Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
We LOVE orangutans and we know you do too!
Orangutan Outreach frequently receives questions from orangutan lovers all around the world – many regarding volunteering, visiting, and helping orangutans.
To help ease your curiosity, we've created this Frequently Asked Question page! This is an evolving list, so keep checking back to see new FAQs.
Thank you for all your questions about orangutans! If you have a question not answered here, please contact us.
General Info About Orangutans
- Orangutans are the only great apes that live in Asia (all the other great apes – gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos – live in Africa).
- Orangutans are found in only two places on Earth – on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo in SE Asia.
- There are three species of orangutans: Bornean (Pongo pygmaeus), Sumatran (Pongo abelii), and Tapanuli (Pongo tapanuliensis). All three species are critically endangered.
- Orangutans share approximately 97% of our human DNA and are very much like us.
- The study of orangutans gives us information about human evolution.
- If we cannot save an animal so closely related to humans, what hope do the rest of the species have?
- Orangutans are intelligent, sentient beings that deserve our compassion.
- As seed dispersers and nest builders, orangutans are important to the health of rainforests. And rainforests are very important to the health of the planet.
- They’re awesome. Once you get to know an orangutan you’ll never be the same.
Possible Solution: Lessen the demand for products containing palm oil by switching to products that are palm oil free; or create a demand for sustainably sourced palm oil by purchasing products that use sustainable palm oil.
Illegal capture: It is illegal in Indonesia and Malaysia to hunt, capture, harm, kill, or own an orangutan. However, infant orangutans are still sought after for sale in the illegal exotic pet trade. Local people go into the forest to find and capture baby orangutans. A baby orangutan will always be with its mother. The only way to get a baby orangutan away from its mother is to kill the mother.
Possible Solution: Support orangutan conservation organizations to assure that captive infants can be rescued, rehabilitated, and eventually returned to the forest where they belong.
Orangutans cannot survive without the rainforests as the trees of the forests provide orangutans their home and their food. It is also equally true that the rainforests cannot survive without the orangutans. Orangutans are the gardeners of the forest, and they keep it thriving. Orangutans are important seed dispersers, assuring that the trees will continue to grow. In addition, the way in which orangutans bend down tree branches to make nests allows light to penetrate down into the forest.
Humans as well as orangutans need healthy forests. Rainforests are the lungs of the Earth. The forests are full of trees that produce oxygen, store carbon dioxide, and help control climate. Forests play an important role in our planet’s carbon cycle. Deforestation causes carbon absorption to stop, plus, the carbon stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide when the wood is burned. Likewise, when areas of peat swamp forest are destroyed, huge amounts of carbon dioxide is released since peat is such a significant carbon store. All this greatly contributes to global warming which is a part of climate change. The bottom line is that destroying rainforests is a huge driver of global climate change. Losing the forest will increase the rate of climate change which will drastically affect every person on Earth.
The short answer is “yes”. The bottom line is that orangutans are completely protected by law but the laws are not enforced. When we are talking about protecting Sumatran or Tapanuli orangutans, we are dealing with the Indonesian government. When we are talking about protecting Bornean orangutans, we may be dealing with the Malaysian government or the Indonesian government. Both countries have laws. However, corruption gets in the way of enforcing those laws.
The Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii) is strictly protected by Indonesian National Law No. 5/1990 on the Conservation of Natural Resources and Ecosystems. It is prohibited and illegal to capture, injure, kill, own, keep, transport, or trade an orangutan under this law. Sumatran Orangutans are also protected by international legislation, and listed on CITES Appendix I. The Tapanuli Orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) is also protected by international legislation by default because it is included within the concept of Pongo abelii.
The above acts are punishable by up to 5 year's imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of IDR 100 million (approximately $7,100 US). These punishments rarely happen. International trade of orangutans is likewise prohibited under Indonesia’s Act Number 8, 1999. Nonetheless, killing, possession and trade (primarily national) of orangutans are widespread in Indonesia.
The Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) is fully protected by these Indonesian laws and similar laws in Malaysia, and is listed on Appendix I of CITES. Again, laws are not enforced. Also, orangutan forest habitat is not necessarily protected. This complicates matters tremendously.
How to Help Orangutans
What truly makes a difference for orangutans? Read our blog here.
- Invite your friends and family to Like and Follow the Orangutan Outreach Facebook Page.
- Share our Facebook posts to your personal page.
- Create your own posts on your social media directing people to our website.
