Making a Difference for Orangutans

Orangutan Caring Week, November 13 through 19, is fast approaching, and we’re excited! During the week, we have plans to highlight all things orangutan at the San Diego Zoo. Help us to spread the word about how incredible these animals are, the pressing issues facing orangutans in the wild, and the power of people to help! We’ll have daily keeper talks at the Zoo’s orangutan exhibit at 11:00 a.m. as well as volunteers available all day to answer all of your questions about orangutans. On Saturday, November 19, representatives from the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy will be offering symbolic adoptions at the orangutan exhibit.

Orangutans are the world’s largest arboreal mammal and the only great ape found in Asia. Both species of orangutans (Sumatran orangutans and Bornean orangutans) are Critically Endangered. They face massive habitat destruction from deforestation, logging, and man-made fires. One of the main factors driving deforestation is the clearing of land for unsustainable palm oil plantations. Primate keeper Yeleny Smith recently visited the area—you can read about her experience here.

Palm oil is used in more than 50 percent of manufactured items found in grocery stores, including many snack foods and personal care items. From 1990 to 2010 there was a 600-percent increase in the amount of land dedicated to palm oil production in Indonesia. Palm oil is very efficient, requiring less land to produce product than alternative oils. Since it is so efficient, rather than avoiding palm oil all together, the best course is to make sure that the palm oil we use is coming from sustainable sources—from companies that are not destroying orangutan habitats. Deforestation due to palm oil effects not only orangutans but also sun bears, tigers, pangolins, and many other species that share their habitat.

One of the really exciting things about orangutan conservation is that every person has the power to make an impact! Each person, every day, can make the choice to buy products that use sustainable palm oil and to purchase paper and wood products that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which indicates that they come from responsibly managed forests. There are several smartphone apps and websites with palm oil scorecards that make it easy to determine if the palm oil used in a product is sustainable or not. By voting with our dollars we can show manufacturers that we will not buy products that harm orangutans. We encourage you to contact companies that use palm oil to congratulate them on doing a good job or to let them know they need to improve their palm oil policy. Companies that are committed to using sustainable palm oil are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and you can learn more about them at the RSPO website.

For Orangutan Caring Week, why not join us at the San Diego Zoo to meet our orangutans: Satu, Karen, Indah and Aisha and learn about wild orangutans. Yet, even if you can’t make it to the Zoo during this special week week, you can help orangutans by telling your friends and family how amazing these orange apes are and how each and every person can make a difference for orangutans!

Orangutan Caring Week is November 13 through 19.

Julie Krajewski is a primate keeper at the San Diego Zoo.