07/06/2013 05:47 pm ET Updated Sep 05, 2013

World Orangutan Day: A Celebration of Conservation

As one of the people supporting the inaugural launch of World Orangutan Day, we're billing it as one of the biggest events ever for orangutans. The event was conceived as a means to show our gratitude and support to the men and women who work tirelessly at their rescue and conservation.

As a world first, this event will see five major orangutan rescue groups gathered in a global celebration of the orangutan and their saviors.

  • Borneo Orangutan Survival
  • the Indonesian chapter of International Animal Rescue/ Yayasan IAR
  • Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme
  • Orangutan Information Centre
  • and the Centre for Orangutan Protection.

Cumulatively, these groups have saved thousands of these gentle creatures from certain death whether in the pet trade as in this video from Centre for Orangutan Protection or from palm oil plantations as seen in one of the most dramatic rescues in 2013 by Yayasan IAR

So it was with great excitement that we recruited volunteers, created a website and social media buzz and signed up orangutan rescue support groups from Australia to the U.S., U.K. and Europe to witness the birthing of a truly global event.

Then a mini damper for me personally came in the form of an 11-year-old smart ass. Pretty well informed on animals facing extinction, her question innocently enough was "Why are you calling the orangutan an endangered animal going into extinction when there's so many thousands left?"

I was stunned. Usually kids her age eat up whatever I tell them. Then the nasty realization hit; we've written off the orangutans. She was right. There are unverified counts of some 45,000 orangutans left in Borneo, possibly 7,000 of a different subspecies in Sumatra. These are not panda-like numbers or even Sumatran rhino or tiger-like numbers that are in the low hundreds.

So why the big fuss? Are we being alarmists like Chicken Little freaking out over every new report of "alarming" loss of forest habitats and "alarming" decline in populations?

Not really, the truth is their future remains very uncertain. Whether its fires like those of 1997 that wiped out thousands of orangutans( these fires whether man made or natural occur every year albeit on smaller scales ) or the ongoing removal of their habitats for palm oil, mining and other human activities, the orangutans will go extinct unless something drastic is done today. I honestly do not expect much in the way of drastic measures by either the Malaysian or Indonesian governments to save the existing populations. Reports like this case where the government issued licenses for 21.7 million hectares for palm oil plantations and mines when it only had 19.8 million hectares of real land serves grim notice.

These two countries are the only places in the world that have orangutan populations and while they vigorously defend the percentage of forest canopy still present today, the one thing they won't tell you is that the orangutans live in severely fragmented habitats. Poor planning for development has created multiple pocket populations of orangutans in habitats that will not sustain them. Conservationists that I've spoken to have written off the smaller populations as they prepare to throw all available resources to save the bigger more viable populations.

This fact alone, should be reason enough for every concerned person to mark down August 19 2013, on their calendar.

Let's not write them off just yet and celebrate the fact that there are still "so many thousands" of orangutans left. We need every compassionate soul there is in the world to join the event and for corporations to participate as we thank the men and women that rescue and protect orangutans, on World Orangutan Day.