Population Matters

Putting a Human Face on Animal Extinction

November 23rd, 2009

Psychologists tell us that it’s a lot easier to understand a problem if it’s possible to put a human face on it.  It’s easy to put a human face on the starvation that population pressures can contribute to; not so easy to put a human face on what population pressures and a loss of habitat can do to endangered species.  But a story from MSNBC about efforts to save the Sumatran orangutan succeeds in doing just that.

I could write a blog about how habitat loss due to deforestation is endangering two species of Sumatran Orangutans, and how only 6,000 are now left.  I could even cite a Sumatran Orangutan Society factoid about how “Every minute, every day an area equal to six football fields of Indonesian forest disappears.”  But what does all that really mean?  How can we put a human face on this problem?

Well, the answer to that question can best be seen in a still photo taken from the MSNBC story.  The photo shows a young Sumatran orangutan under sedation with a plastic tube running into her nose.  Looking at that photo, it’s not hard to see the close genetic bond that we humans share with the orangutans, and harder still not to feel concern for their survival.

Fortunately, the orangutan in the photo is healthy; she was merely taken in for medical observation after her mother was shot and killed by a farmer.  The young orangutan was just being rehabilitated and will be placed in a special reserve.  But what about the other 6,000 orangutans that are living in unprotected areas undergoing deforestation?  Too bad we can’t put a human face on them as well.

NBC News Image

NBC News Image

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

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