Orangutans are a critically endangered animal species, facing imminent extinction if direct and immediate action is not taken by their close genetic cousins, the human race.
Not only do humans and orangutans share 97 percent of their DNA, but they also have common intelligence levels, and the ability to suffer, empathise and communicate. In fact, humans can converse with orangutans through sign language, and therefore, develop relationships. This is what makes the human-orangutan connection so unique.
It is because of these similarities that Leif Cocks, Founder and President of The Orangutan Project, understands orangutans more as people than as animals. After spending three decades working with orangutans, he believes they are people who deserve the same basic rights as their human counterparts. According to Cocks, this combined with the need for greater human compassion towards wildlife are two of many reasons why orangutans need to be kept from extinction.
"They [orangutans] have intrinsic rights to survive and be free in their own societies and therefore, the killing of them and the destroying of their habitat in itself is something humanity should be compassionate for. The fact that we have lack of compassion for orangutans and that we are destroying their homes for unsustainable forms of agriculture... eventually it is going to have consequences for humanity on all levels," Cocks told HuffPost Australia.
These consequences feature in Cocks' new book 'Orangutans My Cousins, My Friends'. He says that orangutan conservation is linked with concerns about climate change, indigenous rights and the relationship between Indonesia and Australia.
"From any point of view it makes sense to conserve the orangutans and their habitat... more global warming is caused from the destruction of a rainforest than all the transport systems in the world combined.
"... resources are being taken out of Indonesia for short term profits... the true cost is being passed onto the local people who use environmental services, the true cost is being passed onto indigenous communities, which lose their land. The true cost is passed onto future generations, which will not have a planet which is as liveable," Cocks said.
Cocks' work as part of The Orangutan Project prevents the destruction of forests with the aim to create a world where his organisation doesn't have to exist. At the very heart of the cause is the idea that orangutans and humans share in fundamental humanity over anything else. It is for this reason that Cocks refers to orangutans as persons rather than animals.
"They have developed a complex brain theory of mind and recognition of their individuality and egos," he said.
"The real issue is that they are a person, regardless of how legged they are compared to us, and persons such as us, we seek to avoid suffering, we seek to live and prosper as much as possible and orangutans do the same."
Cocks believes that having compassion and empathy for orangutan welfare is a key humanitarian issue that is at the heart of modern environmental, social and political problems. With only 14,000 orangutans left in the wild and 1,000 being slaughtered each year, Cocks' cause is critical. His message emphasises that protecting orangutans is a vital step in helping all people around the world.
"I am passionate about it [orangutan conservation] because I discovered that the orangutans are persons and they don't deserve to go extinct for no good reason... it's not wildlife versus people, it's not environment versus economy.
"So this is a cause that allows me to provide compassion, opportunity and security for persons which are unrecognised at the moment for their humanity and their existence. But also it allows us to help everybody and that is probably a good way to live our lives."
All profits from the book go towards The Orangutan Project.
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