Orangutans, whose name means “People of the forest”, are natural to the forests of the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. There are three distinct species of orangutans: the Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), the Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii) and the the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis). The Tapanuli orangutan was only officially recognized as a different species in late 2017.
Sumatran Orangutans are natural to the Sumatran lowland forest. They are diurnal animals, almost exclusively arboreal and rarely ever travel on the ground. They have the longest inter-birth interval of any mammal, by giving birth once every 6-10 years, resulting in a very slow reproductive rate.
In 2016, it was reported that the population of Sumatran Orangutans consisted of 13,846 individuals, in a total area of 16,775 km² of forest.
When the Tapanuli orangutan was recognized as a distinct species, it immediately classified as Critically Endagered with an estimated 800 wild individuals left in a remote and isolated part of Sumatra.
As for the Bornean Orangutan, it is estimated that there are about 104,700 individuals left in the wild.
All three species of orangutans are classified as Critically Endagered by the IUCN and listed on CITES Appendix I.
Every orangutan species faces essentially the same threats to its survival. The population is severely endangered by habitat destruction, degradation and fragmentation, as well as hunting and trade. Logging, forest fires and the fast spread of oil palm plantations pose a serious threat to the long-term survival of the orangutan population. Palm Oil Plantations are now the leading suppliers for a global market that demands more of this resource for cooking, cosmetics, and biofuel.These plantations often replace tropical forests, killing endangered species, uprooting local communities, and contributing to the release of climate-warming gases. The orangutans that are displaced starve to death, are killed by plantation workers as pests, or die in the fires.
Moreover, illegal keeping of orangutans as pets is still quite popular in Southeast Asia, thus infant orangutans are taken from the wild and sold.
There are two entirely new Sumatram Orangutan populations being established by the reintroduction of confiscated and rehabilitated orangutans illegally kept as pets. More than 260 individuals were already released in Bukit Tigapuluh National Park and in Jantho Pine Forest Nature Reserve. The reintroduction of these animals back into the wild aims to establish new genetically viable, reproductively active and self-sustaining populations.
The reintroduction programme of confiscated pets and orphaned Sumatran orangutans was intitated by Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) in 2003. In 2006, a Sumatran orangutan born in Perth Zoo was successfully released at Bukit Tigapuluh as part of this programme, while a second one was released in 2011. These individuals help boost the numbers and genetic diversity of the reintroduced population.
Various zoos and institutions support and fund several projects in Bukit Tigapuluh, such as FZS, Australian Orangutan Project, Perth Zoo, Australia Zoo, Auckland Zoo, Taronga Conservation Society and Dreamworld, fund various projects in Bukit Tigapuluh. These projects include not only the reintroduction programme, but also wildlife protection units, sanctuaries, pre-release management, research and community education.
The aim of the Orangutan Species Survival Plan is maximizing the genetic diversity of the captive population, ensuring the long-term survival of captive species. The SSP program manages scientific research, conservation and education programs, supporting captive and wild populations.
How YOU can help
Do you want to help save these beautiful, clever and agile apes from extinction? Here are some simple things you can do:
- Look for products that are RSPO-designated as containing certified sustainable palm oil. Download a free app that helps you find out if a product contains palm oil and if so, if it has been sourced ethically: www.palmoilinvestigationsapp.com
- Buy FSC-certified products. Look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – certified label on wood and paper products. This ensures the product you purchase comes from sustainable forestry.
- Support an organization! Check out: International Animal Rescue Orangutan Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, Sumatran Orangutan Society/Orangutan Information Center, Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) Nyaru Menteng Rescue Center, Orangutan Foundation International and Orangutan Outreach
- Adopt an orangutan for as little as 8€: https://www.theorangutanproject.eu/adopt/
- Go Green!: Make small changes to your everyday life that help conserve natural resources like recycling, buying recycled products, driving less and
- Spread the Word!!