Monday, November 12, 2012

Endangered Species Monday - Orangutan

When I see an orangutan I can’t help but smile. These animals are so animated and they definitely have individual personalities. 

Orangutans are also very much like humans – from their mannerisms to their emotional expressions. In fact, orangutans are closer to humans than you may think. They share 96.4% of our genetic makeup, which makes orangutans genetically closer to humans than any other animal. The female orangutan is considered to be one of the most caring and gentle mothers in the animal kingdom. 

Some young orangutans will stay with their mother up to eight years; nursing for the first three years and then learning how to fend for themselves. 

Although orangutans live a mostly solitary life, they create bonds that last a lifetime. It has been said that these bonds are renewed during forest encounters later in life. Aside from the nurturing and bonding, orangutans are highly intelligent animals that learn many things from copying. On several occasions, I have watched the orangutans at the San Diego Zoo cover up with large leaves or a burlap sack when it is raining. That is a pretty smart orangutan!

Orangutans once lived all over Southeast Asia, but now only inhabit the warm tropical jungles of Borneo and Sumatra. Orangutans are the largest tree-dwelling mammal and are 100% dependent on the rainforest for survival. This being said, you can see why habitat conservation is so important. 

From 1980-1990 heavy logging and land development reduced the orangutan population by 50%. Large forest fires destroyed more habitats in 1997. Today, the harvesting of palm fruit for the palm oil is one of the main causes of habitat loss for the orangutan. Palm oil is in everything from cookies, chocolate and cosmetics to biodiesel and unfortunately is not always labeled as palm oil. 

A sign at the San Diego Zoo educates people about palm oil
Recently there has been a lot of talk about the health benefits of palm oil and people are now actively looking for products with palm oil. This is not good for the survival of orangutans. If you must buy palm oil, then please support the companies who are members of the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) You can find a printable shopping guide here. 

Educating people and making them aware that our actions have a direct impact on the rainforest is imperative to saving endangered species. To save the orangutan we must first save their home. All attempts that we make to save the orangutans will ultimately fail unless we can assure that their quickly disappearing rainforest home will be there for many years to come.

For more inofrmation on the palm oil crisis and what you can do to help visit the Cheyenne Mountian Zoo website.


  1. This is a great post, Michelle! Ties in very well to a lecture I went to last night at the Natural History Museum on biodiversity and conservation in Costa Rica. The speaker even said, which nicely compliments your sentiment here, that just saving a tiger is doomed to failure unless we save its habitat as well.

    1. Thank you Peter. Sounds like a great lecture you attended. The information I found while researching this was heartbreaking to say the least. Orangutans being burned out of their homes for the harvesting of palm oil. Sad.

  2. I got a great free app made by Cheyenne Mountain Zoo that helps me select certified sustainable (RSPO) products when I shop. It's easy to use and helps me make wise choices.