Today I spent my day packing for another trip. I am heading off to Borneo and Sumatra in Indonesia to photograph one of the most wonderful animals that I have ever met – the wild orangutan. In Malay, orangutan means  “man or person of the forest”. There are two species of orangutan, the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) and the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus). While both have shaggy reddish fur, Sumatran orangutans have longer facial hair and are slightly darker in color. Scientists believe that the Sumatran orangutans have closer social bonds than their Bornean cousins. Bornean orangutans are more likely to descend from the trees to move around on the ground. While both are endangered, the Sumatran orangutan is on the IUCN’s critically endangered red list.

Photographer Jami Tarris holding up umbrella during tropical rain storm, Tanjung Puting National Park, East Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia, endangered species, threatened through loss of habitat

Photographer Jami Tarris protecting her camera gear during tropical rain storm, Tanjung Puting National Park, East Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia: endangered species threatened through loss of habitat. ©Theo Allofs

Many Americans don’t know that around 100,000 fires have been burning rainforests in Borneo and Sumatra since July. Schools were closed and more than 6,000 people suffered from acute respiratory infections.  The fires were intentionally set by palm oil plantations to clear areas away in order to plant more palms. Due to lack of rains, the fires have been burning out of control for months destroying precious habitat of the orangutans and other animals. Much of the forested areas in Indonesia and Malaysia are on tropical peat soil which is so carbon-rich that it burns forever once it starts going. Lack of rain and intentional draining of the peatlands by the palm plantations has contributed to these fires. Peat soil stores enormous amounts of carbon. Clearing and draining these swampy peatlands leads to heat-trapping emissions for years. The recent fires have torched the peatlands and have emitted about 1.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents.

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Conservationists say the situation for Orangutans is dire and deteriorating by the day. Photograph: Rosa Panggabean/Antara Foto/Reuters

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International Animal Rescue and the Agency of Conservation of Natural Resources of Ketapang rescue of a female orangutan and her infant from forest fires in Ketapang, West Borneo.
Palm oil is cheap. It is used in thousands of products that people use every day, from baked goods, to cosmetics to household cleaning products.  There is a huge demand for this product. Indonesia and Malaysia, who have large tropical forests, are the dominant producers of palm oil in the world today. Many animals are being driven toward extinction as their natural habitat is being converted into massive oil palm plantations. The orangutan, the Sumatran tiger, rhino, elephant, sun bear are just a few species that live in Borneo and Sumatra.

And, I am sorry for the gloomy blog – I will lighten it up in my next blog, I promise.  I just need to get this story out to everyone. It weighs so heavy on my heart. These orangutans are precious. There are various studies about this great ape that say that we humans share somewhere between 96% and 98% of the same DNA. We cannot risk losing them….

Last comment: Please look on labels of products that you buy for palm oil. We can all make a difference…..thanks everyone!

Jami Tarris

5 replies
  1. Focus Expeditions
    Focus Expeditions says:

    Really nice blog Jami. It’s just so hard to get the world in general about what is happeni8ng out of sight and out of mind. Good luck on your trip. Images can change our perceptions. It’s over to you now!

  2. wayne Woodward
    wayne Woodward says:

    This situation is so very disturbing Jami – so much about it saddens and concerns me greatly. Your past images of the orangutans show such an emotional connection. Lets hope more and more people see the work and are moved to act.

  3. Jill
    Jill says:

    It is still so hard to believe these horrendous practices continue and just how many products contain palm oil. Frighting . Thank you for sharing this information.
    Jill

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