- Hold a Facebook Fundraiser to benefit Orangutan Outreach.
- Hold any type of fundraiser in your community and donate the funds to Orangutan Outreach.
- Adopt an orangutan and encourage your family and friends to do the same.
- Spread the word on where to watch the award-winning series Orangutan Jungle School.
What truly makes a difference for orangutans? Read our blog here.
A change in mindset and a shift of consciousness is desperately needed. Humans must acknowledge that certain behaviors, desires, and greed are destroying the natural world; and we must be willing to make changes to our lifestyle and reassess our values. We must model the positive behaviors we wish to see in our fellow citizens and we must put more pressure on governments to truly safeguard the rainforests and its inhabitants.
It is also vital to realize that conservation is actually about people. We must work with local communities that live alongside the forests and animals we wish to protect. We must assure that their needs are met so they do not have to turn to harming forests and animals in order to survive. Everything is connected - people, animals, nature. We must address the needs of all to save any one.
Orangutans & Covid-19
There have been cases of transmission of Covid-19 from humans to great apes (gorillas under human care), and the potential for transmission remains very real. We must address and manage this crisis situation, especially as we do not know the impact that Covid-19 may have on orangutans. It may affect them less than humans, but it also may be even more deadly.
You can read more information here.
If the coronavirus hits any of the rehabilitation centers, and is transmitted to the orangutans, it would be very difficult to control the spread. It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible in some centers, to separate the large numbers of orangutans from each other. Many are housed together in the same enclosures, or are in cages next to each other. If the orangutans become sick, the results could be devastating. Just as we saw with the human outbreak, we would be trying to fight the virus with limited supplies and not enough treatments. We do not want to lose any of the special individuals in rehabilitation centers; especially as the majority of the orangutans being cared for could eventually be reintroduced to the wild.
We do not know what will happen if the virus hits the wild orangutan populations. It is possible they may not become ill at all; it is possible the virus will prove deadly to orangutans; or the effects could be somewhere in between. The orangutans may feel ill enough that it affects their foraging, mobility, and ability to protect themselves. Since there are several scenarios that could play out, it makes it difficult for orangutan conservationists to plan mitigation efforts.
Orangutans may be at lower risk for infection from the coronavirus than other primates due to their solitary nature. But some orangutan conservationists are preparing for “when” the orangutans get Covid-19, not “if”. We likely will not be able to stop the spread in wild populations of orangutans, but we can attempt to minimize deaths by locating sick animals and doing what we can for them.
We also must remember that conservation is about people. It is critical to meet the needs of the people living alongside wildlife that we wish to protect, so they do not have a need to turn to the forest for their survival. As people in Indonesia are affected by the virus, their needs will increase. If their livelihoods and basic needs are impacted, we may see increased poaching and illegal activity in the forests. Everything is connected – people, animals, nature. We must address the needs of all to save any one.
Orangutan Outreach is also securing funds for the orangutan care centers of our other Indonesian partners. These include: Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) and International Animal Rescue (IAR). We accept donations year round that are distributed between our partner organizations and can be used in such emergencies. Donations can be made in a variety of ways here.
Supporters and orangutan lovers are also invited to virtually adopt an orangutan from the Orangutan Outreach Adoption Program. The funds received from adoptions are transferred directly to the orangutan center caring for the adopted orangutans. You can learn about the orangutans available for symbolic adoption and join the Orangutan Outreach family of adoptive parents here. We greatly appreciate any support people are able and willing to give at this difficult time.
If an illness is life-threatening or is contagious, a rescued orangutan cannot be released back to the forest. Fortunately, many illnesses are treatable, often with the same treatment used for humans. For example, orangutans can be treated for malaria with the same medicine as humans.
Much has been learned about Hepatitis B. There is a naturally occurring strain of orangutan Hepatitis B, which is different from human Hepatitis B. The apes with orangutan Hepatitis B are releasable and many of them do not even show clinical signs of the disease. Some orangutans do show clinical signs of the orangutan Hepatitis B, but they are much milder than the human Hepatitis B. The orangutans are simply treated and then are eligible for release. Orangutans can also contract human Hepatitis B, which is much more serious and dangerous. There have been breakthroughs in the research and it can be treated much more effectively than in the past. However, there is no guarantee that an orangutan can be cured and released.
