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Deforestation is a significant issue that affects many species of animals around the world. It is when humans fell trees for material to build structures, use as firewood, make paper, or clear an area to construct buildings in. Orangutans are one of the many endangered species as a result of deforestation. This issue is very significant as the few orangutans that are left in the world are losing homes and could be extinct very soon. In fact, they are highly endangered and are expected to be “…the first great ape to become extinct.” The reason I chose this topic is that orangutans are very interesting creatures that I feel should be preserved.
Orangutan’s Appearance and Anatomy: Orangutans are big, bulky, red-haired apes with a big furry coat that can grow rather long. They have a lifespan of 35 to 45 years. They have long and flexible arms to climb trees. “Its strong arms are some of the longest out there, reaching over seven feet.” Although orangutans have long arms, they have rather short legs – one and a half times shorter than their arms. Orangutans, like most great apes, do not have a tail.
Furthermore, Orangutans have flexible and rotating hips allowing them to move more freely. Their shoulders have the same movement capacities as their hips making them far more flexible than humans. They’re not as strong as gorillas, but they are remarkably strong compared to the average human. Its long fingers assist these apes in climbing. Their feet are hand-like making these apes described as four-handed.
Orangutans are sexually dimorphic, meaning each sex has different features. For instance, male orangutans often appear with flanges (large flaps) on their cheek that is made of “…fatty tissue and then supported by the facial muscles.” which is usually attractive to the female orangutans. Male orangutans are “…nearly twice the size of females…” and have a larger sac hanging under their throat to “…propel vocalizations across long ranges in dense jungle habitat.”.
Orangutans have thirty-two teeth (sixteen on each side) and strong jaws that help them eat hard foods and support their omnivorous diets. They also have lips that help them identify the texture of the foods they consume. Orangutans also use their jaws to carry items when their hands and feet are involved in climbing.
Orangutan Behavior: Orangutans are one of the closest relatives to humans as they possess 97% of the same DNA as humans, making them very similar to man-kind. Male orangutans usually prefer living in solitude. They are accompanied by their mates for reproduction only. Although orangutans are not territorial, the male orangutans feel threatened whenever other male orangutans arrive and engage in threatening displays.
On the other hand, female orangutans are more social. They usually live along with their offspring, “…staying in almost constant physical contact with them for the first two years of their lives”. Orangutan females reproduce once every 6-7 years, each having an average of 4-5 offspring. Females have a gestation period of 259 days. In contrast to the adult orangutans, young orangutans are highly social, creating bonds with same-sex companions. As they grow older, the male move away and the females establish homes close to their mothers.
Diet: Orangutans are omnivorous apes, meaning they eat both plants and animals. When orangutans are young, they observe their mother’s eating habits and, based on that, develop their own. The main foods in an orangutan’s diet are fruits, which make up sixty percent of their diets (Worldatlas, 2018). They prefer eating fruits with big pulps. “Some of the most common fruits that the orangutans eat are ficus fruits since they are more accessible than other fruits and are easier to digest as well.” Apart from fruits, orangutans also enjoy consuming different parts of plants such as young leaves, flowers, and barks. They also eat insects, primarily termites, ants, and crickets.
Orangutans are considered secondary consumers in the food web as they mainly consume fruits and insects. Their predators include tigers and leopards. Orangutans play a crucial role in the food chain as many seeds cannot grow unless it has been consumed and went through an animal’s digestive system. Consequently, “…when an orangutan eats it is helping dispersion of seeds and forest regeneration.”
Habitat: The orangutan is found in Indonesia on two islands – Sumatra and Borneo. Years ago, the orangutan was widespread throughout the world, but now, due to human impacts, it is extremely endangered. The biome orangutans are found in is the tropical rainforest. This biome is a dense forest with high rising trees of which orangutans enjoy climbing. The rainforest also includes a large variety of different plants and animals. The tropical rainforest has a high amount of precipitation. The temperature in the tropical rainforest is an average of 24° and the precipitation has an average of 167.5 mm.
Declining Orangutan Population: With only 112,200 (both the Sumatran and Bornean species) left in the world, orangutans are one of the most endangered species in the world. The main reason for this is the human act of deforestation to the rainforest. Trees are being cut, leaving nowhere for the orangutans to go, and thus dying. The main reason for deforestation is the need for palm oil (used for cooking). Indonesia, where the orangutans live, is the largest producer of palm oil. These palm oil plants and the wildlife struggle to coexist together, leaving the animals all homeless and soon dead.
Palm Oil Production: Along with other factors, palm oil production is a leading cause of deforestation. In fact, palm oil is responsible for 40% of the world’s deforestation. Palm oil is an essential ingredient to many products such as ice cream, shampoo, chocolate, and makeup. Also, palm oil is extremely helpful in the kitchen due to its great cooking properties. Palm oil is produced from palm oil trees, and Indonesia is creating the most with 34.5 million tons produced and 25.1 tons exported. Since this many palm oil trees are being cut down, the forest which provides a habitat for the orangutan species is at risk. Although the environmental effects are extremely hurtful, the profits of palm oil production are great, sustaining the economy of tropical countries like Indonesia. This is the main reason for countries to destroy their wildlife. This industry is going to keep growing with Indonesia planning to produce more 40 million tons of palm oil by 2020 (Dixon, 2016). This results in an increase of deforestation and a decrease of the orangutan species.
Illegal Logging: Illegal logging is the practice of chopping down timber in violation of laws. This is one of the leading causes of deforestation. The reason many individuals take on this industry is because of the income it provides for the less fortunate, but this destroys the subsistence of those who depend on the forest like orangutans. “Indonesia is one of the largest exporters of timber, with about 80 percent of it being exported illegally. It is estimated that organized criminals get between $10-15 billion dollars from illegal logging per year.” With the high profits obtained from this industry, it is no surprise that the rate for logging is very high. In Indonesia, the rate of illegal logging is an alarming 40-55%.
