Every year on August 19, the world celebrates International Orangutan Day as a way to bring attention and awareness to the crisis facing these majestic red apes.

From 1992 to 2000, the population of the Sumatran orangutan declined by more than 50 percent. Closely related to the Sumatran orangutan, the Bornean orangutan population also fell, by nearly 43 percent in a decade, going from 35,000 in 1996 to 20,000 in 2006. Since these studies were done, deforestation rates have continued to climb, meaning the actual populations could be well below these.

The Orangutan Conservation Services Program (OCSP), funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), helped address some of the major threats driving orangutan extinction in Indonesia, including forest conversion, unsustainable logging, and wildlife trafficking. Despite the project’s completion in 2010, some of the major milestones have far outlasted its three-year time frame.

The DAI-led OCSP convened key actors across various sectors to provide input into the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry’s National Orangutan Strategy and Action Plan 2007–2017, which incorporated public, private, and local interests, and committed the government to stabilizing all orangutan populations by 2017. “In the 10 years leading up to the national action plan, no orangutans had been released into the wild in Indonesia. The influence of the project was very significant in changing this,” said Dr. Jamartin Sihite, former Deputy Chief of Party of OCSP and currently the CEO of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, a prominent Indonesian nongovernmental organization dedicated to the rehabilitation and release of orphaned and stranded orangutans. Today, more than 160 orangutans have been released, thanks in part to the national action plan, which provides guidance on how to make the release of orangutans into the wild a national target in the orangutan conservation strategy.

In conjunction with the plan, the project developed a National Forum on Orangutan Conservation (FORINA), which continues to serve as an independent body that helps all stakeholders implement the national plan. Before the project, organizations that worked with orangutans “…didn’t always have a clear understanding of next steps, there was no scheme to meet and to discuss a plan of action. Now, well after OCSP, they have a forum to do this,” said Dr. Sihite. Regional forums have also been developed to serve on the community level.

Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas, a renowned anthropologist, primatologist, conservationist, ethologist, and author of several books relating to the endangered orangutan, recently noted that OCSP’s work is still much appreciated in orangutan conservation.

While pioneers like Dr. Galdikas have dedicated their lives to elevating the plight of the orangutans to an issue of global conservation significance, perhaps the greatest legacy of the OCSP is that it supported a passing of the baton to the new generation of Indonesian orangutan experts, such as Dr. Sihite. “As orangutans are found primarily in Indonesia, their protection can only be secured with the support of the Indonesian government and people,” said Paul Hartman, the former Director of the OCSP project, “who better to lead the charge in this effort than highly experienced and committed Indonesians.”

In addition to supporting the creation of FORINA, OCSP worked with more than 40 organizations in Indonesia and helped to develop the skills of leaders like Dr. Sihite and others. While the challenges in orangutan conservation are as great as ever, this is reason for optimism on this International Orangutan Day.



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