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Save the Orangutans!

An orangutan clings to a desolate tree above a charred, recently-deforested plain. Image Credit: Orangutan Foundation International Australia

Orangutans, also known as the man of the forest, can be found in their nests in the high canopies of trees in Bornean rain forests. Bornean orangutans can be characterized by their short beards, dark hair, and broad faces. Sumatran orangutans have longer beards and are also known to create close relationships with each other unlike Bornean orangutans. Currently, there are around 14,000 Sumatran orangutans living in the wild. Tapanuli orangutans are differentiated by their flatter faces, and fuzzier hair, this subspecies has a population of 800 in the wild. These three types of orangutan make up the largest arboreal species in the world.

The Bornean orangutan diet consists mainly of fruits like, mango, figs, and mangosteens. They also eat leaves, soil, insects, treebark, and larger orangutans are known to eat bird eggs and certain small vertebrates. Using tree branches, leaves, and vines, orangutans make nests far above the ground where they can be found lounging during the day and sleeping at night. Oftentimes, these animals stay in the same nest for the entirety of their lives—around 40 years—but environmental factors have forced many of them to move or create new nests.

The orangutan population has been greatly diminished over the years as a direct result of deforestation linked to palm oil production. So, what can we do to protect the Bornean orangutan population? One of the most important things we can do is limiting our consumption of products containing palm oil. Actions like this encourage companies to find more sustainable ingredients and practice eco-friendly agriculture.

The orangutans of Southeast Asia used to live in the high treetops with little to no contact with the human world. In the 1930s, there were an estimated 200,000 Bornean orangutans, but the population has dwindled to nearly half that, mostly due to rapid deforestation for agricultural purposes in recent years. Communities surrounding the forests in Borneo practice what is know as “slash and burn” agriculture. This technique utilizes unsophisticated technology to quickly destroy large sections of forest to plant palm oil trees. Many orangutans are killed by forest fires during this process and the surviving orangutans are forced into smaller sections of the remaining forest.

Palm oil is, unfortunately, very common and can be found in many food products and certain soaps. According to Greenpeace, major brands including Nestle, Colgate-Palmolive, Heinz, Pepsico, L’Oreal, and Hersheys are using this unsustainable ingredient irresponsibly in the production of their goods. Avoiding brands that regularly use palm oil in their products as often as possible can be the difference in saving the orangutan population. Even the smallest actions to stop deforestation and protect orangutans can create an impact.

~ Emma Petersen, Opinion

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