Orangutans are highly intelligent and are one of man's closest relatives. Found primarily in Indonesia, their name in English means "People of the Forest." Just a century ago, their numbers were plentiful, but deforestation, illegal hunting and natural disasters have left these large, red apes on the verge of extinction. A group in the western state of California is working to save orangutans and the habitats they live in. It is called the Orang Utan Republik (OUR) Education Initiative and it is working to get Americans and Indonesians involved in saving Indonesia's orangutans. For producers Vena Anissa and Nia Sutadi, VOA's Jim Bertel has more.
Gary Shapiro has spent more than 30 years studying orangutans, spending many years in Indonesia where he taught sign language to ex-captive orangutans in the wild. Three years ago, Shapiro and his Indonesian wife Inggriani began Orang Utan Republik, an environmental organization working to save orangutans from extinction.
"Our goal is to inspire, to empower Indonesian people to be in charge to save the orangutan,” said Inggriani. “We invite them to participate through educational programs in art and science."
"The orangutan is an umbrella-species; if we can preserve orangutans, we can also preserve other animals that are threatened with extinction,” added Gary. “And we hope that Indonesians will learn the place of the orangutan in the ecosystem, so that they will care what happens to them and we will be able to preserve the orangutan forever."
The Shapiros spend Sundays at Santa Monica, California’s farmer's market educating people about orangutans and their habitat.
"An adult female orangutan usually gets pregnant every seven years,” explains Inggriani. “It takes such a long time for an orangutan mother to teach its offspring to survive in the forest. If the offspring are continually separated from their mothers, eventually the species will become extinct."
Nicky Coleman, who once visited an orangutan rehabilitation center in Indonesia, supports the Shapiro's efforts. "Some people just don't realize what they are doing to the environment, but if you can bring awareness and show them, they maybe think twice and make some changes in their life style."
While most of the estimated 57,000 orangutans in the wild are found in Indonesia, the Shapiros believe people around the world need to be educated about orangutans and their role in the tropical ecosystem in order to pressure Indonesians to do more to protect these creatures.
"I have been concerned about the orangutan for a long time,” says Gary. “And like my adopted 'child,' an orangutan named Princess, I want a world where orangutans can live freely in the forest. And hopefully her children and grandchildren will also be able to live that way in Indonesia forever."
some footage provided by Orang Utan Republik