9 Best Charities for Protecting Orangutans (Complete 2021 List)

9 Best Charities for Protecting Orangutans (Complete 2021 List)

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Carla Shaik

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Orangutans are now only native to two countries in the world; Indonesia and Malaysia. And all three species of orangutans are now classed as critically endangered due to palm oil farming, the wildlife trade, and deforestation. But thankfully, charities around the world are now working to rescue and rehabilitate orangutans to preserve the species for future generations. So we had to ask: What are the best charities for protecting orangutans?

The best charities for protecting orangutans in terms of overall impact are Borneo Orangutan Survival and Save the Orangutan Foundation. Charities such as Wild Think and the Center for Great Apes do amazing work providing enrichment and mental stimulation to captive orangutans in sanctuaries and zoos.

Whether you want to stop palm oil farming from decimating wild orangutan populations, or improve the lives of captive orangutans, or simply ensure that these enigmatic animals are around for future generations to admire, there is a charity for you. Keep reading to learn more about what the best charities for protecting orangutans are all about, how they work, and what your best way would be to make a contribution.

Here’s What All the Best Charities for Protecting Orangutans Have in Common

The charities on this list were chosen based on their mission, impact and transparency ratings, and achievements. They operate all over the world from America to Indonesia, providing care and protection to wild orangutans and those residing in sanctuaries.

Many of the charities on this list focus their efforts on rescuing and rehabilitating vulnerable orangutans affected by deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade. Others focus their attention on educating local communities in forest protection and sustainable agriculture techniques to prevent further destruction of the orangutans’ remaining natural habitat. Yet all of them share the same goal – to ensure the survival of the critically endangered orangutan.

These Are the 9 Best Charities for Protecting Orangutans

Below are our favorite charities for protecting orangutans (you can click on their link to directly jump to their section in this article):

(At the end of this article we’ll also share our six-step approach on how you can select the best charity to support.)

Borneo Orangutan Survival: Rescuing Vulnerable Orangutans

Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) was founded in 1991 by Dr. Willie Smits to conserve critically endangered Bornean orangutans and their habitats. Today, the charity is the largest orangutan conservation organization in the world; managing orangutan rescue, rehabilitation, and release programs.

Their impact and transparency ratings: According to their financial report, Borneo Orangutan Survival spent 76% of its income on orangutan conservation programs and 8% on management and general expenses. 

“To restore the natural balance for Bornean orangutans.”

Borneo Orangutan Survival

What they do: Borneo Orangutan Survival rescues orangutans that have been injured or orphaned by deforestation and the wildlife trade. Once a call is made to the charity, their vets attend the scene and the orangutan is brought back to one of the centers for intense medical care before being released back into the wild. If needed, some orangutans are provided sanctuary in the charity’s forest school to learn the skills required to survive in the wild prior to release. Borneo Orangutan Survival also works closely with indigenous communities to protect and restore the last remaining wild orangutan habitats. 

What they’ve achieved: To date, Borneo Orangutan Survival has rescued over 2,500 orangutans and they currently care for 432 individuals at their rehabilitation centers. Since 2012, and thanks to the charity’s intense reintroduction efforts, 22 births have been recorded in wild orangutan populations and their vets have treated 161 medical cases in 122 wild orangutans. Today, Borneo Orangutan Survival protects 1.1 million acres of forest which is home to an estimated 2,550 wild orangutans.

Ways to contribute: You can donate directly to Borneo Orangutan Survival through their website. You can also support the charity by symbolically adopting an orangutan or by purchasing items from their online shop.

Save The Orangutan Foundation: Saving the Critically Endangered Orangutans in Borneo

Save The Orangutan Foundation was set up in 2015 by Daniella Brandt to raise awareness of the severe deforestation that is threatening the survival of orangutan populations in Borneo. Today, the charity raises funds to rescue vulnerable orangutans and creates public campaigns to raise awareness of their plight.

Their impact and transparency ratings: According to their financial report, Save The Orangutan Foundation spent 80.5% of its income on conservation projects and raising awareness, 8.7% on fundraising activities, and 4.5% on administration.

“To save and protect the critically endangered orangutan and its habitats.”

Save The Orangutan Foundation

What they do: Save The Orangutan Foundation financially supports the world’s largest orangutan rehabilitation centers in Borneo. The charity has also set up permanent rainforest island sanctuaries at the Nyaru Menteng and Samboja Lestari rehabilitation centers for those orangutans that have been too traumatized or injured to be released back into the wild. In addition, they work to restore orangutan forest habitat and campaign for the protection and conservation of larger forest areas.

What they’ve achieved: Between 2012 and 2020, Save The Orangutan Foundation rehabilitated and released 468 orangutans back into the wild. During the same period, they supported the care of 295 orangutans at Nyaru Menteng rehabilitation center, and 122 at the Samboja Lestari center. In 2020, the foundation replanted 37,778 trees which equates to 34 hectares of orangutan habitat. They now protect and monitor 11,500 wild orangutans.

