Posts Tagged ‘orangutans’


The "People of the Forest"

School students love to study orangutans. And, it’s really important they are given the opportunity to do this, and to gain an understanding of these incredible animals.

Today I thought I’d share some interesting facts about orangutans, many of which were first shared with my by students involved in the DeforestACTION program.

Recent studies have shown that orangutans are perhaps the closest living relatives to humans on the planet.

The term orangutan translates in English to ‘the People of the Forest’. This isn’t just some token term used for convenience. Orangutans are a lot more like us than most people think. For example, did you know:

  • Like humans, orangutans create and use tools designed to complete complex jobs – they even create umbrellas from leaves when it’s raining
  • They have all the same senses as humans including excellent colour vision, touch, taste, hearing and smell
  • They have thousands of facial expressions, including readable micro-expressions with the same number of facial muscles that create them as humans
  • They exhibit all the same emotions including love, anger, joy, sadness, elation, depression
  • They form lasting friendships and diverse relationships
  • They can learn to count, , learn colors and solve multi-layered (complex) problems
  • Orangutans have the same number of hairs as humans. Their hair is much thicker, and grows much longer all over than ours, but placement and number of folicles is much the same
  • They have the same bloody types – scientists believe we will soon be able to share organs with orangutans -note the use of the word share – not “take”
  •  Orangutans have 32 teeth, the same number as humans
  • They are Susceptible to human diseases and ailments, and respond to many human medications
  • Orangutans have a very similar cultural development process to humans, passing certain innovations, learnings and behaviors down through generations, just as we do
  • Female orangutans engage in social grooming more often than males – no comment
  • They have the same gestation period as humans, and infants are nursed by their mothers for up to six years, and can stay with them into their teens
  • Baby orangutans cry when they’re hungry or when they need their mothers just like baby humans
  • Orangutans have the same average lifespan as humans who do not have access to modern medical intervention
  • They go through a period of ‘sexual maturity’ very similar to puberty in humans, and females become fertile at roughly the same age as humans

Baby orangutans stay with their mothers for up to six years. There is so much to learn.

What do you think it will take before we as a species are capable of recognizing their unique and important similarities, and ‘assign’ them similar basic rights? I’d love to hear your thoughts?

Aside from the fact orangutans are majestic, wonderful and truly inspiring beings, they are also crucial to the success of the rainforest eco-system. Orangutans are a ‘keystone species” – which means they have a disproportionately large effect on other life they share the forest with.

They are the largest tree dwelling animal on earth, spreading seeds, biodiversity, fertilizer and macrobiotics essential for the development of rich rainforest. If we take them out of the equation, the eco-system will be seriously harmed.

In the last century, 92% of the orangutans have been killed by humans.

They are butchered to make way for palm oil plantations. Mothers are shot (often in the eyes) so the babies can be stolen and sold for illegal wildlife trades (babies are small enough to transport and can’t fight back). They are left homeless through deforestation, and they are tortured and abused in rotten cages, circuses, and even shaved and used for pornography and prostitution.

If you want to make a difference, visit www.deforestaction.org.  Empower your students to learn about, and take action to help the orangutan and keep them in the forests where they belong.

That the Orangutan is an animal of the human form, inside as well as outside: That he has the human intelligence, as much as can be expected in an animal living without civility or arts: That he has a disposition of mind, mild, docile, and humane: That he has the sentiments and affections peculiar to our species, such as the sense of modesty, of honour, and of justice; and likewise an attachment of love and friendship to one individual, so strong in some instances, that the one friend will not survive the other.
Lord Monboddo, 1774


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Ideas for awareness and fundraising

Entrepreneurial ideas from young people

What can teachers do to foster entrepreneurship in young people? The images and ideas below may provide some powerful clues.
The most recent, cutting edge, international study into 21st Century Skills conducted in partnership with Microsoft and SRI, concludes the single most powerful thing a teacher can do to help young people develop 21st Century Skills is to create learning experiences that require young people to use these skills. 
That is why DeforestACTION has become such a phenomenon.  It provides unique, highly engaging, and challenging conditions in which young people are required to demonstrate and develop high level 21st Century Skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration, information and media literacy,  and entrepreneurship.   

