For the uninitiated, Orangutan Caring Week (OCW, originally called Orangutan Awareness Week), was started under the banner of Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) by Dr Gary Shapiro in 1995. Having later founded and become Chairman of the Orang-Utan Republik Education Initiative (OUREI), Dr Shapiro realised that awareness alone was insufficient; as time progressed, so too did the threats to orangutans’ survival. Orangutans need people who care enough to save these species from extinction, by translating that caring into action.
Now entering its 26th year, or 16th in its current format, OCW has become a multi-national event, drawing increasing support from government partners, NGOs and the general public. This week-long celebration of Asia’s only great ape involves both online and in-person activities.
For example, on Wednesday the 10th November, campaigners encouraged people to raise awareness and funds by ‘Going Orange for Orangutans’ under the hashtag #GoOrange. Bake sales, charity quizzes, orangutan-themed tea parties, and even bathing in baked beans (to each their own!) have all been successful in raising money for the protection of our orange, tree-dwelling cousins.
This year’s theme for OCW is ‘respecting nature to save orangutans, biodiversity and our collective future’, chosen to reflect how maintaining and respecting biodiversity is integral to human health and, indeed, that of the planet.
The Borneo Nature Foundation (BNF) is among the 68 organisations participating in OCW 2021, highlighting our orangutan research and community-driven conservation model, as well as promoting fundraising efforts.
BNF has been studying orangutans in the Sebangau Forest, Central Kalimantan since 1999. In 2004, the forest was successfully designated as a National Park, home to approximately 10% of the global Bornean orangutan population. Bornean orangutans, like all orangutan species, are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, making them the most endangered group of apes.
Orangutans, together with chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas, are our closest animal relatives: they forge strong familial bonds, have sophisticated systems of communication, and are even noted for using tools. Orangutans make their homes across a range of habitats, including peat-swamp and lowland kerangas (heath) forest. Conserving orangutan habitat also benefits the other species living alongside them, from rare crocodilians to the elusive clouded leopard.
BNF field teams have been tracking orangutans in Sebangau National Park across four generations, with 96 individuals on record and an estimated total population of over 6,000. Behavioural studies commenced in 2003 to find out how orangutans were coping in a logged habitat.
At the time, it was thought that few females roamed the area due to hunting and disturbance. However, to the researchers’ surprise, the first orangutan followed was a female, subsequently named Cleopatra, with a tiny baby! Three main families of orangutans are known to BNF, including Cleopatra’s. Our scientists have come to know the animals well, each with their own distinct personalities and character quirks.
Our behavioural research also involves detailed studies of orangutan gestural communication, their social networks, and male ranging and dispersal. To date, BNF teams in the field have spent over 26,700 hours studying orangutans, resulting in 40 publications.
As well as advancing knowledge of the species, this research functions as an early warning system, alerting us to any changes in their ecology and behaviour. Scientific research is at the heart of everything we do, since, without identifying the impacts of habitat disturbance, we would not be able to achieve our conservation actions.
BNF’s overall mission is to retain large, forested landscapes under sustainable management, protecting the resident orangutan populations in a range of habitats. We work to implement effective grassroots action over large areas, tackling conservation threats at the local, national and international levels. In addition, BNF provides training opportunities for students at our research stations, and education teams are active across our sites, helping to foster awareness of Borneo’s unique and precious habitats.
As an NGO, we rely on public donations and grants to carry out our research and conservation planning. You can help us by becoming a fundraiser and supporting a campaign, visiting our Etsy shop, and spreading the word. We have plenty of resources available on our website and encourage prospective fundraisers to get in touch, so we can provide tailored support throughout your charitable enterprises!
Thank you for helping us to help orangutans this Orangutan Caring Week!
Written by: Olivia Pilmore-Bedford/BNF International