(New Orleans, La.) - The challenges facing orangutans in the wild are monumental as the majestic animals continue to be targets for sale into the illegal pet trade and lose their habitat at an alarming rate to make way for agricultural development.
On Friday, August 19, Audubon Zoo will join with other Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited institutions on International Orangutan Day to raise awareness about the deepening crisis. Audubon zookeepers will host a chat and education staff will stage other activities near the Zoo's expansive, new orangutan exhibit at 1:30 p.m. Friday.
Audubon Zoo is home to three Sumatran orangutans: seven-year-old Menari; her mother, Feliz, 27; and her father, Berani, 23. Menari was born at Audubon Zoo in 2009, one of only a handful of orangutans born in the United States that year.
Orangutans - arboreal animals that live in trees - spend their lives in the rain forest, hundreds of feet in the air, rarely descending from their treetop homes. Nonetheless, the species has landed on the critically endangered list largely because of the conversion of rain forests into palm oil plantations.
"Orangutans live in low-lying swamps, not mountains, and when developers slash and burn the rain forests, the peat catches fire and releases large amounts of carbon which may contribute to climate change,'' said Courtney Eparvier, Curator of Primates at Audubon Zoo. "And it's not just orangutans in danger. Sumatra is a biodiverse place that's home to elephants, rhinos and tigers.''
Eparvier said only about 6,500 Sumatran orangutans exist in the wild and they face extinction if their habitat continues to suffer.
Along with other Association of Zoo and Aquarium members, Audubon is part of a Species Survival Plan to maintain a sustainable population of animals in captivity, ensuring that the public can see and learn about these marvelous apes and other endangered species even as they are disappearing in the wild.
"Audubon's orangutans are ambassadors for their species and we hope they inspire our guests to make small changes to make a big difference in the world,'' Eparvier said.
Both species of orangutan, Sumatran and Bornean, are now considered critically endangered and without action, the next step for them in the wild is extinction. Their current population in North American zoos stands at less than 100 each.
Eparvier says she is constantly amazed at the intelligence and individual personalities exhibited by the species, especially members of Audubon's orangutan family.
"The bottom line is, these animals need to be saved,'' she said, "and that's what we're here for.''
The aim of the orangutan awareness campaign is to help encourage the public to take action in preserving this amazing species and remind everyone that there are little things everyone can do to help.
Things you can do about the orangutan crisis:
• Checking labels on items you purchase to determine if the product is coming from a sustainable and conflict-free source.
• Adopting an orangutan though an organization. You get fabulous photos, learn their amazing stories and get updates on how the orangutan you adopted is doing.
• Purchasing merchandise from an orangutan organization.
• Volunteering is very helpful, and a great learning opportunity. If you're interested in volunteering, contact your favorite orangutan organization.
• Fundraising is fun and a great way to get the message out about the problems facing orangutans.
• Contact companies that are not using sustainable palm oil and let them know you care about this issue.
For more information on orangutan conservation, click here. Audubon Zoo is located at 6500 Magazine St, New Orleans, La., 70118.
Audubon Nature Institute
Audubon Nature Institute operates a family of museums, parks and research facilities dedicated to celebrating the wonders of nature. Through innovative live animal exhibits, education programs, and scientific discovery, Audubon makes a meaningful contribution to preserving wildlife for the future. Audubon Nature Institute flagships include Audubon Park, Audubon Zoo, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, Entergy Giant Screen Theater, Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, Audubon Louisiana Nature Center, Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Special Survival Center, Woldenberg Riverfront Park and Audubon Wilderness Park. Ron Forman is President and CEO of Audubon Nature Institute.