Young people care passionately about inheriting a planet that will sustain them-  this isn’t a pretend challenge – it’s a real as it gets, and that’s why engagement is so high.

In this post I am focussing on entrepreneurship and Innovation, and how we have seen these skills presented in DeforestACTION schools.  

Here are just some of the thousands of ideas young people have been bringing to this project recently to raise funds, awareness and Support. I’ll share more of these in upcoming posts.

1. Amelia Swan has launched a number of brilliant initiatives to create awarness for DeforestACTION.  To target the 18-30 year old market, she has created DeforestACTION stamps for distribution to popular night clubs, so every patron who enters the club will be stamped on their wrist to promote the cause. (the template for this stamp is available if you want to use this idea in your local area).

DeforestACTION stamp
Coming to a nightclub near you..

 Amelia is also distributing business cards across her region to promote the cause and raise awareness.

Business Cards
promotional business cards by Amelia Swan

2. Students at Dallas Primary School in Victoria Australia have raised over $3,000 selling Merangue-utans (a play on merangues – a popular Australian desert food):


Dallas Primary School and Kindergarten Merangue-utan fundraiser project

3. Royal College in Sri-Lanka organized a DeforestACTION march with over 9,000 participants, calling for the end of illegal palm oil manufacturing.  This was accompanied by a student developed and produced television commercial which was played across the whole of Sri-Lanka on free to air TV.  They also established an international study-buddy program to involve schools in awareness raising and sharing. 

Royal College Sri-Lanka

Royal College was one of the founding DeforestACTION schools

 4. Silverton Primary School invited over 100 students from neighbouring schools to participate in a DeforestACTION student-lead conference.  This involved participating in science experiments, music challenges, and playing a range of DeforestACTION games including the orangutan survival game, and palm oil bowling.  Students raised over $2,000 for DeforestACTION.

Over 100 students came together to collaborate on DeforestACTION projects, and to develop new solutions and awareness raising campaigns.

Palm Oil Bowling

Palm oil farming is like rolling a giant bowling ball into the forests and destroying everything in its path

5. Similar scenes have been witnessed in schools around the world, like in Kadina, South Australia, where students from all over the Penisula arrived on buses, marquets were set up and scientists, museum experts, conservation groups and local parent clubs joined forces for a day of learning around DeforestACTION.  Microsoft Partners in Learning were called on to provide sponsorship bags and trinkets, which the students filled with their own collateral and entrepreneurial ideas to take back and develop in their schools.


Community awareness day organized by students and Microsoft Innovative Teacher Worldwide Award winner (now Principal) Mark Sparvell

6. Taroona High School students have raised over $3,000 selling DeforestACTION land as  Valentine’s Day Gift Vouchers.  The students and teachers (some of the most amazing and inspirational on the planet) also created the very popular facebook character Orrie-Anotan who has gone viral on social media, and is responsible for raising nearly $5,000 for DeforestACTION.  At the time of this posting Orrie-Anotan was leading the DeforestACTION points board and is a front runner to be featured in the 3D Movie.  

Orrie Anotan

Social Media hero Orrie Anotan (and check out his friend Tas DeVille) set up by students to raise awareness and funds for DeforestACTION.

Each of the initiatives from Taroona was accompanied by an awareness brochure on the dangers of Palm Oil.

Palm Oil Brochure
Students are distributing thousands of brochures highlighting products that contain Palm Oil.

7. Students at Cleveland District High School are taking their promotion to the street, backing one of their teachers to become an action hero for the upcoming 3D Movie, Borneo 3D: An Action Movie.

Cleveland High School

8. Joshua Nicolau spent one day skating around his city on a skateboard holding a double sided DeforestACTION sign, dressed as an orangutan and generated significant media interest.

