Endangered species: Orangutan

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Feb - 14 - 2011

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The Orangutan is one of the most recognisable animals in the world, with its distinctive red/brown hair as opposed to the dark brown/black hair of other great apes. Sharing almost all the same DNA with humans it is little wonder that orangutans are considered one of our closest relatives on Earth and they are renowned for their intelligence.
In the wild, Orangutans build nests to sleep in each night and are known to use a variety of tools when feeding and moving through the rain-forests. Two species of orangutan currently exist: the Bornean and the Sumatran orangutan which are native to the Islands of Borneo and Sumatra respectively.
In the wild Orangutans have few predators, given that they spend most of their time moving through the trees, only rarely venturing down to the ground. However in the rain-forests Tigers and Leopards are a threat if an orangutan does spend too much time on the ground. If Orangutans have no real predators, why are they one of the most endangered animals on the planet?
Humans are responsible for the destruction of over 80% of Indonesian rainforest in the last 20 years alone. Estimates suggest that by 2020 as much as 98% of the original rainforest could be destroyed, leaving orangutans with an extremely small area of their natural environment to exist in.
Borneo and Sumatra are densely populated and this has meant a need for residential space which accounts for a portion of the habitat destruction. However, the biggest contributor by far has been the increase in demand for palm oil. The world has a huge apetite for this commodity and there are around 6 million hectares of plantation currently in Indonesia with plans to expand this further.
As habitat has been destroyed orangutans have been forced into ever decreasing areas and as competition for food increases, so to does the likelihood of conflict with humans, and there is only ever one winner when an orangutan comes into contact with a human carrying weapons.
In Indonesia, owning an orangutan is a status symbol, and this has led to a booming illegal pet trade; Adult females are killed so their young can be taken and sold as pets, and this harsh trade sees many orangutans taken from the wild each year.
If the pet trade, the habitat destruction and the conflict with humans continues, we will lose this magnificent animal within the next 50 years, and this is something which is impossible to comprehend. We must act now to save the orangutan and ensure it is around for generations to come.

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