The Increasing Importance of Wildlife Conservation: A Story Worth Telling

One of the strongest passions of our guests at AdventureWomen is for the wildlife we learn about and photograph on our trips around the world. Whether we are visiting the many unique species of birds, mammals and reptiles in the Galapagos or following the tracks of Yellowstone National Park’s wildlife through the snow, the diverse animals we encounter on our women’s tours always captivate and delight us.

Baby Orangutan in Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. Photo taken by Kathy N.

But now, the livelihoods of these precious, natural treasures are more and more at risk due to climate change, economic development pressures, competition for non-profit conservation funding, and political power shifts across the world.

Wildlife conservation and preservation are now more important than ever before.

An illustration of how this story is playing out in one destination we visit is the plight of the now critically-endangered, Indonesian orangutan. On the island of Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), habitat for the vast majority of orangutans and the orangutan population has declined by 80 percent over the last 75 years. Now, as a result of poaching and habitat destruction, viable orangutan populations are on the edge of extinction and could be gone within the next 20 years outside of national parks and reserves.

Dr. Galdikas in the Kalimantan jungle with an orangutan

Scientist, conservationist, and educator, Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas, has studied and worked closely with the orangutans of Indonesian Borneo in their natural habitat, and is today the world’s foremost authority on the orangutan.

Her perseverance convincing Kenyan anthropologist, Dr. Louis Leakey, to fund her studies of orangutans led to the publication of an article in National Geographic in 1975 showcasing the plight of the orangutan and a 4-decade career launching orangutan reserves in Indonesian Borneo (Tanjung Puting Reserve) and the Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) in 1986 with sister organizations in Australia, Indonesia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Dr. Galdikas featured in a National Geographic magazine.

Dr. Galdikas’ work with Orangutan Foundation International highlights the socio-economic trends which are central to the need for increased wildlife conservation in Indonesia.

Indonesia’s booming palm oil industry, mining industry and logging business has led to the destruction of critical rainforest orangutan habitats, leaving many of them homeless and orphaned. Palm oil is a commodity product found in cookies, soap, pizza dough, detergent, doughnuts, and lipstick among other commonly purchased items. In fact, palm oil is an ingredient in about half of all the items in your typical supermarket and the market for palm oil is expected to triple by 2050. Environmentalists blame it for deforestation and destruction of orangutan habitats, climate change, increased social conflict among the orangutan species and animal extinction in Indonesia.

The effects of palm-oil plantations are devastating.

With increased public awareness and political pressure, fortunately, some gains have been made in Indonesia’s protections of orangutan habitat. For example, in 2011, Indonesia’s president declared a moratorium on destroying primary forests and peat land. Unfortunately, local officials in Aceh province on Sumatra have drafted a development plan that doles out large swathes of the Leuser Ecosystem for mining, logging and palm oil plantations in violation of that moratorium. This matter is now before Indonesia’s Supreme Court.

Some major palm oil companies, under pressure from environmental groups and consumers, have also issued pledges not to destroy forests in the making of their products. Despite these private and public sector efforts, however, scarcer legal permits for palm oil harvesting have increased illegal, unregulated deforestation by middlemen and local palm oil businessmen. And non-profit orangutan refuges and reserves such as the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation continue to struggle acquiring sufficient land to release rehabilitated animals to in the wild.

Sweet baby orangutan eating with Mama on the feeding platform. Taken by our guest, Kathy N.

On our recent Indonesia trip, our group had a chance to meet with Dr. Goldikas and talk to her about her work. What an inspiration to us all!

AdventureWomen group with Dr. Birute Galdikas

Many of our guests volunteered that they would be making donations to the Orangutan Foundation as a result of learning about the plight of this wonderful species. Thank you adventure women!

Do you support wildlife conservation and if so how? We’d be happy to share your personal story of passion (with your permission of course) with the rest of the AdventureWomen community!