Overpopulation: Overpopulation is the excessive increase of the human race. As seen in the graph in Figure 12 below, the increase of the human population correlates with the increase of deforestation. It is the root of all the deforestation problems in the world because the more humans there are, the greater the need for tree-based materials are. This means that trees will be cut down for roads, houses, and many more to accommodate a larger human population. The rate that humans are increasing could dictate the rate that trees are cut unless humans decide to use a more eco-friendly replacement for wood.
Mining: Mining is the removal of minerals like diamonds, gold, iron, tin, etc. from inside the earth usually to sell and manufacture. The reason many mine minerals is because huge profits are acquired from this industry and Government usually prosper. Minerals go for a high price all around the world. The industry is worth almost one trillion dollars making it an extremely profitable industry. Although the mining industry seems to have numerous benefits economically, it has an extremely negative impact on the environment as it is a cause of deforestation. This is because, in order to mine, trees and vegetation are cut down so a clear space can be provided. “The increase of mining on tropical forests is furthering damage due to the rising demand and high mineral prices.” As long as mining continues to be a large and profitable industry, the rate of deforestation will increase.
Natural Causes: Not all causes of deforestation are caused by humans. Forest fires are an example of a natural cause of deforestation. They are caused by high temperatures lighting dry forests with fire. Although rainforests are usually wet, droughts do occur. Forest fires burn down many trees leaving the animals living in it, like orangutans, without shelter. “Forest fires in Brazil and Indonesia contributed to a record loss in global tree cover in 2016, equivalent to the size of New Zealand”. Since Indonesia is where orangutans are located, it is no doubt that many orangutans were harmed.
The biggest effect of deforestation on orangutans is habitat loss. By 2022, it is predicted that 98% of orangutan habitat in the two islands of Borneo and Sumatra will be destroyed. If humans keep up with their destructive behavior, orangutans will be extinct. Besides the destruction of their habitat, other effects include their loss of resources (such as food). Since the orangutan’s diet is plant-based, the destruction of trees would cause them even more suffering. Additionally, new plants will not be common in the forest as orangutans would not be able to play their important role of seed dispersal.
Habitat Loss: The rate in which orangutans are losing their homes has only been increasing, as seen in Figure 16. “Suitable orangutan habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia has declined by more than 80% in the last 20 years.”. The crowded habitat will force the orangutan to move away, or it will eventually kill it.
Food Depletion: Another effect of deforestation that is making orangutans suffer in the rainforest is the depletion of food. As stated earlier, orangutans’ diet is plant-based, meaning a good portion of it must be found in the trees. Since the trees are being cut down, along with the food, that would leave fewer food options for the orangutans, thus killing them.
Lack of Seed Dispersion: A vital role orangutans play to the rainforest is seed dispersal. Seed dispersion is when seeds are distributed across the forest, and orangutans do that daily. When orangutans eat different plants and fruits, seeds are found in their feces (see Figure 18). If the orangutans don’t do the job that makes them a keystone to the ecosystem, then large amounts of species of flora will be gone as well.
Going Paperless: Reducing the consumption of paper at home, at schools, and at offices would ultimately decrease the rate of deforestation. Paper is the reason why 35% of trees are being harvested and if that number is reduced, it could easily reduce drop the rate of deforestation. Many different schools are already taking a ‘paperless classroom’ initiative, using technology and smart devices, like laptops, instead of textbooks and paper. These types of classrooms have been widely encouraged as a step towards solving the issue of deforestation.
Replanting Trees That Have Been Cut: Trees are already being planted, however, the number of trees planted still do not match the number of trees that were cut. If a tree was planted for each one that was cut, it would help put an end to deforestation. Although there is the disadvantage of that trees usually take 20-30 years to fully grow, meaning that this solution is not effective immediately, it could help our future generations with the issue and ensuring a greener future.
Placing Strict Laws Against Clear Cutting Forests: Although there are some laws being placed on clearing forests, they aren’t being enforced nearly as much as they should. Countries like Indonesia, who has 80% of their deforestation done illegally, need to place stronger and more enforced laws against deforestation. In the United States, a law called the Lacey Act prevents the US from purchasing any illegally logged wood from outside countries. This helped decrease the rate of deforestation; however other countries are still purchasing wood from other countries, regardless of whether it is illegal or not. If every country placed such laws, deforestation would decrease at a high rate, and orangutans would be saved.
Supporting Companies That Reduce Deforestation: Many companies make it their missions to sell environmentally-friendly products, reducing deforestation while selling their products. This helps reduce deforestation, whether the buyer realizes it or not. An example of an anti-deforestation company is L’Oréal. L’Oréal is a personal care and shampoo company that has started an initiative to make all their products “zero deforestation,” meaning that their products do not use materials causing deforestation – like palm oil. Other companies like Hershey’s and Disney are taking the same step to eliminating deforestation. Other companies are taking a different approach to tackle this situation. Companies like Woodchuck USA, which is a company selling accessories like phone cases, contribute to solving deforestation by planting a tree for every product sold. If people support these companies, deforestation would become less of a problem overall. Additionally, when other companies see the success of the “zero deforestation” companies, they will follow, creating a greener and brighter future.
Deforestation is an issue that should not be taken lightly. With all the different struggles it causes for many animals, specifically orangutans, people should start enforcing different sustainable solutions to this issue. Additionally, precautions should be taken to make sure man-made causes of deforestation, like palm oil plants and illegal logging, do not occur. With the right determination and cooperation, deforestation could be solved and the orangutans’ could be saved from extinction.
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