Orangutans Losing Their Forests Faster Than Expected, Extinction Draws Near, & How You Can Avoid Making Their Prognosis Worse

| Wed Feb. 7, 2007 8:43 PM EST

Broken heart time. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has an environmental forum underway in Nairobi. Their Rapid Response report offers a bleak assessment of the future of our Asian cousins, the orangutans, or "people of the forest" in the local languages of Indonesia and Malaysia.

The report says that natural rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo are being cleared so rapidly that up to 98% may be destroyed by 2022 without urgent action. The rate of loss, which has accelerated in the past five years, outstrips a previous UNEP report released in 2002 at the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) Then, experts estimated that most of the suitable orangutan habitat would be lost by 2032.

The illegal logging, driven by global demands, accounts for tens of millions of cubic metres annually and an estimated more than 73% of all logging in Indonesia. Approximately 20% of the logs are smuggled directly out of Indonesia, the remaining is used to support an extensive international and local wood industry, and then exported to the international markets by well-organized, but elusive commercial networks.

New satellite imagery reveals that the illegal logging is now entering a new critical phase: As the demands grow, the industry and international market are running out of cheap illegal timber and are now entering the national parks where the only remaining timber available in commercial amounts is found.

Satellite images confirm, together with data from the Indonesian Government, that illegal logging is now taking place in 37 out of 41 national parks, and likely growing. "At current rates of intrusions, it is likely that some parks may become severely degraded in as little as three to five years, that is by 2012", says the new study "The last stand of the orangutan: State of emergency."

Overall the report is concluding that loss of orangutan habitat is happening at a rate up to 30% higher than previously thought.

Bornean and Sumatran orangutans are classed as Endangered and Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and are listed on Appendix 1 of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). It doesn't get much worse than this. Orangutans also share their forests with other threatened and ecologically important species including the Sumatran tiger, Sumatran rhinoceros and Asian elephant.

The Orangutan Conservancy, headed by such luminaries as Jane Goodall, Suwanna B. Gauntlett, and Edward O. Wilson, describes orangutans as among our closest relatives, sharing 97 percent of our DNA, while embracing a different lifestyle.

Some might say orangutans have four hands instead of two hands and two feet. This makes them graceful and agile while climbing through the trees but it makes walking on the ground somewhat slow and awkward. That is why the orangutan is at a great disadvantage on the ground, and why the orangutan rarely comes down from the treetops. Their food is there, their home is there and they are safer there.

But the trees are disappearing, largely to support the Western demand for tropical hardwoods, tropical plywood, rayon, and palm-oil products. The Orangutan Conservancy suggests how we can help.

"Let us remember, always, that we are the consumers. By exercising free choice, by choosing what to buy, what not to buy, we have the power, collectively to change the ethics of business of industry. We have the potential to exert immense power for good–we each carry it with us, in our purses, checkbooks, and credit cards." —Jane Goodall, Reason for Hope

Many items sold today originating from Indonesia are made from materials that come from these vanishing rainforests or are related to the endangered species that are fast disappearing from these forests. As you shop, you can avoid these items by asking yourself:

* Do I really need that picture frame or piece of furniture crafted from tropical hardwood?

* Do I really need a suit made of rayon?

* Do I want to make palm oil a part of my diet?

* Is it really fair to keep an endangered animal such as a primate in captivity as a pet?

* Is there proof that this exotic wood product has come from well-managed forests by an accredited certifier of the Forest Stewardship Council?

The Sierra Club provides a list of thing of things you and I can do to make our consumption of forest products more sustainable.

* reduce consumption by using both sides of your paper, using email, and reading newspapers online

* reduce junk mail by writing to Mail Preference Service, c/o Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008

* complete the circle: purchase recycled and tree-free products

* buy only certified forest products and certified or salvaged wood for construction and furnishings

* avoid purchasing rayon viscose clothing

* purchase certified shade grown and organic coffee

In your local community

* ask local stores to carry tree free and recycled products

* support (or start) community recycling programs, for mixed paper as well as newspaper

* encourage local stores to stock sustainably certified, salvaged or recycled wood.

* request that office-supply stores stock recycled and tree-free paper.

* ask local building contractors to use certified wood products.

At work or school

* do not print unnecessary documents and proofread to reduce the need to re-print papers

* program photocopiers to default to two-sided copying

* begin a recycling program and provide bins for all departments and rooms

* purchase recycled, chlorine-free, and/or alternative fiber products

Public policy activism

* ban road building and logging in National Forests (McKinney-Leach bill)

* remove or reverse subsidies to timber harvesting

* ask elected officials to use only recycled or alternative fiber papers in their offices