Tom Smith from Bristol mirrored this effort in the UK.

Skating for a cause
Skating for a cause

9.Young people in Florida are working with the Tampa Zoo to have the orangutans promote their own cause through DeforestACTION.

orangutans promoting their cause

Who better to speak for the orangutans?

10. DeforestACTION champions aged 8-50 years have had articles published in hundreds of newspapers, television stations, radio programs and online news media across the planet.  To generate this kind of media, some  amazing connections were made, and stunts pulled.  This requires a seperate post to explore.


Toby Crocker with Hollywood superstar Jason Statham

 There are hundreds of highly creative DeforestACTION / Borneo 3D videos on YouTUBE with some incredible ideas and talent demonstrated to share the message. 

Here is one of the many songs young people have written about DeforestACTION (in this case by a teacher). It speaks for itself:

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Imagine if young people from across the planet could log into their PCs and start a face to face chat with a real orangutan, where technology acted as a translator, allowing these young people to understand exactly what the orangutans were trying to say.

What might students learn from these amazing ‘people of the jungle’, particularly as they gain an appreciation of their intelligence and personality by engaging with animals  for the first time ever via meaningful dialogue or complex games?   What kind of respect might students develop for other species when they are beaten by them in memory games or other challenges that orangutans excel at?   Could young people build meaningful relationships, even friendships with orangutans, while sharing information about how they view the world?  

The answer is YES, and this is exactly what the DeforestACTION team are putting together, based on another of the inspired ideas of Dr.Willie Smits.


Young people can interact, talk and play with orangutans online

The first step has been to install some state of the art multi-touch Windows 7 machines (housed in high impact resistant frames and cases) for the orangutans to use.   This is nothing new.  The Georgia Zoo in Atlanta has been experimenting with touch screen games, interactions and menu selection for orangutans for years.

Students using Touchscreen

Students will be able to use their Windows 7 machines to interact and build relationships with orangutans

On the other side, students from across the planet will be able to log into a Windows 7 app, either on their PC or Smart Phone, and sign up to meet or play against an orangutan.  In simple memory games (e.g. flipping pairs of cards over to match up like cards), orangutans have a far better memory than most humans, so in playing these primary school type games, students (and adults) will typically lose.


To truly make connections, we need to be able to read the facial expressions of the people (or animals) we are engaging with.  Humans are born with an incredible ability to decode many thousands of facial expressions in other humans.  A significant portion of the brain is dedicated to exactly this function.  In fact, most communication experts believe over 90% of our communication occurs through body language and facial expression decoding. 

What humans can’t do at all well is interpret facial expressions of other animals, including orangutans. 


One of the most exciting developments in this project, is the adaption of some of the work being done by Professor Paul Ekman, who has been researching the link between emotions and facial expressions.

Software built on Ekman’s Facial Action Coding System (FACS) can taxonomize every human facial expression and convert them to animated format – this is used in movies like Avatar and other animated movies to ensure the characters we see on screen reflect the personalities behind the animations – think Mike Myers in Shrek.

Using new software to be released on the DeforestACTION site later this year,  it will be possible for avatars to translate the emotions  of orangutans into human terms in real time using avatars.  This will use Enkman’s FACS technology  mapped against orangutans (who also exhibit thousands of facial expressions).

Avatar translation

Students can understand the facial expressions and emotions of orangutans via avatars as they befriend them online.

So, students will know if an orangutan is smiling, laughing, frowning, bored, interested, angry etc.  They will know if an orangutan is happy to see them again – “hey, he recognized me”.  They will know if the orangutan is proud when he wins in a memory or pattern recognition game (especially when they see him/her rewarded with food for winning).


As people increase their appreciation for and wonder of the animals who share this planet, resistance to destroying the habitats that sustain them will grow.  A global awareness of the importance and value of the animals in our world is essential in creating the support and activism required to halt the destruction of the forests.  The DeforestsAction team believe this technology will provide an important contribution to that awareness.

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