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Species Spotlight: Orangutan

by Bianca Cimini

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADid you know that Orangutans share 96.4% of our genes? Their name alone alludes to it – meaning “man of the forest.” Highly intelligent, they spend most of the life swinging through the treetops in tropical Asian rainforests. In fact, most of them will never even touch the ground. They are the most arboreal, meaning that they live above ground in the trees. What is most fascinating is that they do not even come down to drink from the ground, but seek water found in tree holes.

When it comes to their diet – again – they find what they need up above. Fruit is an Orangutan favorite, and luckily for them, it comes in great abundance. Some of their favorites include: lychee, figs, and mangosteen. According to the World Wildlife Fund, about 104,700 Orangutans remain in the wild. Unfortunately, there are a number of risk factors that have led to this drastic incline over the years. A major concern is the loss of habitat due to the palm oil industry. Oil palm plantations have taken over a great deal of their home –  one plantation alone can be 100,000 to 300,000 hectares (1 acre = 2.47 hectares). This causes Orangutans to move their homes to higher elevation, which do not come quite as abundant in resources as lower counterparts. Logging is also an issue that Orangutans face. Unfortunately, repopulating is slightly slower than most cases, with females only giving birth to one infant at a time, every 3-5 years.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn an effort to protect these beautiful red creatures, reserves have been established in Borneo and Sumatra (where Orangutans reside). Some individuals may even keep Orangutans as pets, but this is not a viable option. If they never learn to live in the wild, they will become dependent on humans and unfortunately, rehabilitation is a long and expensive road.

As gardeners of the forest, we cannot risk the extinction of Orangutans. They play a vital role in seed dispersion and help to keep the ecosystem in balance. To do your part in protecting the species, opt for products that do not contain palm oil and continue to spread the word.

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