Orangutans are sometimes referred to as ‘gardeners of the forest’ because of their role in seed-dispersal (they spread seeds in their dung). Seed dispersal is vital for the health of rainforests, so as much as orangutans need forests, the forests need them too.
New research shows that the loss of large animals such as orangutans and elephants from ecosystems has a huge impact on plants’ ability to respond to climate change. Larger animals transport seeds further than smaller ones, which helps mitigate the effects of the changing climate on plant species by enabling them to migrate. Losing this function by losing orangutans and other large seed-dispersing animals threatens not only the plants themselves, but the things we rely on them for, such as carbon storage and food production.
Thankfully, the rewilding methods used by our partners in Sumatra enable orangutans and elephants to return quite quickly to the sites they work on and resume their role as gardeners of the forest. Of course, we must also ensure that we work to keep animal populations stable by connecting forest patches and understanding what other threats face them, and we are continuously analysing data to keep ahead of these trends.