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Orangutan conservationist active in Sumatra honored by Queen Elizabeth

Apriadi Gunawan

The Jakarta Post

Medan  /  Tue, October 13, 2020  /  02:04 pm
Orangutan conservationist active in Sumatra honored by Queen Elizabeth

Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) co-founder Ian Singleton (right) interacts with an orangutan. (Courtesy of Orangutan Outreach/

Orangutan conservationist Ian Singleton has been bestowed the highly esteemed Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Britain's Queen Elizabeth for his notable contributions to environmental conservation throughout his career.

Singleton – who cofounded the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) in 2000 – said he was honored to receive the prestigious award, noting that his accomplishments were the result of collaborations with various stakeholders, including his team of fellow conservationists and the Indonesian Environment and Forestry Ministry.

“I am so proud to have received the award from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. This is certainly something my family and I will never forget,” Singleton told The Jakarta Post after learning that he had been named a recipient of the OBE on Monday.

Some other figures, including those who have made a significant contribution to the ongoing coronavirus mitigation efforts in the United Kingdom, also received the honor as part of this year's Queen's Birthday Honors List.

Born in England, Singleton started his career as a conservationist in 1989, when he worked at the Jersey Zoo on the Channel Islands. Seven years later, he left England to study wild orangutans in Sumatra, while also pursuing his Ph.D from the University of Kent in the UK.

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In 2000, he cofounded the SOCP in collaboration with Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari, the Natural Resource and Ecosystem Conservation (KSDAE) Directorate General and the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

Singleton considered his 2017 discovery of a new orangutan species – the Pongo tapanuliensis, also known as the Tapanuli orangutan – alongside other scientists in North Sumatra to be one of his most memorable accomplishments.

“Years of our hard work have been recognized,” he said.

“The [OBE] is a recognition of every dedicated member of the conservationist team, the majority of whom are Indonesian.”

He went on to say that his mission to protect and preserve orangutans was far from over, given that many orangutans in Sumatra are still held in illegal captivity or displaced across fragmented forest areas.

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Singleton vowed to return the distressed orangutans to their safe natural habitats.

“It’s an important undertaking, because the orangutans that have been brought back to the forests will be able to contribute to the future of their species,” Singleton said, adding that his team had returned a significant number of specimens to forests in Aceh and Jambi to help create a genetically sustainable orangutan population.

There are only 13,400 wild Sumatran orangutans left, according to him. Most of the animals were concentrated around Aceh’s Leuser ecosystem, he said.

Around 800 Tapanuli orangutans were scattered across North Sumatra’s Batang Toru ecosystem, he added.

“These two orangutan species are considered critically endangered. The Tapanuli orangutans in particular are on the verge of extinction,” Singleton said, while calling on the public to contribute to present conservation efforts. (rfa)