The orangutan, one of our closest living relatives, is being pushed toward extinction by human actions, a staggering challenge being addressed by a variety of campaigns, the most demonstrably successful of which is premised on education aimed at behavior modification, and which I plan to expand to Indonesia.
Humans conserve the species we love, love only the species we understand, and understand only what we are taught. The chief threat to orangutans, with whom we share 97% of our DNA, is habitat destruction due to human activities, primarily illegal logging for palm oil plantations. Endemic corruption in Indonesia ensures that existing regulations and protections are flouted, making more regulation via official channels an ill-suited solution. The education and behavior modification program “Don’t Palm Us Off” has shown success internationally, but has yet to be tested in Indonesia. Success depends upon local people feeling invested in and having a sense of ownership over conservation outcomes. As such, it is of paramount importance that Indonesian people be educated about the long-term consequences that are currently being traded for short-term financial gain.