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The Big Read « Indonesia « The Critically-Endangered Bornean Orangutan of Indonesia

LOOK DEEP INTO THE EYES OF AN ORANGUTAN, and you might find a very old soul gazing back at you.

Endangered Ornagutan skulls carved by Dayak tribe in Borneo, Indonesia

Dayak-carved Bornean Orangutan (also written orang-utan, orangutang or ourang-outang) (Pongo pygmaeus) skulls in a Kalimantan longhouse in Borneo, Indonesia.

Borneo's Orangutan – The Gardener of the Rainforest

This lovable, iconic, orange-haired ape shares 97 percent of our human DNA.

And, like us, they have 32 permanent teeth. The only great ape found outside of Africa, Orangutans left their parched, far-away continent 15 million years ago to wander across Eurasia for a greener, deep-rainforest garden home.

Fifteen million years later, our loveable Orangutan found the Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra.

Endangered Ornagutan skulls carved by Dayak tribe in Borneo, Indonesia

Captive adult male Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) with flanges (Source: Animal Spot).

Healthy eating in Indonesia

If you think you're a healthy eater, you might want to take a page out of the Orangutan's cookbook.

The original fruitarians

More than 60 percent of their daily fare is fruit – one of their favourites being the stinky, spiky durian fruit – with wild figs, a few birds' eggs, a dash of soil, flowers, honey, ants and more than 500 other rainforest plants making up their weekly menu.

The gardeners of the Bornean rain forest

Some call the Orangutan the 'Gardener of the Rainforest'.

As chief-seed-disperser for the jungles' fruit trees, the great apes also open up thick forest canopies so that sunlight can rejuvenate the rainforest's floor.

The Bornean Orangutan – Unlucky for Some

But don't gaze into an Orangutan's eyes for too long.

The indigenous Dayak tribes of Borneo say that an Orangutan (literally 'person jungle', or orang hutan in Malay) is a man cursed for previous sins – the jungle-wire rattles with stories of the great ape kidnapping and mating with humans.

Other Dayaks will tell you that looking into an Orangutan's eyes is just plain bad luck.

Even Jacobus Bontius, the first Dutchman to witness Orangutans in 17th-century Java, was convinced by locals that the "... Ourang-Outangs could talk, but chose not to, because they did not want to be forced to work"...

'Pony' the Orangutan Prostitute

Despite tales of wild orangutans kidnapping humans to mate with, it was a very different story that hit Indonesian headlines in 2003.

A brothel madame in Central Kalimantan had kidnapped and enslaved a six-year-old female orangutan called 'Pony', shaving her and renting out her sexual services to human customers.

It took 35 armed policemen to raid the brothel and liberate Pony, who was successfully rehabilitated by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation – and now lives free, at the age of 18, on the protected Island of Kaja.

Dayaks, Taboos, Orangutans and Amulets

Some Borneo Dayak tribes placed a strict taboo on killing Orangutans in the past – other Dayak tribesmen hunted the ape for meat and lucky charms.

And in true tribal Dayak head-hunting tradition, the skulls were often carved with intricate patterns and kept as household amulets to ward off evil in a jungle Dayak longhouse...

The Critically-Endangered Bornean Orangutan

But it's not folk-tales and poisoned tribal Dayak darts that threaten the Bornean Orangutan with extinction.

Deforestation and Orangutan depopulation in Borneo

The twentieth century saw the biggest wholesale destruction of Borneo's rainforests on record – and it's all man-made.

Orangutan populations on this massive tropical island have crashed over the past 200 years as a result of aggressive deforestation.

IUCN Red List Status for the Bornean Orangutan: 'Critically Endangered'

The IUCN Red List classes the Bornean Ornagutan as Critically Endangered or or one step from extinction in the wild.

The IUCN Red List classes the Bornean Orangutan as 'Critically Endangered' – or one step from extinction in the wild – and is listed in Appendix I of CITES 2016 IUCN Red List.

Threats to the Bornean Orangutan

Palm-oil and rubber plantations

Thousands of hectares of lowland rainforest have been cleared to make way for palm-oil and rubber plantations, gold-mines and agricultural land.

Forest fires and deforestation

Fires lit to clear land often blaze out of control, destroying irreplaceable peatland and primary forest – further degrading the Orangutans' habitat.

Shrinking habitat

As their habitat shrinks, contact with humans increases. Many Bornean Orangutans are shot as pests for straying onto oil-palm plantations.

Body parts and medicine

Some Bornean Orangutans are hunted illegally for their body parts, to be sold onto the traditional Asian medicine trade.

Orangutans and the illegal pet trade in Indonesia

The illegal pet trade is also flourishing on Indonesia's Kalimantan.

A baby orangutan can fetch several hundred US dollars on the Indonesian black market, its mother often killed in the process.

And as female Orangutans only give birth once every eight years, a female mortality rate of just 1-2 percent can fast deplete a small local population.

The Last of the Asian Great Apes?

It seems the odds are heavily stacked against the endangered Bornean Orangutan – our humble, friendly Pongo pygmaeus. Its habitat has been sliced by more than 55 percent over the past 20 years – its numbers cut in half since 1955.

Some predict that if this trend continues, the Bornean Orangutan may well become extinct in the wild in as few as 20 years.

Online ~ The Critically Endangered Bornean Orangutan

The Guardian:

Over half of the world's wild primate species face extinction, report reveals ➨

'Primates are spread throughout 90 countries, but two thirds of the species live in just four: Brazil, Madagascar, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In Madagascar, 87% of primate species face extinction, along with 73% in Asia, the report states. It adds that humans have "one last opportunity" to reduce or remove the threats facing the animals, to build conservation efforts, and raise worldwide awareness of their predicament.'

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The skull and sabre-teeth of an endangered Sunda Clouded Leopard from Dayak Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo

The skull and saberteeth of a vulnerable Sunda Clouded Leopard in a tribal Dayak longhouse in Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo.

To Come: Anyone for Honey? The Sun Bear of Borneo ➨

ALSO KNOWN AS 'THE HONEY BEAR' FOR ITS LOVE OF HONEY, the vulnerable Malayan Sun Bear is the smallest of the bear species.

Indonesia's Sun Bear is also one of the rarest bears on the planet.

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