Ways to contribute: You can donate directly to Save The Orangutan Foundation through their website. You can also support the charity by volunteering for two weeks at the Samboja Lestari rehabilitation center.

Orangutan Foundation: A Future for Orangutans, Forests, & People

The Orangutan Foundation was founded in 1990 by Ashley Leiman OBE after visiting the Tanjung Puting National Park in Indonesian Borneo, which is home to around 40,000 orangutans. Today, the Foundation runs various orangutan conservation programs in the area and works to educate local communities in best management practices for local wild orangutan populations.

Their impact and transparency ratings: According to their financial report, the Orangutan Foundation spent 80% of its income on charitable activities, 11% on governance and support, and 9% on fundraising.

“Saving orangutans by protecting their tropical forest habitat, working with local communities, and promoting research and education.”

Orangutan Foundation

What they do: The Orangutan Foundation works with the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry to run orangutan conservation projects in Central Kalimantan, Borneo. They do this by running regular manned guard posts and forest patrols to prevent poaching and illegal logging practices. In the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve, the charity is actively planting tree saplings in critical orangutan habitat through their Forest Restoration Project. In addition, they offer regular talks to local schools and universities to provide students with the tools they need to protect the surrounding forests.

What they’ve achieved: Today, the Orangutan Foundation actively protects 1,745,400 acres of tropical forest across three reserves, which are home to around 8,100 orangutans. Since the launch of their Forest Restoration Program, they have now planted over 112,000 tree saplings in areas that have been damaged by fires. 

Ways to contribute: You can donate directly to the Orangutan Foundation through their website. You can also support the charity by sponsoring an acre of critical orangutan habitat or by purchasing items from their online shop

The Orangutan Project: Leading Projects to Save all Orangutan Species

The Orangutan Project was founded in 1998 by world-renowned orangutan expert Leif Cocks as a result of his 30-year career working with orangutans. Today, the charity funds and supports organizations that work to address the critical issues facing fragmented orangutan populations.

Their impact and transparency ratings: According to their financial report, The Orangutan Project spent 63.1% of its income on conservation projects, 27.7% on investment to generate future income, and 9.2% on administration.

“We lead and sponsor projects on the ground that help protect orangutans and their forest homes.”

The Orangutan Project

What they do: The Orangutan Project works to rescue wild orangutans from poaching, deforestation, and black market sales. The orangutans are then brought to the Centre for Orangutan Protection for treatment and rehabilitation. The charity is also working with local governments in Indonesia to legally protect all orangutan habitats as currently only 20% of these areas are protected. In addition, the charity works with like-minded organizations to restore orangutan habitat by planting tree seedlings and involving local communities in their care.

What they’ve achieved: To date, The Orangutan Project has rescued, rehabilitated, and released 341 orangutans back into the wild. In addition, they have provided orangutan education classes to over 100 local schools and communities and set up over 20 community development programs for sustainable agriculture in Indonesia. The charity now protects 1,195,992 acres of forest which is home to 4,500 wild orangutans.

Ways to contribute: You can donate directly to the Orangutan Project through their website. You can also support the charity by virtually adopting an orangutan or by donating to protect an area of forest.

Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS): Protecting Wild Sumatran Orangutans

The Sumatran Orangutan Society was founded in 2001 by Lucy Wisdom after she spent time at a Sumatran rehabilitation center for young orangutans. Today, the charity is dedicated to saving the Sumatran orangutan and its forest habitat by tackling deforestation and working with local communities that depend on the rainforest.

Their impact and transparency ratings: According to their financial report, the Sumatran Orangutan Society spent 88% of its income on conservation projects and grants, and 8% on raising funds.

“To secure the future of Sumatran orangutans and their forests.”

Sumatran Orangutan Society

What they do: The Sumatran Orangutan Society works with the Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit (HOCRU) to rescue orangutans that have become trapped in areas of deforestation. The orangutans are then released back into safe habitat. The charity also works with local communities to restore vital orangutan habitats and promotes sustainable living by training individuals in agroforestry and organic farming techniques.

What they’ve achieved: To date, the Sumatran Orangutan Society has rescued 206 orangutans and translocated them to safer habitats. They have also trained over 1000 local farmers in ecological agriculture techniques and involved more than 20,000 local people in conservation initiatives. In addition, the charity has planted over 2,292,253 trees in vital orangutan habitat.

Ways to contribute: You can donate directly to the Sumatran Orangutan Society through their website. You can also support the charity by joining volunteer expeditions in Sumatra or by setting up a fundraising event.

