I had the absolute pleasure recently to talk to the lovely people at the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS). The SOS are based in Abingdon, they have a small office but are doing big things!
They first came onto my radar back in February when they partnered with artist Ernest Zacharevic to carve a huge SOS into an oil palm plantation. It was a massive statement about what they stand for and the obstacles that they, and the orangutans they are working tirelessly to save, face.
Since then I have learnt about the amazing work that this small team are accomplishing daily and they are definitely worth your attention.
Sumatran orangutans are critically endangered – which means that the species is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. There are only around 14,600 individuals left in the wild, and with their survival at risk from several different issues, it is vital that we support those who are working to save them and bring them back from the brink.
SOS help by working with teams on the ground, funding orangutan rescues, replanting areas of forest which have been chopped down or burnt, campaigning against infrastructure projects which threaten rainforests, plus working with locals to find economically viable sources of income – which means preserving forests and the species that inhabit them. Their work not only supports the survival of the orangutans but also benefits other species that share the habitat such as elephants, tigers and rhinos. Through working to save the orangutans and their habitat, SOS are also saving these other important species and also helping to mitigate climate change and prevent the flooding of local areas.
SOS aim to save the orangutans, the forests that they call home and establish a future for the species. They aim to ensure that orangutans have somewhere sustainable and safe to live in the wild for generations to come. This is only going to become a reality if we can support them in their work to get protected areas which are free from logging, new roads and poaching – and where these rules are enforced effectively. To do this, SOS work with local people who have direct impact on the orangutans. They ensure that local communities become defenders of the forest rather than destroyers. They teach organic agroforestry techniques as this helps them to grow better quality and a wider range of crops. This, in turn, means that they are less likely to chop down the rainforests to gain more agricultural land. Hand in hand with that they encourage local people to help with reforestation efforts, which is a supported initiative as these local communities experience first-hand the effect of deforestation on their lives, e.g. effects on their water supply.
Did you know? Orangutans make a new nest every night to sleep in.
The work of SOS is vital to the continued survival of the orangutans. Their future plan is to continue to grow and give out more funding to local NGOs in Sumatra to enable them to do vital work on the ground to save orangutans and their habitat. However, as many in the charity sector are facing, their main challenge is to ensure continuing income for large-scale landscape projects.
Funders are often drawn towards new, innovative projects but sometimes what charities need is boots on the ground, doing the day to day work that is so important to the survival of the species. Boots on the ground work hard to fight against deforestation, poaching and rescuing orangutans.
As a charity their most recent annual income was £975,000, most of which goes directly to help projects on the ground in Sumatra, as they have a minimal team of staff in the UK. So, by supporting them as a charity you are having a huge impact in Sumatra, which is amazing! SOS work with Orangutan Information Centre, who are a sister charity that was set up in 2001. They do the community agroforestry restoration & education work and also carry out orangutan rescues. They also work with the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme who run Sumatra’s only orangutan rehabilitation programme. They take in injured orangutans, nurse them back to health and train them for release back into the wild. They also work with other partners who help with measuring the impact that the charity is having and conducting feasibility studies to ensure that proposed new projects are the best use of the charities income.
Did you know? Babies stay with their mothers the longest known time of any mammal other than humans. This can be for up to 9 years. Part of this is because they need to learn how to find and eat over 400 types of fruit which make up their diet.
So, what can we do to help support the plight of the orangutans?
We should all try to ensure that any products that we buy contain sustainable palm oil. Educate yourself to know what products to avoid and eat sustainably. Companies are waking up to consumer demand for sustainable produce – for example Iceland is leading the way for supermarkets in the UK to boycott unsustainable palm oil.
If you write or tweet companies and supermarkets asking them about the sustainability of the palm oil they use, we can help to put consumer pressure on them to ensure that they take this issue seriously and implement change.
Also, every donation helps. It costs around £5 to plant and nurture a new tree in the rainforest, which within just 5 years can become home to an orangutan for one night!
The work that SOS have done, and continue to, to save the orangutans from the brink of extinction is outstanding. The dedication of this small office in Abingdon is proof that with the right attitude and determination, you don’t have to big in size to make significant impact in the world.
It was a privilege and a pleasure to hear about the work that SOS do and I hope that they continue to do this amazing work and that the future for both them, and the orangutans, is bright.
Written by Rebecca Hansell, 27th May 2018
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