Sumatra and Borneo
CONSERVATION STATUS Critically Endangered
Swinging through the trees holding hands with her friends is the three-year-old baby orangutan. She has so much fun doing this but has started to notice something. Her beautiful rainforest with all the exciting and interesting trees and plants are starting to all look like the same tree. It is always noisy, the sound of some great machine and the crashing of falling trees and there are humans everywhere. She had always been told to keep away from humans. Many babies like her had been taken away by them. They are dangerous.
The Malay word for “man of the forest”, orangutan, is the name for our orange-haired cousins. Only found in the rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia and Malaysia, these arboreal great apes spend most of their time in trees with incredibly long arms fit for swinging. They are known as “gardeners” of the forest and are vital for seed dispersal. Males and females are sexually dimorphic so they are very easy to tell apart. The males have large cheek pads and a sagittal crest (a ridge of bone running like a mohawk along the skull) to show their dominance over other males.
Baby orangutans are completely dependent on their mothers for the first two years of their lives. They will be carried around on their mother’s belly having constant physical contact for the first 4 months. They will do everything together, travel, eat, and sleep. After this period the two start to spend more and more time apart. The mother will often enlist the help of one of her older children to help her raise her baby and socialise it. Once it is about 1 ½, the baby will be quite a good climber and will be able to swing from tree to tree, holding hands with other orangutans in what is called “buddy travel”. But even when they become an adolescent at the age of 6 or 7, the baby will still find time for their mum.
Orangutans are one of the most intelligent non-human primates. They use tools, some even creating a toolkit containing insect-extraction sticks and seed-extraction sticks, adapting their tool for the task and even saving it for later. They have voluntary control over their vocalisations and one orangutan in the US National Zoo even learnt to whistle! They also show many humans characteristics such as laughter.
All three species of orangutan are listed as critically endangered and are legally protected in both Indonesia and Malaysia. Even so, they are easy targets for hunters being large and slow. The females are the most hunted for bushmeat with their babies being kept as pets, sent off on the illegal pet trade. Habitat loss is perhaps the biggest problem. Their home has been disappearing at a rapid rate to make way for palm oil plantations and other such projects. Over the past decade, it is estimated that orangutan populations have declined by 50% in the wild.
HOW TO HELP
Based off real animals that Gillie and Marc met while travelling, the public will be able to meet individual animals.
With public art, more people will come into contact with these sculptures, will stop and consider them, will take a photograph, and will discuss this with their friends and family. Through this increased exposure, the message of love, family, and conservation will be spread much further than any piece of art in a gallery ever could. It will bring people into close contact and will help them to fall in love. With love comes a greater urge to want to create a change and save all endangered animals.
The sculpture will be aligned with the hashtags #LoveTheLast and #wildaboutbabies to raise unparalleled awareness about the sculpture’s cause across the globe.
To help protect these animals, please donate to the WWF: https://www.worldwildlife.org/