What is Extinction?

Scientists estimate that we have less than ten years to save Critically Endangered species like orangutans, tigers and elephants from Extinction.

This is a shocking statistic, but it’s not an exaggeration. Saving species from Extinction takes considerable effort, time and money. To save even one of these species, all relevant parties - multinational corporations, governments, farmers, villagers and local businesses - must play a role.

So… why do we talk about ‘extinction in the wild’?

When we talk about Extinction, we’re referring to a situation where there are too few orangutans for the populations to be viable into the future. There might still be some orangutans surviving in forest fragments, but if there are not enough orangutans, with enough genetic diversity, living free and wild in the forest, over time they will die out. 

That’s if we don’t put in place all the key actions we need to stop their slide into Extinction

Firstly, we need to rescue those orangutans who have been stolen from the wild. When a baby is stolen, its mother is usually killed, so not only does the species lose two individuals in one act, but no other orangutans can be born from that female. Our rescue alliances exist for this purpose, and in the past year they’ve rescued twelve orangutans from the illegal wildlife trade, from domestic homes, and from abandoned zoos.

Secondly, once we rescue orangutans from the illegal wildlife trade, we need to rehabilitate them, train them in Jungle School, and help them learn how to survive in the forest. But hundreds of orangutans living in sanctuaries across Borneo and Sumatra is not the answer to saving the species. Without enough forest for them to be released into, the species will still die out.

Thirdly, and most importantly, we need to ensure that there is enough forest for both wild orangutans and rehabilitated orangutans to return to. This is the big one. Because the forest habitat that orangutans have evolved to live in over millions of years is increasingly fragmented, degraded and destroyed. Some forest still exists, but it is under constant threat from legal and illegal logging, as well as many other detrimental activities, on a daily basis. If we don’t save the remaining forests, not only will orangutans die out, but so will many other Endangered species.

Below you can see an adult orangutan marooned in between an oil palm plantation and a local village near the Leuser Ecosystem. Our partner FKL rescued and translocated him back into the forest.

We need to save eight key ecosystems

To save orangutans and many more species from Extinction, we need to save eight key ecosystems across Borneo and Sumatra. But they must be the right size, type and shape of forest to sustain large groups of orangutans. Orangutans, tigers, elephants and other large mammals thrive best in lowland riverine forests, so saving these forests is one of our key strategies to reduce the threat of Extinction. It’s not enough, for orangutan survival, to save just any tract of forest.

If we put in place all the required actions now, by the year 2030, we should have enough of the right type of forest, so we can piece together remaining ecosystems for the survival of the three orangutan species. These functioning ecosystems act like arks of biodiversity, which can sustain wildlife, local and indigenous communities, and also play a crucial role in combating climate change.

The grim truth is that 80% of orangutans, elephants and tigers live in degraded forest. If they are forced to solely rely on hilly and degraded forest areas, their Extinction is inevitable. Wildlife wants to exist in the same areas that humans want to exist, and where monocultures are often planted. We must retain these last remaining forests for wildlife, not for oil palm, rubber tree or pulp paper plantations. To date, we’ve helped secure legal protection status for two critically important ecosystems: the Bukit Tigapuluh Ecosystem in Sumatra and the Sebangau Forest in Borneo. But across both these islands, there are another six that need to be saved from the bulldozers. 

There are approximately 35,000 to 50,000 Bornean orangutans left (split into three subspecies), 14,000 Sumatran orangutans, and only 800 Tapanuli orangutans. The genetic diversity of all populations is at risk, especially as they are restricted to fragmented forests and less able to move to other areas. In addition, many orangutans live in forests that are unprotected. The pressure on orangutans comes from all sides, and without urgent intervention to save their remaining forests, they will become Extinct in the wild. With zoo populations unviable, this means the end of the species.

And if that day comes, whether in twenty years or one hundred, it will mean the end of one of the most noble and intelligent beings who ever lived.

Find out more about our holistic approach to biodiversity, species protection and saving forests.

Below you can see the Bukit Tigapuluh Ecosystem, the Sebangau Forest, and the most recent orphaned orangutan rescued by our Bornean Orangutan Rescue Alliance.

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