Link to BBC Orang Utan Video
The Orang Utan is Asia’s only species of great ape and is divided into two sub-species; the Sumatran and the Bornean, distinct to the area where they live, although both species can be found in Indonesia. They are true forest dwellers, spending all their time amongst the trees, where they also find their food, ripened fruit. It is not a common sight to see an Orang Utan on the forest floor. Orang Utan’s have an important role to play, as seed disperses within the low lying swamp forest, which they favour. It is the true cycle of life. Trees grow, produce fruit, Orang Utan’s eat the ripened fruit and seeds pass through their gut, forming their own compost pile and regeneration begins.
Travelling and feeding in the trees by day, they also bed down amongst the leaves, making a fresh nest each night in which to sleep.
Unlike other primate species, Orang Utan’s are predominately solitary creatures, males almost exclusively so, whereas females are often only accompanied by up to two offspring, at any one time. This varies slightly between the two species and certain food availability, notably with the more social Sumatran Orang Utan.
With only fruit as the main diet, an Orang Utan needs a large area in which to feed, to maintain its large body weight, so sharing, is not really a viable option. Male and females are only together, for the short time required for mating to take place.
Females are between 12 and 15 before having their first offspring and with a span of 8 years between births, usually only 3 youngsters are produced, staying with their mother for at least 5 years. The adult female herself, living until about 45 years of age.
Requiring a vast area in which to feed, and a slow reproduction rate, makes the Orang Utan very vulnerable to changes within its environment. Any interruption in its life cycle can be damaging, with natural recovery, not always possible. Hence the fast decline of these magnificent creatures. The Sumatran is listed as critically endangered and the Bornean as endangered. Numbers of both species are however declining dramatically, mainly due to massive loss of habitat and deforestation. Their future is grim indeed.
In Indonesia, for example, almost three million hectares of forest are lost each year, which amounts to over 10 football pitches disappearing every minute. Why?
Orang Utan habitat is being destroyed and degraded by illegal logging, palm-oil plantations, acacia plantations (for wood pulp), fire, mining and small-scale shifting cultivation. Palm-oil is a growing commodity, in the burgeoning bio fuel market and in providing cheap consumerism. Home brand supermarket goods often use palm oil, as do some oil coated ‘oven cook’ foods. We can all be aware of this when we shop and decline to buy these products, and write to the companies involved with our reasons for doing so. No one wants to deprive the local people, of their much needed income, but the palm-oil plantations need controlling and research into their sustainability, as in the farming of other oil producing plants. As for Bio-fuel, yes we do need a greener fuel, but at what cost? Is the extinction of the Orang Utan to high a price to pay?
Strangely the drive for recyclable packaging/products, which we are led to believe are ‘good for the environment’ is also responsible for the rate of decline of the forest. Trees are also felled for Acacia plantations, in order to produce the wood pulp needed, for recyclable means.
Together with the other reasons mentioned above, the habitat for Orang Utan’s is shrinking fast, and the race to protect them, happens every single day, by dedicated conservationists. Desperate the Orang Utan’s move closer to human habitation, bringing them into conflict with the local people, who regularly shoot them; whether they have young or not. Babies are captured, or flee, chance of survival slim. This is another area in which the conservationists are heavily involved in, often negotiating the release of youngsters into their care, for rehabilitation and release, into a safe, protected area. Such splendid, gentle forest dwellers do not deserve such persecution, from man.