Orangutan Conservancy: Funding Orangutan Conservation Projects

Orangutan Conservancy was founded in 1999 by a group of dedicated individuals who were passionate about saving Southeast Asia’s only great ape – the orangutan. Today, the charity provides funding for various orangutan conservation projects and works to raise awareness of the plight of these critically endangered animals.

Their impact and transparency ratings: Orangutan Conservancy holds the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar. According to their financial report, the charity spent 59% of its income on conservation programs and 41% on operating costs.

“Dedicated to the protection of orangutans in their natural habitat through wild research, capacity building, education, and public awareness programs.”

Orangutan Conservancy

What they do: Orangutan Conservancy protects orangutans in their natural environment by providing funding and support to a variety of orangutan protection programs and research projects. They also provide emergency funding for critical orangutan habitat that has been affected by forest fires and other natural disasters. In addition, the charity runs an online educational hub for children, to inspire a love of orangutans.

What they’ve achieved: To date, Orangutan Conservancy has provided funding for 17 orangutan conservation projects, including the Wildlife Rescue Center (WRC) Jogja which has successfully released over 800 animals back into the wild including orangutans. By 2019, the charity’s Orangutan Veterinary Advisory Group included over 60 organizations from 13 countries around the world, which was set up to improve wildlife health and management in the orangutans’ native habitat.

Ways to contribute: You can donate directly to Orangutan Conservancy through their website. You can also support the charity by virtually adopting an orangutan in need, or by purchasing items from their online shop.

Orangutan Foundation International: Dedicated to Conserving Wild Orangutans

Orangutan Foundation International was founded in 1986 by Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas to support her work studying orangutans in the Tanjung Puting Reserve, Borneo. Today Dr. Biruti is considered to be an expert in her field and has studied orangutans longer than any other person in human history. Today, her charity works to rescue and rehabilitate orangutans and release them back into the wild.

Their impact and transparency ratings: According to their financial report, Orangutan Foundation International spent 86% of its income on orangutan conservation programs, 3.1% on fundraising, and 10.9% on admin. The charity also has a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator.

“The conservation of orangutans and the tropical rainforest that is their habitat.”

Orangutan Foundation International

What they do: Orangutan Foundation International works to rescue and translocate wild orangutans affected by heavy deforestation and the development of palm oil plantations. They also provide veterinary care for injured orangutans and orphans at their Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ) in Indonesia before releasing them back into the wild. In addition, the foundation works in Tanjung Puting National Park, running forest patrols to prevent illegal logging, and managing the ex-captive population of orangutans that reside there. 

What they’ve achieved: To date, Orangutan Foundation International has returned over 500 orangutans to the wild and staff have logged over 150,000 hours of orangutan observations. They currently care for more than 278 orangutans at their care center which they plan to release back into the wild. 

Ways to contribute: You can donate directly to Orangutan Foundation International through their website. You can also support the charity by becoming a symbolic foster parent to one of their orangutans or you can take part in one of their orangutan eco-tours and see for yourself the work that goes on at the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine.

Center For Great Apes: Providing Sanctuary for Orangutans and Chimpanzees

The Center For Great Apes was founded in 1993 by Patti Ragan after she took in and provided care for an infant orangutan that was intended to be sold to a circus performer. Today, the charity provides sanctuary to orphaned and handicapped chimpanzees and orangutans at its care center in Wauchula, Florida.

Their impact and transparency ratings: The Center For Great Apes holds the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, as well as a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator.

“To provide a permanent sanctuary for orangutans and chimpanzees who have been rescued or retired from the entertainment industry, from research, from the exotic pet trade, or other detrimental situations.”

Center For Great Apes

What they do: The Center For Great Apes provides sanctuary and care for rescued chimpanzees and orangutans that would otherwise have fallen into the illegal wildlife trade or the harmful entertainment industry. The sanctuary consists of 12 3-story enclosures with the largest being 80ft long and approx 34ft high! In addition to their living spaces, the chimps and orangutans are provided with regular enrichment, foraging opportunities, and plenty of climbing space. The charity also runs regular tours of the sanctuary to educate the public on the needs of these highly intelligent animals.

What they’ve achieved: The sanctuary now cares for over 70 chimpanzees and orangutans and is currently building new enclosures to house even more individuals. The 27 orangutans they currently house are mostly long-term residents, with the oldest orangutan, named Popi, still active at 50 years old! To date, the Center For Great Apes remains the only accredited sanctuary for orangutans in North America.

Ways to contribute: You can donate directly to the Center For Great Apes through their website. You can also donate to Popi’s Challenge which is an initiative to raise money for a new orangutan enclosure at the sanctuary. Alternatively, you can adopt an ape or purchase items from the charity’s Amazon wishlist

Wild Think: Creating Stimulating Enrichment for Captive Apes

Wild Think was founded in 2015 by Nick Naitove through a fascination with primate enrichment that began when he worked as a behavioral research intern at Chimp Haven in Louisiana. Today, Nick has received huge interest from the entire zoo community for his innovative animal vending machine device designed to stimulate extended foraging activities and prevent boredom in primates, which is particularly prevalent in captive orangutans.  

