Orangutans on the verge of extinction
Rapid fall in the number of living populations
Proper population census of orangutan began around Year 1900. Those days, there were around 315,000 orangutans in Sumatra and Borneo Islands (Rijiksen & Meijaard, 1999). Below are the diagram and graph showing the reduction of forests and distribution of orangutans on Borneo Islands from 1950 up until today. Due to the rapid reduction of rainforests which are precious habitats for orangutans, around 80% of them have gone extinct in over the past 100 years.
According to the 2016 orangutan population census, it is predicted that there are over 13,000 Sumatran Orangutans and less than 800 Tapanuli Orangutans on Sumatra Island. On Borneo Island, there are estimation of more than 57,000 orangutans (Wich et. al., 2016; Orangutan Population and Habitat Viability Assessment 2016, 2019). On IUCN Red List, Sumatran orangutan, Bornean orangutan and Tapanuli orangutan were categorised as “Critically Endangered*” (level for the highest risk of extinction) in year 2010, 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Critically Endangered” means in the near future, these species would go extinct in the wild. Once the population level decreases further, their categories will be brought up to “Extinct in the Wild”.
Reasons of population reduction
The biggest factor of orangutan population reduction is due to deforestation, destroying their natural habitats. Main reasons are such as: development of large-scale palm oil plantation, land-clearing, forest fire in drained peat swamp forests, legal logging for commercial purposes, and damaging of forests due to illegal logging in natural reserves, which most of these are from developments done by people. Other reasons are such as illegal hunting for the purpose of capturing pets and changes in the living environment due to global warming.
One of the reasons of the rapid reduction is the difficulties in protection due to the slow speed of breeding
It is not the easiest task to quickly protect these orangutans. The rate of breeding is very slow, takes around 6 – 9 years to raise a child. Due to this reason, once there is a fall in the number, it will be extremely difficult to raise the population to the initial level. Also, if there is no proper forest rich with their needs, raising a child would also be a daunting task for them.
20% of the current existing orangutans are living in national parks and reserves, but most of the other orangutans are living in the forest near local villages people reside. Hence, many of these orangutans are living in the condition of constant threats from loggings, farm developments, and fire, which does not allow them to secure enough food. In this kind of situation, it would be extremely difficult to put a stop in the number of reducing orangutans.
So, what can we do now for these orangutans to put a stop in their reduction and furthermore to increase their population even by a margin? To halt this serious situation, many researchers, zookeepers/staffs, and NPO/NGO Activists from all over the globe are working towards this goal by conducting countless research, conservation and communicating them with people via internet. Please participate in our cause!
What we can do
To save the orangutans from the danger of extinction, there are things all of us can do in our daily lives. Let’s start from what is familiar to us.
Carefully Selecting Products that Include Palm Oil (Plant-based Oil)
Currently, palm-oil plantations are causing the greatest threat to the rainforest where orangutans live. Japan is one of the many countries that import large amounts of palm oil. In Japan, palm-oil is only stated as “plant-based oil” under the ingredient section of say, processed foods, and therefore many might not find this familiar. However, this palm oil is used in a wide range of products such as snacks, instant food (TV meals), detergents and cosmetic products. From 2011, for those products using sustainable palm-oil will be put with a Roundtable Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) logo. As this has only began recently, it would be likely that we will not come across it so soon but, in few years, we will see RSPO certified products in our familiar stores.
Selecting FSC Certified Products
There are illegal loggings of forest even within the national parks in Indonesia, and orangutan’s habitat is getting destroyed in a rapid speed. These illegal loggings put pressure onto those managing the forest sustainably. As illegal loggers can reduce costs, they can distribute and sell log/wood cheaper than the supposed market price if sustainability was taken into account.
Hence, the purpose of FSC certification system is to help foster the distribution of sustainably produced woods/wooden products by putting the FSC logo onto those certified products so that ‘non-sustainably produced’ and ‘sustainably produced’ products could be distinguished. This FSC logo is commonly seen in Japan on various wooden products, printing items, toilet rolls and tissues. As a consumer, selecting these products will help create changes in ways of forest usages/treatments.
Participate in NGO/NPO which involves in the protection movement of the rainforest or the orangutans
There are various organisations in Japan and around the world which is working to protect the orangutan. You can participate in the conservation of orangutans by becoming the member of these organisation and make donations. So let’s look for these organisations’ websites and find those fit!
Participate in the habitat eco-tour
Upon visiting Indonesia or Malaysia, participate in a locally run eco-tour. As tourists actively participate in these eco-tours, it will be an income for locals which would lead to the conservation of the nature and wildlife.
What is Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre?
As a part of orangutan conservation, there is a rehabilitation centre. This is where people conserve those orangutans which cannot live in the wild and help them rehabilitate so that they can eventually go back into the wild. This rehabilitation process is structured differently to meet the needs of different orangutans: analysing their health situations and ages, and provided with quarantine, nursery and feeding platforms where necessary.
Four major Rehabilitation Centres
- Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre: Sabah, Malaysia
- Semenggoh Wildlife Centre: Sarawak, Malaysia
- Tanjung Puting Rehabilitation Centre: Within Tanjung Puting National Park, Indonesia
- SambojaLestari (Ex-Wanariset): Indonesia
※There are many Rehabilitation centres including those run privately.
Is rehabilitation centre the best way to save orangutans?
There is a tendency to be thought that rehabilitation centres are the best way to save orangutans due to the influence of mass media. However, orangutans spend long 6-9 years with their mothers and learn places to find food in the forest and also to socially interact with others. Those who were raised in the rehabilitation centres did not have a chance to learn these skills hence, even after maturity it is not promised that they can live through the wild. As a result, it is known that for “bringing back into the wild” initiative, the hardest part is the process after sending these orangutans back into the wild forest.
We have received many enquiries wishing to be volunteers in rehabilitation centres but unfortunately these facilities are mainly run by locals and do not accept volunteers from abroad. This is as locals are working with the notion of “running the conservation initiative, led by locals”. So currently, it is most common to see locals getting paid to do volunteer’s work to take care of orangutans. By producing employment opportunities locally, they are encouraging deeper understandings of orangutan conservation and rehabilitation centre operation among the locals.
If you still want to experience it, please do contact these NGOS by checking their websites! Unfortunately, we do not provide services to mediate between those interested and rehabilitation centres. Hence, we would not be able to answer questions pertaining to various facilities.