Reasons to care during Orangutan Caring Week
Friday, November 16, 2012
Asia’s red apes may face extinction because of one ubiquitous pantry staple
ATLANTA – November 15, 2012 – Species disappear every day, but one of the harshest realities of this phenomenon is its impact on some of humankind’s closest living relatives. Orangutans are among the most popular residents of Zoo Atlanta, but within as little as 10 years, visitors may see a new word on the signage in the Zoo’s Asian Forest. It’s a word alarming for its brevity and its permanence: extinct.
Sumatran orangutans are currently classified as critically endangered; their cousins the Bornean orangutans are listed as endangered. Both species exist only in Indonesia, where Sumatran orangutans, which occupy the smaller range of the two, number fewer than 7,000. The current rate of decline suggests that as many as 5,000 orangutans a year are killed or displaced by habitat destruction for palm oil plantations, overharvesting for timber, human encroachment, and capture for the entertainment and pet trades.
“The status of wildlife around the world is distressing, but it’s extremely disturbing to face the fact that we could see the extinction of a species of great ape in our lifetimes,” said Lori Perkins, Vice President of Collections at Zoo Atlanta and the Chair of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Orangutan Species Survival Plan (SSP). “If we were to allow a flagship species like the orangutan to go extinct, that would be a very horrific statement on the future of wild animals and wild habitats in general.”
The only great apes native to Asia, orangutans require significant ranges of land to survive. With acres of habitat being destroyed by the millions every year, apes which are not killed outright in the clear-cutting of their forests are viewed as pests when they turn to foraging in crops or find themselves marooned in palm oil plantations. The rate of habitat destruction continues to increase with the demand for palm oil, which is found in many packaged foods, soaps, candies, cosmetics and numerous other commonplace products. Conscientious consumers are strongly encouraged to read labels carefully, choosing palm oil-free products or products made with Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.
There are 216 orangutans living in AZA-accredited zoos in North America. Thirteen of these reside at Zoo Atlanta, which houses the nation’s largest collection. Alan, a 41-year-old Sumatran orangutan, is the oldest male Sumatran orangutan in the U.S. and has been deemed the continent’s most genetically valuable male by the Orangutan SSP, which seeks to maintain genetic viability within the captive population in North America.
Zoo Atlanta joins a global coalition of zoos and conservation organizations in celebrating Orangutan Caring Week, which began on November 11. On Saturday, November 17, Zoo Atlanta animal care professionals will host special activities centered on orangutans and their plight in the wild. Highlights will include education stations; family activities; a keeper Q&A at 11 a.m.; and an orangutan feeding at 2:15 p.m. Activities run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; free with general admission.