Sunday, June 23, 2013

The posse determined to save Orangutans

DISCOVER the posse of Aussies armed with big hearts, intent on helping to fight for the future survival of endangered orangutans, now only left living in Sumatra and Borneo

As a child, I pronounced orangutan, O-R-A-N-G-E utan (and the u with a monkey uhh sound).

My pronunciation was way off kilter, and so it turns out was the meaning breakdown, despite them being a type of great ape of orange colour - the name orangutan is a combination of oran, meaning person, with the second syllable derived from hutan, meaning of the forest.

However first we encounter orangutans, it is shocking to think that in some short years, this spectacular great ape may no longer be around to share with our children and grandchildren.

The Australian Orangutan Project that supports orangutan conservation has certainly captured the hearts of Australia's celebrities, who have become its ambassadors, but given the plight of the orangutan, many more hearts need to be clasped.

Wild orangutans are confined to just two islands in the world, with two distinct species, one in Sumatra, Indonesia and the other in Borneo, an island divived among Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. They are critically endangered in Sumatra (6000 remaining) and endangered in Borneo (55,000).

The first ambassador for the Australian project was actress Cornelia Frances, who joined in 2011, and who is perhaps best known for her long running performance (20 years) of the character Morag on TV's Home and Away.

The idea of "Redheads for Redheads" came from her family.

"It was my son's idea - we gave the idea to the project and they loved it," Cornelia says from a very cold Sydney on Tuesday.

Cornelia travelled to Borneo and fell passionately in love with the orangutans.

"They are so intelligent and they react to you like no other animal," Cornelia says.

"One offered me a pineapple while we were sitting on a bench, and then offered it to me again - normally it takes months and months for them to build up that trust.

"We had an instant love affair and it was quite extraordinary."

Cornelia has adopted many orangutans as presents for friends and believes she is very fortunate to have seen and interacted with orangutans both in care centres and in the wild.

"In one place by the river there were about 100 and they scamper all around you - it really depends on the habitat," she says.

Cornelia visited the Orangutan Care and Quarantine Centre in Pangkalan Bun, where there were 300 orphaned infants.

"We trekked miles every day, I spent a week on a boat, and stayed in a "hotel" that was very basic," she says.

At Camp Leakey she discovered more orphaned orangutans, in a national park she saw orangutans in the wild, and at the Pesalat Reforestation Project, she helped plant trees.

"I left my heart and a few tears over there," she says.

"There was one poor orangutan who had been shot and he was in a cage - he looked like an angry old man."

As there are only 6000 Sumatran orangutans in the wild, and an estimated thousand are killed each year, there is a distinct possibility they will be driven to extinction within six years - it was 10 years just a year-and-a-half ago.

The problem is principally deforestation in Borneo and Sumatra, where enormous tracts of forest are being felled by double-dipping governments and privateers, who enjoy the benefits of a burgeoning timber industry and the profits made from subsequent palm oil plantations.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: The posse determined to save Orangutans