by Rita Goldner
In the very early stages of research for my children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Day in the Rainforest Canopy, I sketched and painted the orangutan family at the Phoenix Zoo. My initial attraction had occurred because their observation area is the only air-conditioned one, an important consideration when sketching in the summer. But as I started to love these fascinating and beautiful creatures, I wanted to learn more.
I’ve been an artist and a wildlife enthusiast for most of my life, so it seemed a natural fit to write and illustrate a picture book about an orangutan. I wanted to make the book as scientifically accurate as possible, even though the audience will be mostly 5 to 8 years old, or younger if someone reads to them. Ironically, I didn’t even include a lot of the information I discovered about the orangutans’ habitat and their prospects for the future because it’s too sad. I decided I couldn’t beat up the kids with grown-up world problems. My hope is to get kids to love and respect orangutans so they can make a difference when they grow up.
My audience for this blog, with Phoenix Publishing & Book Marketing, is adult, so I’m sharing what I’ve learned in the hope we all can make a difference now. The big factor causing orangutans’ endangered status is the destruction of their rainforest habitat. Logging, clearing forest trees for palm oil plantations, and urban expansion are the major contributors. There are about 50,000 orangutans left in the wild, less than 7000 of them in Sumatra, and the rest in Borneo. They are remarkably similar to humans in terms of anatomy, physiology, and behavior, sharing about 97 percent of their DNA with humans.
Unfortunately, orangutans have a very slow recovery from any population-reducing disaster or condition because an adult female in the wild, starting at about age 14 to15, has one baby every 8 years. So at the most, she will have 4 offspring during her lifetime, which is about 45 to 50 years.
Several thousand orangutans have been killed in the last decade, so reversing the decline in numbers or even slowing down the race toward extinction seems an impossible prospect. According to my correspondence with experts, it IS impossible without much stricter enforcement of laws, and worldwide education. My hope and my agenda in writing and illustrating this book are that a generation of children become educated about orangutans and the natural world, and that the adults reading to them will help by at least reducing their consumption of palm oil.
I just launched the website OrangutanDay.com for marketing the book and educating/entertaining people with little stories and facts about orangutans. There’s an activity page for kids, too. Twenty percent of book sales will go to various orangutan foundations that rescue injured and orphaned wild orangutans.
Rita Goldner is the author of the children’s eBooks Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, both titles in Jackson’s Adventure Series. Rita’s forthcoming book, Orangutan: A Day in the Rainforest Canopy, will be released in print in autumn 2015. To view additional illustrations and other books in progress, visit Rita’s website. For orangutan facts and images, visit OrangutanDay.com. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook.