutans. Examples of prohibited logging practiced are timber, palm oil, and mining.
Climate Change: Due to the increase of carbon dioxide let into the air from burning fossil fuels through transportation, electricity, industrial services (manufacturing, agriculture, mining, construction, cement, etc), and deforestation. Unfortunately, there is a considerably large amount of carbon dioxide floating around in the air that plants can’t keep up with transferring the chemical back into oxygen. This is causing a blockage in the atmosphere, trapping the majority of heat produced throughout the day and steadily increasing the overall temperature. Moreover, known as global warming or climate change.
Orangutans are extremely vulnerable due to their low reproductive rate; they give birth to one infant every 3-5 years making it extremely difficult to recover after a population decline. With human misdeeds increasing, the Orangutans are getting closer to the risk of complete extinction within the next 10 years!
How can I help?
Support organizations like WWF, Orangutan Conservatory, Center for Great Apes, International Animal Rescue, and Health in Harmony
Buy FSC products like wood, furniture, and paper; they practice sustainable forestry for the animals who live there.
Avoid products that contribute to unsustainable timber, palm oil, etc. Visit Health in Harmony to find examples of products that use unsustainable palm oil.
Preserve natural resources by driving less, recycling, and reducing waste that is thrown out like packaging, uneaten or spoiled food, plastic bags, used clothes, and broken dishes or toys. Give your used items to Goodwill and Salvation Army; they reuse products and clothes. Check out Recycle Coach’s 10 companies creating recycled plastic products.
Spread the word. Talk about what you learned with your friends and family. This simple act can bring awareness to more and more people who can help save this animal and many others.
Human impact can cause drastic effects on the environment, both negative and positive. It is important to think about how your decisions affect the plants, animals, and other people in your community.
“Sumatran Orangutan.” WWF, World Wildlife Fund, https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/sumatran-orangutan.
“Orangutans.” WWF, https://wwf.panda.org/discover/knowledge_hub/endangered_species/great_apes/orangutans/.
“Orangutans: Vips of Asia’s Rainforests.” WWF, https://www.wwf.org.uk/learn/wildlife/orangutans.
“Orangutans ‘Will Be Extinct within 10 Years’.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 24 Apr. 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/orangutans-extinction-population-borneo-reasons-palm-oil-hunting-deforestation-rainforest-a7199366.html.
What Are Greenhouse Gasses? | What’s Your Impact? https://whatsyourimpact.org/greenhouse-gases.
Good, Kate. “10 Outstanding Organizations Working to Save Endangered Orangutans.” One Green Planet, One Green Planet, 17 Dec. 2014, https://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/outstanding-organizations-working-to-save-endangered-orangutans/.
Phillips, Thomas. “Why Orangutans Are Going Extinct and What You Can Do to Stop It.” Health In Harmony, 11 November 2016, https://healthinharmony.org/2016/11/11/why-orangutans-are-going-extinct-how-to-stop-it/. Accessed 7 October 2022.
“Orangutan Genome Sequenced.” National Institutes of Health (NIH), 7 February 2011, https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/orangutan-genome-sequenced. Accessed 7 October 2022.“10+ Companies Creating Recycled Plastic Products.” Recycle Coach, 29 September 2021, https://recyclecoach.com/blog/10-companies-creating-recycled-plastic-products/. Accessed 7 October 2022.