Did you know that orangutans share 96% the same DNA as you and me? That’s right, they are almost identical to us and yet we (as a whole) give little thought to what is happening to them and or what we as humans are doing to drive the species to the brink of extinction.
Today I want to devote my article to orangutans.
Before I start, let me explain the picture of my brother and me with an adult orangutan that accompanies this blog post. The picture was taken at a facility that rescues orphaned orangutans and usually releases them back in the wild. The orangutan in the picture with us was one that was raised by humans since it was a few weeks old and therefore can no longer be released back in the wild. The particular orangutan has been featured in various documentaries because it has a dog as a best friend. We do not condone the practice of raising animals for the purpose of tourists taking pictures and we highly recommend you avoid any such facility that offers you the opportunity to have your picture taken with a baby animal because the facility is usually just doing this for profit.
Scientists classify orangutans as two separate species. Separated geographically by the Karimata Strait (part of the South China Sea), one species is found on the island of Borneo and the other on the island of Sumatra.
The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) classifies Bornean orangutans as endangered and Sumatran orangutans as critically endangered. Recent estimates put the Bornean species at fewer than 55,000 individuals and the Sumatran species at 6,000 individuals with fewer than 1,600 in protected areas. (Recent reports show the number of Sumatran orangutans could be as high as 14,600. It is important to note that no one has counted the orangutans. They count nests and estimate orangutan density, then extrapolate the density into areas that they think are similar. So these figures are always very broad estimates.)
When male orangutans are about 15 years old, some develop large cheek pads, which female orangutans apparently find attractive. Here is a fun fact: scientists don’t know what triggers the growth of the cheek pads but typically only one male in an area will grow them. When that male dies off or is driven out of the area, only one of the remaining males will automatically just start growing the cheek pads and will typically enjoy the company of the females. Isn’t nature cool?
Did you know that orangutans face five main threats? These threats are contributing to the decline of the species. The main threats are:
- Habitat loss caused by OIL PALM PLANTATIONS
- Habitat loss caused by ILLEGAL LOGGING
- Habitat loss caused by FOREST FIRES
- Habitat loss caused by ILLEGAL MINING for gold and zircons
- HUNTING AND PET TRADE mainly due to habitat loss which drives the poor animals out in the open where they are easy targets.
Can you tell me what the number one threat to orangutans is? Habitat Loss, that’s right.
My brother and I decided to start an Orangutan Letter Writing Campaign, where we teach others about how severe the situation is for orangutans and then ask them to write a letter to Indonesian President Joko Widodo, asking him to please do something before it is too late.
Our goal is to collect thousands of letters from people all over the world. In November of this year, we will be traveling to Jakarta, Indonesia, and we will be hand-delivering all the letters to the Indonesian government at the UN/GRASP conference. We want to show that people all over the world care about saving the species for future generations.
You can view our PowerPoint presentation at the following link and we encourage you to share this with everyone and every school you have contact with! We have already collected thousands of letters, but we want to collect thousands more between now and November.
If you know of any schools who are interested in participating, please have them contact us because we will gladly set up a Skype call with them and share our knowledge with their students. Just have them send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will help them out.
You can also download template letters and even coloring pages at our website here: Orangutan Letter Writing Campaign
Orangutans are truly like us. They deserve the same rights to be here and to have a safe place to live, just like we do. We should be doing everything we can to help these guys out.
If you want to get involved beyond writing a letter, we encourage you to consider adopting an orangutan like Carter and I do from our friends at The Orangutan Project. We recommend you also visit the websites of our orangutan partners at Rainforest Rescue and Bornean Orangutan Survival (BOS) and see how you too can get involved in helping the species survive at least One More Generation… and beyond.
Thank you for caring enough to make a difference 😉
Stay tuned next week as we learn all about Sullie The Seagull.
Olivia Ries is our National Geographic Society Youth Empowerment writer. Together with her brother Carter, she hopes to inspire others to realize that “Anybody can make a difference… if they can, you can too.” Make sure to check out their TEDxYouth presentation along with their website at OneMoreGeneration.org and also ‘LIKE’ their FaceBook page as well 😉