Dedicated to Saving Orangutans, The Orang Utan Republik’s Dr. Gary Shapiro is a Force For Nature
Did you know Orang Utan means “person of the forest” in the Malay language? What a perfect description for these primates who share 97% of their DNA with us and who like us, love their children and can live to be 60 years and older. And did you know that orangutans once lived throughout the entire area of Southeast Asia but are now found only on two islands–Borneo and Sumatra? No? Me either.
Before sitting down to talk to Dr. Gary Shapiro aka “Red Ape Man” and the founder of Orang Utan Republik (OURF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to “saving a species through education initiatives and innovative collaboration projects,” I thought that orangutans were just large, red apes who lived in the rainforest. (And another fun fact that sharp-eyed Dr. S pointed out–Ms. Humane Advisor rocks the same hair color as the “persons of the forest!”) But after an hour with the entertaining and expressive doctor, I learned that they were gentle and solitary beings, capable of communicating by sign language with humans and complex feelings. Sadly, I also learned that the illegal pet trade for orangutans is growing and that if deforestation continues (they are listed as endangered and critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature) in Borneo and Sumatra, within the next ten years, they will be gone from their natural habitats and likely our planet forever. Meaning FOREVER and EVER. In other words, it’s time for all of us to take action!
A PhD and world-renowned expert in orangutans, Shapiro has worked on-the-ground with the red apes since the early 1970s and was the first person to teach an orangutan sign language in their native habitat of Indonesian Borneo. Adopted by one of the female orangutans named Princess, he has dedicated most of his life to learning about the apes and working to protect them by coming up with creative and sustainable ways to help through. After working with another orangutan nonprofit organization for many years, he founded OURF with his beautiful Indonesian wife, Inggriani, to educate local communities and the world about the desperate situation the orangutans face and what we all can do to ensure their survival.
Native Voices Get Heard
Extremely perceptive and tuned into the needs of the Indonesian people, Dr. and Mrs. Shapiro knew right away that to be successful, any initiatives to help orangutans would also have to help local communities. So they established a very successful scholarship program to create advocates for orangutan conservation within Indonesia and Southeast Asia. The Orangutan Caring Scholarship program provides scholarships to deserving Indonesian students who are working to complete their studies in the fields of Forestry, Biology and Veterinary Science. As part of the program, scholarship recipients also learn how to advocate for orangutans. Upon graduation, these students enter the Indonesian workforce where their training and advocacy brings orangutan conservation into government policy development, corporate boardrooms, and community affairs. With an eye to balancing the need for economic growth against destruction of critical orangutan habitat, the program teaches the community that conservation efforts can go hand-in-hand with making a living.
Other OURF programs include community outreach with local partner CPOI (Orangutan Caring Clubs of Indonesia) to provide formal and informal education about conservation at schools, government offices, and the community-at-large; the LP Jenkins Fellowship Program which supports graduate and undergraduate students planning to conduct field research on orangutans, related rainforest or conservation education in Indonesia; and the Adopt-a-Tree Program where donors can support the planting and care for trees planted in a reforestation park area near threatened orangutan habitat or in urban areas of Sumatra to encourage school children to learn about orangutans. You can support any or all of these programs by making a donation safely and securely by clicking here.
Ready for that Life-Changing Orangutan Adventure?
But the program that brought OURF and Dr. Shapiro to your Humane Advisor’s attention is the upcoming Orangutan & River Jungle Tour Borneo, July 4-11, 2013. Personally led by Dr. Shapiro, this trip screams a ONCE IN A LIFETIME experience to my readers who love animals, exotic travels, and adventure. Starting off in Bali, you head to the jungles of Borneo (likely clad in sturdy REI khakis with your Canon Rebel and eco-friendly SPF 50 on each hip) to cruise through the rainforest in native klotok boats visiting places with cool names like Camp Leakey (an orangutan research facility), Crocodile Lake, and Rimba Lodge. Along with listening to Dr. Shapiro’s anecdotes (ask him about when he was interviewed on Italian TV about how an orangutan was the “other woman!”) and scientific narratives, the soundtrack for your journey will be jungle birds, gibbons, long-tailed macaques, and proboscis monkeys. Music to our animal-loving ears!
This trip is not your average cruising experience, to say the least. Things will be a little different than the jungle ride at your local amusement park with weather and travel conditions sometimes unpredictable. Dr. Shapiro suggests that interested travelers “bring a spirit of adventure and inquiry, a healthy sense of humor and a willingness to encounter the unexpected and you will find your trip to Indonesia the adventure of a lifetime!”
The TOP FIVE WAYS Tourists Can Help Orangutans from the Comfort of Our Armchairs
During our time together, it was clear that Dr. Shapiro, as a scientist, views all of nature—including us upright walking two-leggers—as part of an intricate system of interdependency. In other words, what we are eating and drinking in our corner of the globe is impacting some person or species in another part of the world. As a matter of fact, the number one reason that orangutan habitats and therefore, orangutan populations are being decimated is our increased demand for palm oil, an ingredient found in nearly 50% of most of the products we consume on a regular basis. YIKES! Click here for more info on why orangutans are facing extinction on OURF’s website.
Knowing that my readers like to take action for animals, I asked Dr. Shapiro to give me just 5 things that I could share with my readers that would make a difference for these amazing apes.
The Red Ape Man sez:
1. Vote with your wallet by shopping responsibly
Check the ingredients on foods for palm oil. Avoid buying and look for alternatives WITHOUT palm oil. Click here to find out more about palm oil:
2. Raise awareness
I’d like to think that I’m pretty knowledgeable about animal issues but meeting Dr. Shapiro really opened my eyes to the challenges orangutans are facing. So spread the word by sharing this blog post and connecting to OURF on FB, Twitter, and YouTube. Also, if you’re in LA, swing over to the Comic Relief for the Red Apes April 2013 event:
3. Support OURF Campaigns
Let your Orangutan flag fly! Click here to download a high resolution image and make your own flag or buy one from Café Press. Take a photo with the flag and submit it to OURF to be included on their Facebook page, Fly OUR Flag!
4. Put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and use your voice for the voiceless
They can use sign language but orangutans have no way to talk to decision makers except for us. So politely let government officials know that you and the rest of the world cares about the big, red apes. OURF has assembled a list of contacts so you can spend a morning asking for their support along with thanking them for listening. And sign the OURF petition to stop the Illegal Orangutan Trade by clicking here. Oh and mark your calendars for Orangutan Caring Week, November 10-16, 2013! Check it out!
5. Go on vacation!!
Orang Utan Republik: http://www.orangutanrepublik.org/
More info on Dr. Gary Shapiro: http://www.orangutanrepublik.org/about-us/about-ourf/ourf-co-founder-gary-shapiro
Orang Utan Republik Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OrangUtanRepublik
Orang Utan Republik YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/orangutanrepublik
Orang Utan Republik Twitter: https://twitter.com/ourf
Orangutan Odysseys: http://www.orangutanodysseys.com/