Some days are just better than others and April 14 was one of those days. I got an email from Colleen Reed, a primate keeper at the Oregon Zoo, asking for assistance spreading the word about Outpace Extinction: Race for the Redheads, a 5K, 10K, and Kids Fun Run to raise support and awareness for the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP). This family-friendly fundraiser takes place on May 15 at Blue Lake Park in Fairview, Oregon, just east of Portland.
I’m a huge animal lover and conservationist so I immediately jumped at the chance to help promote this important running event. During our call Colleen shared orangutans, one of the most intelligent of the great apes, are on the brink of extinction due to ongoing destruction of their habitat.
The Portland chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers and the Oregon Road Runners Club have joined forces to establish this inaugural race, but your help is needed to make it a success and raise awareness and support for orangutans.
It was an honor connecting with Colleen who has worked at the Oregon Zoo for the past three years and has been involved in several outreach programs to educate the public on issues facing wild orangutans and chimpanzees. When I asked her what she liked most about her job, she didn’t hesitate to respond, “I get to work with passionate people, as well as some of the most intelligent creatures on the planet!” And then she went on to share more about orangutans and the race.
What was the inspiration for Race for the Redheads?
My friend and co-worker Scott and I are primate keepers at the Oregon Zoo. We love the animals we work with and are passionate about helping them thrive in the wild. I wanted to combine my love for running with a fun, family-friendly event that would educate the public on palm oil and how it affects endangered orangutans throughout Indonesia and Malaysia. This is where Outpace Extinction: Race for the Redheads was born.
Why are Orangutans endangered?
The biggest threat orangutans face today is the loss of habitat from forest degradation as a result of monoculture palm plantations. The illegal pet trade is also a huge issue. It’s not possible to take a baby orangutan away from its mother without killing the mother first. For every baby orangutan in the pet trade there is, sadly, a dead mother.
What is palm oil and how is it affecting Orangutans?
Palm oil is widely used in a variety of processed foods, cleaners, and health and beauty products. When produced unsustainably, palm oil production destroys tropical forests and displaces the animals who depend on them. The animals who live in these forests (particularly the orangutan) die as a result of starvation and malnutrition or are deliberately killed. Additionally, habitat fragmentation as a result of this practice further degrades viable populations by breaking them up into several nonviable populations that are unable to survive in the long term.
Indonesia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, and Sumatra has lost nearly half of its forests in the last 25 years. The Sumatran Orangutan population has declined drastically as a result of this “slash and burn” style of agriculture. It’s estimated that only 6,600 Sumatran Orangutans remain in the wild—without our help it’s likely the Sumatran Orangutan will be extinct within our lifetime.
What’s unique about the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme?
SOCP is the foremost authority on the status and distribution of remaining wild Sumatran Orangutans and is active in the battle to save the species remaining wild habitat. Since its founding in 1999, over 200 orangutans have been brought to its quarantine center and more than 220 have been transferred to the rain forest for reintroduction.
The organization covers many different aspects of the conservation issue; they don’t just focus on one piece of the puzzle, but on the larger issue. Scott and I know Ian, the organization’s Director, personally and believe in what he and his team are doing. Scott visited the center a few years ago and saw firsthand the amazing work SOCP is doing. The organization continues to take a leading role in surveying and monitoring the status of all remaining wild orangutan populations in Sumatra using remote sensing and field surveys to record presence or absence, density estimates, and threats and population trends.
What are your race day volunteer needs?
We still have several openings for volunteers. All of our volunteer needs are listed on the race website and include timeframe and commitment.
What is your greatest goal for the future of Orangutans?
For them to have a forest in which to thrive. Unfortunately, with the mass amount of illegal expansion of palm oil plantations this is not possible right now. We’re hoping the government will take responsibility and enforce its own laws. Just 50 years ago there were around 250,000 orangutans; now there are less than 60,000 and of those, 6,000 Sumatran orangutans.
Where can we learn more about Orangutans?
A fantastic resource for information about orangutans throughout Indonesia is Orangutan Outreach.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Anybody can help in this effort. If you can’t be there on Sunday, May 15 you can always donate or buy a t-shirt to help promote the race but more importantly, to help the orangutans!
Get all the details about Outpace Extension: Race for the Redheads and then register as a runner, walker or volunteer. It’s a great event for the whole family. Look for me — I’ll be there as a volunteer.
Images provided by Colleen Reed, William Jackson, and Ian Singleton