To gaze into the soulful eyes of an orangutan is to look into our very own future. Known to the Malays as the ‘man of the forest’, this tree-dwelling mammal shares almost 97% of its genetic sequence with humans and its predicament mirrors that of our own. A highly intelligent creature, with long, powerful arms and grasping hands and feet, the orangutan moves through the treetops of lowland forests with ease. It lives a solitary existence, feasting on wild fruits like lychees, mangosteens and figs, and slurping water from holes in trees. But the loss and degradation of its forest home, largely through unsustainable (and often illegal) timber harvesting, now has the orangutan – Asia's only great ape – out on a limb. And it’s not alone. Healthy forests are just as vital to the livelihoods and culture of the Indigenous people of Indonesia and Malaysia, not to mention a myriad other forest animals and plants.
What we're doingSee our conservation work on the orangutan.
Creating a safe haven for orangutans in Sebangu
Protected areas provide critical safe havens for orangutans. That's why WWF-Australia has been collaborating with the local community and government partners to restore the degraded peatlands of Sebangau National Park, in Indonesian Borneo. The 600,000-hectare park is home to around 6,900 orangutans, the single largest population in the world. We’ve been working to reforest areas severely degraded by unsustainable (and illegal) timber harvesting, establish new forests and revive the peatlands.
Encourage sustainable forestry
Some 75% of orangutans live outside protected areas, many in forest concessions used for logging. Fortunately, orangutans can live in these forests, as long as they are sustainably managed. In the Arabela-Schwanner region of West and Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, WWF supports the sustainable management of more than 4 million hectares where around 7,500 orangutans live. We work with major timber producers and communities to ensure that orangutan habitat, food sources and corridors are identified and protected. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has certified just under one million hectares as sustainable, effectively protecting at least 2,000 orangutans.
Encouraging forest-friendly products
WWF-Australia also works with many of Australia’s major retailers and manufacturers to ensure their products are not linked to deforestation, biodiversity loss and social conflict. By insisting on FSC certification for paper and timber products, and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification for products containing palm oil, you, too, can send a strong signal to producers that this is what consumers expect and the market demands. That's good for orangutans and good for business.
Why it matters
Orangutans are the ultimate forest gardeners, spreading seeds to help maintain the forest ecosystem. Not only is this important to a host of other animals, including the Sumatran tiger, Asian elephant and Sumatran rhino, it helps to ensure resources for people. By conserving the orangutan’s habitat, we’re also protecting other species and benefiting local communities. Its extremely slow reproductive rate makes the orangutan highly vulnerable. Females take a long time to reach sexual maturity (10-15 years), usually give birth to just one infant every 6-8 years, and the youngster stays with its mother for about the first 10 years of its life. This means that the interval between babies can be as long as 10 years and orangutan populations can take a long time to recover from declines. With human pressures increasing, orangutans face a growing risk of extinction.
Population: Borneo’s orangutan population is estimated to have been 288,500 individuals in 1973, but current estimates are 55,000 individuals.
Listed as Critically Endangered under the IUCN Red List
Did you know?
Orangutans usually give birth to a single baby or occasionally twins. Orangutans stay with their mothers for the first 7-11 years of their life.
Orangutans can live up to 50 years in the wild. Females first reproduce between 10-15 years of age. They give birth, at the most, once every six years, and the interval between babies can be as long as 10 years.
ThreatsThe challenges they face
Orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra are losing their treetop homes and food as forests are converted to oil palm and timber plantations (largely to feed the pulp and paper sector). It's a major threat to their survival.
Ongoing deforestation and habitat loss brings orangutans into closer and more frequent contact with humans, especially when forests no longer contain the food they need. Sadly, humans often become a direct threat. They poach these gentle apes for the pet trade, for food, or in retaliation when they move into agricultural areas and destroy crops. Unfortunately, the large and slow orangutans are easy targets.
What you can do to help
No matter where you live, no matter how small your actions are, we can all play a part in helping to save the orangutan and its forest home.
- Adopt an orangutan: Symbolically adopt one of these great apes through WWF and your donation will support WWF’s conservation efforts, including the protection of orangutans.
- Shop wisely: Avoid buying endangered wildlife products when on holiday. The illegal wildlife trade is having a devastating effect on our endangered species.
- Buy forest-friendly products: Choose recycled paper and FSC-certified wood products.
- You can also support companies using palm oil certified to RSPO standards and buy products carrying the RSPO label.