Baby orangutan in Borneo (Shutterstock)
Article 18 August

Protecting the world's orangutans

On the eve of World Orangutan Day, we look at how orangutans are under more threat than ever and what you can do to help protect them.

Why are we talking about orangutans?

August 19 is International Orangutan Day – and with good reason: their existence is hugely under threat. A century ago,  there were an estimated 315,000 orangutans in the wild; today, the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) reports there are around 6,600 in Sumatra and 54,000 in Borneo , the only two places in the world you can see these primates outside of captivity. Their numbers have been dwindling for decades and this special day exists to remind us what we stand to lose.

Why are they under threat?

Loggers and plantations harvesting palm oil – found in everything from chocolate bars to hair shampoo – constantly encroach on the orangutans’ rainforest home. Some animals are illegally poached and sold to perform as entertainers in Southeast Asia and even the US; others are killed and sold as meat or as parts for medicine. And, most baffling, there is a demand for orangutans as exotic pets.

Group of orangutans (Shutterstock)
Group of orangutans (Shutterstock)

What is being done to help?

International Orangutan Day helps by raising awareness, reminding people that the plight of these creatures isn’t going away. Aside from that, several organisations – including the Orangutan Foundation and WWF – work together to protect their ever-diminishing habitats and look to help restore rainforests that have been illegally logged. They also help by releasing rescued orangutans into the safe protected area of Borneo’s Lamandau Wildlife Reserve.

What can I do?

It can be tricky, but avoiding products that contain palm oil can send a clear message. See for its ‘Palm Oil Guide’, a list of which companies support palm oil-free products.

Donations are key to help fund conservation work and research. And if you’ve got plans to visit Borneo or Sumatra soon, why not lend a hand by volunteering at a rescue centre – you get to help and spend time with them too.

Main Image: Baby orangutan in Borneo (Shutterstock)