'Orang' and 'utan' are the Malay words meaning 'person' and 'forest'; the orangutan is literally a 'person of the forest'.



Indonesia suffers from one of the highest rates of deforestation, most of it illegal, with around 3 million hectares lost each year - that’s 10 football pitches every minute! Deforestation has always been the main threat to the orangutan, but the reasons for this have changed.  Initially, the international demand for hardwood fuelled the growth in the industry and even today much of the wood product exports from Indonesia come from illegal sources.

The greatest reason for this loss recently is through palm oil plantations. Firstly the land is clear cut and then the wood debris is burnt, illegally, to get rid of it quickly; the ash also acts as a good fertilizer for the soil.  The burning of forests makes Indonesia the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, with 75% of its emissions a result of deforestation. Indonesia and Malaysia are the largest palm oil producers in the world with demand for it increasing as a bio-fuel (to be used as an alternative to petrol or diesel), as well as its use as an ingredient in one out of every 10 supermarket products such as crisps, chocolate and detergents.  To find out more read the Palm Oil factsheet in the Related Resources section below.

Burning the forests kills thousands of orangutans every year and once exposed, they are more vulnerable and can easily get shot, especially if they are found in the palm oil plantation itself, caught searching for food among the farmers’ crops.  Logging roads make the forests much more accessible to poachers.  Sometimes they kill the mothers and sell the infants as pets.

Read More: The Trade in Baby Orangutans

Related Resources