World Orangutan Day – cause for celebration? Not yet.

By Rosalind Johnson, Care for the Wild Projects and Development Assistant

They’ve been on this planet for 200,000 years more than humans, living isolated in Asian rainforest – our cousin the orangutan, tool maker, and tree-top specialist, is certainly worth a day of celebration.

Considering the percentage or two difference in our DNA, there is literally so much of ourselves in these beautiful primates. We, however, are the main cause of their decline in the wild, and we also seem to be working our way to similarly endanger the rest of our great ape cousins – a fact that I don’t feel like celebrating.

The orangutan is only native in two Islands of the world, and due to the rapid influx of logging and palm oil companies to both islands 80% of the habitat suitable for orangutans has already been lost, with more being lost every day. In the Congo basin region, home to chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos, around 1.6 million hectares of new developments have been announced since 2009, with palm oil topping the list.

A diminishing Island

The 15 years leading up to 2005 saw massive oil palm cultivation – often illegal – resulting in the deforestation of 1.1 million hectares in Malaysia and 1.7 million hectares in Indonesia. Up to 60% of this expansion was natural forest with rich carbon stores. Without intervention the UN estimated we could be down to just 2% of habitat remaining suitable for orangutans in just 10 years – this is habitat shared by Sumatran tigers, Asian elephants, Sumatran rhinos and people.

The battle for orangutan land

For well over a year we have been following the controversy surrounding the creeping plans in the Aceh province of Sumatra to hand out more concessions to mining, logging and palm companies for profit. The move has seen international attention including 1.3 million signatures pledged on avaaz – including the Care for the Wild team.

We have worked to protect orangutans for over 15 years, Wenda‘s foster parents support our partners on the ground, not only in dealing with the rehabilitation of injured and orphaned orangutans as a result of trade and hunting, but also ensure they have a wild to return to through continuous legal battles to stop the companies moving in.

Stopping the trend for great apes

All the great apes are becoming similarly pressured by loss of habitat and bushmeat hunting – and in Africa new risks are emerging from palm oil, biofuel and agricultural expansion and live trafficking. As part of the Ape Alliance Network we are working to create collaborative change for all the great apes.

One step in raising awareness of the forest ape’s plight is a new documentary ‘Last of the Great Apes’ – made in 3D showing the beauty of and threats to all the species of great ape. We will be showcasing the film exclusively for the first time at our upcoming ‘Hope 4 Apes’ Event to fund a wonderful Ape Alliance education project using peddle power to reach even the most remote villages in ape range states.

The future of the great apes depends on the choices of their human neighbours – education is just one way we may be able to reverse the worrying trends at play. The film will be making its way to cinemas by the end of the year – we hope you will get the popcorn out and will join us for a night up in the tree-tops and jungles of our nearest relatives.

Protect orangutan survival today – adopt Wenda for only £1 a week.

Save the unique Aceh habitat: sign the pledge and send your letter of complaint to Governor of Aceh Zaini Abdullah.

Take a sneak peak at the ‘Last of the Great Apes’ preview

Love apes! Fancy a go on a ‘peddle power cinema’? Your school can sign up now to be part of the Ape Alliance tour here.