Dean M. Chriss
Masters of the Jungle, Orangutans

Masters of the Jungle, Orangutans

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Orangutans are truly masters of the jungle. They seem to move through the trees with less effort than we move on the ground. Young orangutans hold onto their mother's fur and skin with a very strong grip as the pair moves through the jungle. Female orangutans weigh between 65 and 110 pounds while males weigh from 110 to 200 pounds. They are tremendously strong. Their arms are about 1.5 times as strong as their legs, and adult males are estimated to have the physical strength of about ten normal humans. These orangutans were photographed on the island of Borneo.

Sights like this will vanish from the earth in the near future. Half of all wild orangutans were killed in just the last 16 years. They now exist only in the few remote and isolated patches of native jungle that remain on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, in the countries of Malaysia and Indonesia. The orangutan population in Borneo has plummeted largely due to the creation and expansion of vast oil palm plantations. More than 80 percent of the species that inhabit tropical rainforests, including orangutans, cannot survive in the monoculture of oil palm plantations. As seen from the air, these plantations spread from horizon to horizon and the native jungles are difficult to find. Fires are commonly used to clear land for the plantations and palm oil companies are responsible for about 80 per cent of the forest fires in Indonesia. World demand for tropical woods such as luan, teak, and Malaysian maple (often simply labeled "maple") also keeps logging companies busy clear cutting the last and most diverse tropical jungles in the world. Given the vast destruction of habitat in Malaysia and Indonesia, it is a wonder that orangutans still exist.

In addition to habitat loss, orangutans are often killed directly when they stray into oil palm plantations because they can damage young palms and steal fruit. Large numbers of orangutans are also killed by villagers who feel threatened by them or who kill them for food. Farmers also kill orangutans to prevent crop damage.

There are some laws meant to protect orangutans in Malaysia and Indonesia but they are seldom enforced. Government corruption runs rampant in both countries, and officials can often be convinced to look the other way when it comes to abuses by wealthy plantation owners. While they claim otherwise, it is obvious that neither government has much interest in preserving rare wildlife like Malayan tigers and orangutans that still exist in their countries.