Their impact and transparency ratings: Wild Think holds the Gold Seal of Transparency from GuideStar. The charity has yet to be rated on Charity Navigator.

“To design puzzles to stimulate problem solving and physical activity for animals in zoos and sanctuaries.”

Wild Think

What they do: WIld Think creates innovative enrichment puzzles for captive apes due to their high intelligence and susceptibility to stress and boredom in captive environments. The charity’s animal vending machine device is designed to stimulate foraging for long periods which is exactly what orangutans would do in the wild, with the use of hidden tokens and food rewards. The charity also acts as an online resource in creative enrichment ideas for all zoos, sanctuaries, and owners, to improve the lives of captive animals across America, including orangutans. 

What they’ve achieved: To date, Wild Think has trialed their innovative animal vending machine device on the resident orangutans at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, with very positive results. The charity aims to expand its prototype to five further zoos across the US and Canada in Fall 2021, with the intention of selling them on the worldwide market shortly after. 

Ways to contribute: You can donate directly to Wild Think through their website. You also have the option of contributing to the charity’s enrichment database with your own thoughts and ideas, which will then be shared with the wider zoological community.

How Can You Select the Best Charities to Support?

The charities on the list are, we deem, the best charities for protecting orangutans. However, you may have a particular charity you want to support. Let’s look at what you can do to ensure your contribution has the most significant impact.

  • Check out the charity website. Charities that are worthy of your donations are transparent in their mission and their figures. Familiarise yourself with their history, mission, and values. Their website usually is the best place to start.
  • Identify the charity’s mission. Without a goal, the charity is likely to fail. If the charity’s mission isn’t clear, it’s probably worth looking for a charity that does have a clear mission. 
  • Check if the charity has measurable goals. An effective charity has clear goals. You want to know your donation will help the charity reach its goals. But if it doesn’t have targets, it’s likely to fail or squander your gift. The charity should be able to account for its spending and supply evidence of the work they do.
  • Assess the successes or goals the charity has achieved. You wouldn’t invest in a business if it kept missing its targets. In the same way, charities are like this too. If no one is assessing the progress a charity makes in reaching its targets, the chances are not making positive change.
  • Check the charity’s financials and stats. Trustworthy organizations will publish financial statements and reports each year. Some might be exempt from having to do so, but they should be able to provide them to public members who are interested in donating.
  • Locate sources who work with or benefit from the charity. Word of mouth and first-hand experience of a charity’s work lets you know the charity’s quality. If you’re able to do so, check out the charity for yourself or speak to someone familiar with it. This way, your donation will go to the right place. 

How Can You Best Support These Charities?

After you’ve made your decision, it’s time for you to decide on how you’d like to help the charities you’ve chosen. Check how you can help – each charity runs specific programs that have unique aims. Find out what the aim of such programs is and whether they are right for you. 

Here are a few ways you can help your chosen charity:

  • Donate money. You can find donation pages on the website of most charities. Your donation can be a one-time payment, or you can set it to be deducted regularly at different intervals. You can mostly pay via credit card, but some charities also take PayPal or Bitcoin payments.
  • Buy their official merchandise. The charities can also raise money by selling merchandise. So, you can support them by buying the mugs, shirts, caps, pens, pencils, and any other such items they may be selling. Ideally, you should buy as much as you can to share and spread the word about the charity’s activities.
  • Donate a percentage of your online purchases. If you bought anything on sites like Amazon lately, you’d find a prompt asking you to donate to your favorite charities through their Amazon Smile program. You can set this up so that your chosen charities will get a fraction of your online purchases.
  • Engage in volunteer work. As you’ve seen from our descriptions above, some charities engage in a lot of local and grassroots programs. You can help by taking on and organizing the program in your local area.
  • Help their fundraising efforts. You can spread the word about the charity in your workplace, school, church, etc., and hold creative fundraising drives on social media or offline within your small circles.
  • Share their stories. Most charities have compelling stories that you can share with your audience to attract more people to the cause.

Final Thoughts

Now it is just up to you to select the charity that resonates most with you. And whichever charity you end up choosing and contributing to, we are sure that they will immensely appreciate your support. Hopefully, the information within this article has made this selection process a bit easier for you to support charities dedicated to protecting orangutans – based on the causes that matter most to you.

Stay impactful,

PS: Finally, I want to leave you with a thought-provoking TED talk from Dan Pallotta, a leading philanthropic activist, and fundraiser, about what is wrong with the way we think about charities – and what we can do about it:

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