Batu, the youngest member of the Philadelphia Zoo’s Sumatran orangutan family, celebrated her third birthday Oct. 2. Sumatran orangutans like Batu and her parents — Sugi (father) and Tua (mother) — are considered Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Sumatra and Borneo are the only two islands in the world home to wild orangutans. Sumatran orangutans are currently listed as one of the top 25 most endangered primates in the world with only 6,660 living in the wild. The number of Bornean orangutans has plummeted over the past two decades from 300,000 in 1990 to only 55,000 living in the wild today.
Orangutans and Palm Oil
The clearing of forests in Sumatra and Borneo for palm oil plantations is the single biggest threat facing orangutans. Palm oil is the world’s most widely produced vegetable oil and is found in a wide array of consumer products including cookies, crackers, breakfast cereals, chips, chocolate and ice cream. According to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), palm oil can be found in almost 50 percent of packaged food. It is also an ingredient in many non-food consumer items including shampoo, cosmetics, lipstick and lotion. Production of palm oil has been expanding rapidly in recent years due to multiple factors including health concerns over trans-fat and an increasing interest in bio-fuel. The majority of the world’s crop is currently produced in Sumatra and Borneo — regions with incredibly high concentrations of biodiversity. Palm oil cultivation is one of the leading causes of deforestation worldwide and with the rapid destruction of ecologically-complex rainforests in Sumatra and Borneo, numerous species, including orangutans, are facing extinction in the wild. If the nature of palm oil production does not change, it is estimated that wild orangutans will become extinct in as few as 25 years.
2012 - Year of the Orangutan
The Philadelphia Zoo launched the Year of the Orangutan to make a significant impact on saving wild orangutans from extinction. Efforts began in November 2011, with the awarding of the Zoo’s Global Conservation Prize of Oct100,000 over five years to the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, a non-government organization working with the Indonesian government for the survival of orangutans in Sumatra. Highlights of the year have included the Trail of the Lorax exhibit, in collaboration with Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P., as well as the innovative K–12 UNLESS Contest. Over 3,000 students from 83 different schools participated in the orangutan-focused UNLESS Contest and their advocacy efforts reached over 500,000 people in the Delaware Valley region through With a continuing focus on saving endangered wildlife, the Zoo has recently launched the 2013 K–12 UNLESS Contest. This initiative will be profiled in a future edition and details can also be found on the Zoo’s website at www.philadelphiazoo.org. As part of the Year of the Orangutan, the Zoo also launched an interactive UNLESS Campaign website where the public can send messages to the makers of their favorite consumer products regarding the importance of their commitment to Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). To date, over 36,000 email messages have been sent through this site to retailers and manufacturers committed to sourcing 100 percent CSPO by 2015. You can visit the UNLESS Campaign website at http://unless.philadelphiazoo.org.
Great Ape Trail
In August, the Zoo unveiled the Great Ape Trail, the second phase of the Zoo’s pioneering travel and exploration trail network. The Philadelphia Zoo is the first zoo in the world to develop this concept and implement an animal travel and rotation plan on a campus-wide basis. Last year, the Zoo unveiled Treetop Trail, a 700-foot elevated passageway of flexible mesh that spans the visitor path and stretches through the trees at Impala Plaza. Species currently using Treetop Trail include blue-eyed black lemurs, white-faced sakis, a red-capped mangabey, and black-and-white colobus monkeys. The recently opened Great Ape Trail spans 200 feet and will initially be used by orangutans. The Great Ape Trail crosses over the visitor path at PECO Primate Reserve and loops through a grove of trees next to Bird Lake, giving the orangutans vistas over a large neighborhood. Over the next several years, expansion of the travel and exploration trail network will continue with additions to Treetop Trail, the connection of the Great Ape Trail to the gorilla habitat and the addition of elevated and ground-based trails for big cats, bears, rhinos and hippos.