If an orangutan has Tuberculosis or any other disease that could be transferred to other orangutans and cause significant illness, that orangutan will not be released. The orangutan will not be put down, as euthanasia of orangutans is against the law in Indonesia. These unreleasable orangutans remain at the rehabilitation facility and are housed separately from other orangutans. They are provided with lifetime care. Each of our partner organizations are designing spaces for the orangutans in their care that are not able to be released due to illness, injuries, or lack of survival skills.
SOCP has almost completed their Orangutan Haven for 9 unreleasable orangutans. IAR is beginning construction on space adjacent to their rehab center for 18 unreleasable orangutans, including Pingky, Neng and JoJo. The largest project will be that of the BOS Foundation who will be building a separate sanctuary for up to 100 orangutans. Orangutan Outreach has been and will continue to fundraise for each of these projects. Learn more about unreleasable orangutans here.
Visiting & Volunteering
Please note: At this time, due to Covid-19, no visitors are allowed into the centers.
Volunteer work is sometimes available with our partner organizations in Indonesia but would not include contact with the orangutans. Please know that any facility that allows visitors or volunteers to hold or have any close contact with the orangutans is not following IUCN guidelines. It definitely is not in the best interest of the orangutans. Our desire to help orangutans and do what is truly best for them must outweigh our desire to cuddle them. That is actually very detrimental to their rehabilitation. Ethical volunteer work may include helping to build enclosures or creating enrichment for the orangutans. It can be very rewarding.
When volunteer opportunities are once again available they will be listed on our volunteer page.
Prior to the pandemic, volunteers were required to have a 14 day quarantine in order to volunteer. The length of required quarantines will likely increase. Certain immunizations are also required. Please avoid any volunteer or visitation opportunity with any orangutan center that does not require health screenings, immunizations, and quarantine. Unfortunately, there are centers that do not follow guidelines for great ape tourism and volunteerism. We implore you not to support these organizations and centers as they are putting profit above the health and well-being of the orangutans. All Orangutan Outreach partners strictly follow guidelines.
When volunteer opportunities are once again available they will be listed on our volunteer page.
Working With Orangutans
Caring for orangutans is so much harder than it looks. Working at an orangutan rescue center in Indonesia comes with high stress levels and a flurry of emotions. The work is 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s frustrating and exhausting, but exhilarating. It is extremely difficult work. One has to be willing to spend time in the field, deep in the jungles with the orangutans. This includes making peace with snakes, leeches, a wide variety of dangers, and unrelenting heat and humidity.
You must ask yourself if you are prepared to compromise, work hard and be 100 percent committed without any complaining. You must remember this work is all about what the orangutans need, not about you or your desires to bond with an orangutan. Conservationists are not there to make lasting ties with the apes. For many, orangutan conservation is a lifelong commitment through years of little or no pay and uphill battles.
Loss of habitat means loss of living space and loss of fruit trees that are the orangutans’ main food source. Creation of more and more palm oil plantations also fragments the orangutan habitat. The patches of forest that are left are separated by roads and plantations. This makes it difficult for the orangutans to get from one patch of forest to another to find food or mates. Orangutans are arboreal and they do not want to come down out of the trees to cross an area on land. Their survival skills are also compromised. A mother is not able to teach her offspring how to find food when the forest is fragmented.
Orangutans are also at risk from the fires set to clear the land for palm oil plantations. They suffer from smoke pollution. Burnt landscape means the orangutans become displaced and may starve. The roads created to access palm oil plantations make the orangutans more accessible to poachers who want to hunt or capture orangutans. As orangutans move to avoid all these problems, they come into closer contact with villages causing human-orangutan conflicts.
One final problem from the palm oil industry destroying forests is that less suitable habitat remains for future reintroduction of rescued orangutans. There are thousands of orangutans in rehabilitation centers and there is not enough safe space to release them back to the forest where they belong.
To help the orangutans affected, you can support the rescue and rehabilitation centers caring for the displaced and orphaned orangutans. It is also important to support the organizations working to protect forests. Donations to Orangutan Outreach support organizations across Indonesia. You can also virtually adopt an orangutan on the Orangutan Outreach website and the money from the adoption will go straight to the center caring for that orangutan.
Other factors that contribute to the loss of orangutans are hunting and capture. Orangutan babies are sought after to be kept as pets and/or to be sold in the illegal wildlife trade. The only way to capture an infant orangutan is to kill the mother. To be clear, the hunting, capture, harm, killing, or captivity of orangutans is illegal. However, the laws are ignored by citizens and not enforced by the local authorities and government.