by Allison Ledwon
To the Sumatran Orangutan,
So, I mentioned you in a letter to a different animal a few months ago, your neighbor the Sumatran Elephant. You face a similar plight due to the clearing of the Sumatran forests to make room for palm oil plantations, leading to habitat degradation, but I’ll talk more about that later.
The first time I saw you, it was in one of those ZooBooks magazines. The cover had a male orangutan on it with ginormous cheek pads. Growing up, everyone always commented on my chubby cheeks and how cute they were. I didn’t get the appeal until I saw the cover of that magazine. They’re adorable. But under those cheeks, there is so much more. Kind of like me.
First things first, I have to talk about your name. Orangutan comes from a Malay word, the official language of Malaysia that is also spoken in Sumatra, meaning “person of the forest.” This is one of the most accurate names I have heard. You really are so similar to people, even sharing 96.4% of our genes according to the Sumatran Orangutan Society. You are the only species of ape (besides your Bornean counterparts) to live almost exclusively in trees, making your name even more perfect. While in those trees, you make what can be compared to umbrellas out of leaves to protect yourselves from the rain. You also make nests to live in. You’re extremely smart.
You’re also really brave; your favorite food is Durian, that smelly fruit that I can’t be in same room with let alone eat. Okay, some people love it, but you’re still a lot braver than me. Speaking of fruit, you are an essential part of your ecosystem. Since you eat so much fruit and other plants, you spread the seeds all around the forest. If you were to disappear, so would many species of trees and plants.
The sad reality is that you are starting to disappear. Like I mentioned earlier, deforestation to make room for agriculture and to make paper and wood products is a major concern for your well-being. You used to live all throughout Sumatra and into Java, but now only live in a specific area of northern Sumatra.
We can help you by trying to avoid palm oil as much as possible and sharing the knowledge with others. Having and sharing the knowledge of different issues is a step in the right direction, and often that step snowballs into genuine love and care that can really make a difference in your lives and ours. People help people, and you’re kind of like people, just red, tree-dwelling, hairy people.
The Chubby-Cheeked Girl