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Orangutan: From the Malay orang 'man' and hūtan 'forest', 'man of the forests'.
The orangutan, one of the great apes of our planet and with which we share 97% of our DNA, is seriously threatened. The destruction of the habitat of this arboreal mammal (indiscriminate felling, mining, forest fires) and poaching have meant that currently only about 75,000 specimens remain in their habitat, according to the latest IUCN estimates.
The non-profit organization Hutan, with which we collaborate at Madrid Zoo Aquarium, works to protect the habitat of orangutans in situ and ensure their survival. Read on if you want to find out more about this fascinating project!
Hutan is an organization that for more than 20 years has been working to protect orangutans in their habitat, which is found only in Borneo and Sumatra. The state of Sabah (northern Borneo), is home to one fifth of the Bornean orangutan population, being one of the main areas for their conservation.
This organization does exceptional work to protect orangutans, classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Its objectives are to improve the habitat of orangutans (reducing the impact on forests), prevent and recover specimens from illegal trade, raise awareness and promote research, and increase the well-being of the local population with sustainable practices.
Hutan does an amazing job conserving orangutans' natural habitat, including recovering specimens that have been rescued from illegal trade and reforesting forests. In 1998, Hutan established the Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Program (KOCP) intensive study site, in which more than 25,000 hours have been spent to study orangutans and to determine that they can survive in unprotected forests if sustainable practices are maintained and if they are not threatened by poaching. This finding is crucial, as the majority of Bornean orangutans live outside of protected areas.
In its 20 years of work, Hutan has also achieved other important achievements such as:
Assessing the size and distribution of orangutan populations is key to designing appropriate conservation strategies. But orangutans are elusive and counting them is very difficult! To that end, Hutan began monitoring orangutans using helicopters and they are also testing the use of drones for smaller areas. With all this information, it is increasingly easier to know the size of orangutan groups and work to protect them.
Human activity has caused the disappearance of many trees that orangutans and other animals used as 'natural bridges' to cross rivers. This caused fragmentations in orangutan populations, making them more vulnerable. Hutan, with the help of partner zoos, built the first 'orangutan bridge' over the Resang River in 2003.
Today orangutans make use of these bridges, which Hutan continues to build and maintain where natural bridges do not exist.
Thanks to the collaboration of the Hutan and Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah government increased the size of protected areas in the state. From approximately 12% of the land-mass in the early 2000s, it has grown to 26% today. The ultimate goal of the State government is to fully protect 30% of Sabah land-mass.
This is critical as right now, more than 80% of the current orangutan population found in Sabah lives in fully protected forests. Since the beginning, Hutan has planted more than 200,000 trees that are still thriving today.
Identifying practices for the local population to cohabit with the "man of the forest" is essential to guarantee the survival of orangutans and other species. Over the years, Hutan realized that orangutans were increasingly using palm oil plantations for dispersal, as a source of food or for resting. Thus. Hutan works with local companies to maintain or recreate corridors and patches of natural forest within plantation so some orangutans can cross these landscapes. They also work with the population to achieve their involvement in the protection of orangutans with initiaves such as educational activities in schools and empowering local women as they're in charge of the reforestation works.
Do you know how you can collaborate to support the protection of the orangutan? With simple gestures, you can help take care of our distant relatives.
Want to meet them?
Imágenes e información: Hutan, Zoo Aquarium Madrid.