Saving Sumatran orangutans

Liz Nicholls

Lucy Radford of Abingdon charity Sumatran Orangutan Society explains more about the plight of and how to help this majestic endangered creature.

On the Indonesian island of Sumatra, lush rainforests are home to orangutans, elephants, tigers and rhinos. Hornbills fly over the treetops and troops of monkeys leap from branch to branch. The air is alive with the buzzing, shrieking and singing of thousands of animals, from minuscule insects to jungle giants. The rainforest is an amazing place to be, and it is vital for species such as the Sumatran orangutan, which is critically endangered in the wild. Tragically, Indonesia has the fastest deforestation rate in the world, and the threats facing species like the orangutan are intensifying.

Thousands of miles away in Abingdon, the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS) works to reverse the fortunes of the orangutans, their forest homes, and the other animals living there. In collaboration with Indonesian NGOs, SOS takes a holistic approach to orangutan conservation. This means tackling the causes of deforestation, as well as trying to cure the symptoms.

Orangutan habitat is sometimes chipped away a few acres at a time by rural communities who grow crops where the forest used to be. In other cases, forests are cleared on an industrial scale. Of the crops grown on Sumatra, the most familiar to us in the UK is palm oil. Palm oil is found in a wide range of products, from cosmetics to chocolate bars, so the global demand is huge. Wildlife cannot survive in oil palm plantations – Sumatra has four times as much land cultivated with oil palms as there is habitat for orangutans.

Orangutans spend their lives in the trees, so protecting and restoring their forest habitat is crucial. SOS works with Indonesian non-Governmental organisations to protect Sumatra’s last forests and restore damaged ecosystems. The health and prosperity of the people of Sumatra are also linked to the fate of the forests, so SOS works closely with local communities to develop conservation projects including forest restoration, and sustainable livelihoods like organic farming that offer a real alternative to the destruction of forests. SOS also supports the only active orangutan rescue team in Sumatra. As well as evacuating orangutans from dangerous situations and releasing them into safe forests, they tackle the causes of human-orangutan conflict, providing training so rural communities can protect their crops without harming wildlife.

One of the simplest ways you can help is to become a voice for orangutans: follow SOS online and share their news. The choices you make when you shop can have a real impact – look out for sustainable palm oil on ingredients lists and check for the FSC symbol on anything derived from wood. You can also donate to support the work SOS is doing on the ground or set yourself a fundraising challenge to raise money and awareness.

 For more information visit www.orangutans-sos.org

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