Chicago Zoological Society Raises Awareness of Dwindling Global Orangutan Population
While exact numbers are unknown, one thing is for sure: the number of orangutans in the wild is decreasing drastically. To illustrate the importance of orangutan conservation, the Chicago Zoological Society invites guests to participate in Brookfield Zoo’s International Orangutan Awareness Weekend on Saturday, November 14, and Sunday, November 15, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in the Asia section of the Tropic World exhibit.
During the event, Kekasih (KAY-kuh-see), the zoo’s orangutan infant who celebrated her first birthday on October 6, will be highlighted during the festivities with her family: mom Sophia, 28; father Ben, 31; and brother Denda, 7. Those who would like to support the high-quality care provided to Kekasih and the other orangutans at Brookfield Zoo, as well as efforts to save orangutan populations in the wild, can join the zoo’s Share the Care program. For more information, go to www.CZS.org/featuredcreature
Along the Tropic World walkway, there will be craft activities for children and a tray of produce showing guests what foods the orangutans eat at the zoo. In addition, Zoo Chats featuring Brookfield Zoo’s orangutans will be presented each day at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. in front of the orangutan exhibit.
“The orangutan population in the wild is decreasing at an alarming rate. It is imperative that we raise awareness in our local communities about the fragile state of orangutan habitats worldwide,” said Nava Greenblatt, lead keeper of primates for the Chicago Zoological Society. “We hope to inspire our guests to learn more about this crisis and find out what changes they can make in their daily lives to make a difference.”
Orangutans once lived over much of Southeast Asia, but their range and population have been dramatically reduced. There are an estimated 61,000 orangutans left in the wild, and the population has declined by 50 percent since 1990. Researchers predict that if this current rate of decline continues, the species will be extinct in the wild by 2025.
Their natural habitat—the rain-forest islands of Sumatra and Borneo—is being decimated. Huge tracts of the rain forests are being logged and converted to palm oil plantations. Areas the size of 300 football fields are deforested every hour. Palm oil is in demand as an ingredient in baked goods, candies, and other consumer goods and is found in one out of 10 supermarket products. Many manufacturers favor palm oil because it is low in trans fat and allows them to label their products “no trans fat” in order to appeal to increasingly health-conscious consumers. During the weekend event, Brookfield Zoo guests can discover what candy is orangutan-friendly because these products do not contain palm oil. The list of products may also be downloaded at www.CZS.org/orangutan. Other contributing factors to the decline of the species are the illegal pet trade and poaching.
The Chicago Zoological Society is a participant in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Orangutan Species Survival Plan (SSP), which is a cooperative population management and conservation program for the species. The program manages the breeding of orangutans in zoos to maintain a healthy, self-sustaining population that is both genetically diverse and demographically stable.