Most people are familiar with orangutans–the big, hairy, monkey-looking creatures that share over 96 percent of our DNA. But did you know that these large primates are in danger of becoming extinct? This may lead you to wonder: why is the orangutan endangered? And what efforts are being done to protect it? Keep reading as we take a closer look at these questions.
What You'll Learn Today
Are Orangutans Going Extinct?
There are three species of orangutan: the Bornean, Sumatran, and Tapanuli. The Bornean orangutan is considered endangered, while the Sumatran and Tapanuli orangutans are both critically endangered.
Critically endangered means that the species may go extinct from the wild within the next 15 years. So yes; if more efforts are not made to protect them, at least two of the orangutan species may go extinct, and the third one could soon become critically endangered.
The good news is that people throughout the world are becoming aware of the threat and making efforts to protect the orangutans. We’ll talk more about these conservation efforts a little later in this article.
Why are Orangutans Endangered?
Orangutan populations have seen massive declines in recent decades. You may be wondering why; what factors have caused their decline?
There are several factors that play a role in falling orangutan numbers. Let’s take a look at those factors below.
- Deforestation: Orangutans live in tropical forests and river valleys on a few islands in southeast Asia. Many of these forests have been destroyed to make room for palm plantations.
- Fires: Part of the deforestation process involves burning large sections of forest at a time. Not only do these controlled burns kill much of the wildlife inside, but they can also easily spread to the forests around them and grow into large, uncontained wildfires.
- Illegal logging: In forested regions that aren’t being cleared for plantations, illegal logging is a major problem. Even in protected areas, loggers will go in and cut down large numbers of trees, further reducing the orangutan’s available habitat.
- Poaching: Though hunting orangutans is illegal, the big, slow animals are often targeted by poachers. Some orangutans are hunted for food; others, forced from their homes as their natural habitats disappear, are shot for encroaching on farming areas and eating crops.
- Pet trade: In some regions, orangutans are in high demand as pets, though it is illegal to own or sell them. In the illegal pet trade, female orangutans are killed and their babies taken; and, according to the World Wildlife Fund: “It is thought that for each orangutan reaching Taiwan, as many as 3-5 additional animals die in the process.”
What Efforts are Being Made to Save Orangutans?
As you can see from the above section, orangutans face many threats. It’s no wonder their populations are declining so rapidly.
Fortunately, there are efforts being made to protect orangutans and restore their populations. Some of these efforts include:
- Habitat conservation: Local and international organizations are making efforts to reduce the number of forests being destroyed. Large areas of forest in southeast Asia are receiving legal protection against deforestation, burning, and logging; though some of these activities persist, they are not as prevalent in areas where they are illegal.
- Limiting pet trade: Some organizations work to limit the pet trade by helping local governments enforce the laws already in place, make new laws, and rescue orangutans that have been illegally trafficked. The rescued orangutans are raised to adulthood or nursed back to health, eventually being released back into their native habitats.
- Monitoring populations: Organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund keep track of orangutan populations, making note of fluctuations from year to year and reporting any dangerous declines. By monitoring the actual numbers of orangutans found in the wild, we can better understand how conservation efforts are making a difference and changes that still need to be made.
- Public awareness: Many organizations throughout the world are simply trying to get the word out about the plight of the orangutan. As more people learn about the problem, many will become more interested in getting involved and supporting the efforts already being made to correct it.
Check out this video to learn more about the threats to orangutans and what is being done to protect these large primates.
Orangutans are found in forested areas of southeast Asia, where they face many threats in their natural habitats. Efforts are being made to protect and restore the three orangutan species, all of which are endangered and two of which are considered critically endangered.