This 14-year-old male had such a great time growing up in the rainforests of Borneo with all the exciting sounds, the bounty of different foods, and the different trees he had to learn. But that all seems to be disappearing. The trees are being cut down and one type is shooting up everywhere. His diverse home is disappearing and he doesn’t know how he will survive there, how will he find a range of foods! He’s heard that this tree is called palm oil.
The Malay word for “man of the forest”, orangutan, is the name for our orange-haired cousins. Only found in the rainforests of Borneo in Indonesia, 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. There are now only approximately 57,350 Bornean orangutans left and are the most populous of all three species.
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 to raise unparalleled awareness about the sculpture’s cause across the globe.
To help protect these animals, please donate to the WWF: https://www.wwf.sg/