I just returned a few minutes ago from San Diego’s City Hall with an official proclamation, signed by Deputy Mayor Toni Atkins, that commends the San Diego Zoo for its conservation efforts to save the Earth’s precious great ape species and to inform the public about their plight! November 5 through 13, 2005, has been proclaimed “Great Ape Awareness Week” in San Diego. Some of the “whereas” points include the fact that all great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans are critically threatened by human activities, including illegal and legal logging, mining, destruction of habitat for palm oil farming, and poaching for the bushmeat trade. Experts estimate that due to these pressures, most of the great apes could be lost forever to extinction within the next 10 years.
I’ve seen firsthand much of what is happening to orangutans and their habitat in Kalimantan (Borneo), Indonesia. In addition to my work at the San Diego Zoo, I volunteer for the Orangutan Foundation International (OFI), taking photographs and writing stories for their website and publications. I have documented illegal loggers cutting down trees in Tanjung Puting National Park and have held the hand of a young male orangutan who had been severely beaten by workers as he tried to cross through a palm oil plantation from one patch of forest to another. That particular orangutan, named Majri, died several months after the beating, but his death is a reminder to me that we all must work together to protect our closest living relatives.
Also, there are a shocking number of orangutan orphans, whose mothers have been killed by loggers, at the OFI Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine Facility in Borneo. Currently, more than 250 orangutans of varying ages are living there. Although many have been released in the Lamandau Nature Reserve, more keep coming in. When I was in Borneo in July, three orangutans were released at Lamandau but five more confiscated orangutans were brought to the Care Center.
I hope people will drop by the Zoo during Great Ape Awareness Week to learn more about the plight of these animals, what they can do to help, and how the Zoological Society of San Diego is involved in great ape conservation efforts.
Georgeanne Irvine is the communications manager for the Zoological Society of San Diego’s Development Department.
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