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Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme Founder Ian Singleton Awarded OBE

NOW! PEOPLE | 13 November 2020

Renowned orangutan conservationist, Dr. Ian Singleton, has been awarded an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by Her Majesty the Queen for Services to the Environment and Conservation for his accomplishments for the last 20 years. Dr. Singleton founded the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) in 2001, working to protect and conserve orangutans in Sumatra. He was also one of a team of scientists that in 2017 described to the world a new species of orangutan, the Tapanuli orangutan, named after the region where it was found. 

In 2001, Dr Singleton founded the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) working for the Swiss-based PanEco Foundation, alongside its Indonesian partner NGO the Sustainable Ecosystem Foundation (Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari; YEL) and the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s Directorate-General for the Conservation of Natural Resources and Ecosystems (Ditjen KSDAE).

Dr. Singleton began his career with orangutans more than 30 years ago, in 1989, working for another OBE recipient, Gerald Durrell, at his world-renowned Jersey Zoo in the British Channel Islands. He left Jersey in 1996 to study wild orangutans in Sumatra for his PhD, with the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent, and after completing his thesis in 2000, headed back to Sumatra immediately to establish the SOCP and help protect and conserve wild orangutans and their habitat. Ian was also one of a team of scientists that in 2017 described to the world a new species of orangutan, the Tapanuli orangutan, named after the region where it occurs.

“I am extremely honoured and very proud, that all of our hard work over the years has been recognised, but it hasn’t been the work of any one individual, or organisation. This award is recognition for the entire team of dedicated conservationists, most of them Indonesian, that I have had the pleasure and honour to work with throughout my career, and our many colleagues within the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s own Conservation Department,” Singleton emphasised. “But, of course, it is something that myself and my family will treasure for a very long time,” he added.

“The work also remains unfinished. There are still many orangutans in Sumatra being kept illegally as pets, or trapped and isolated in fragmented forest patches. We need to get these individuals back to safe and protected rainforests again, where they can contribute to the future of their species,” said Dr. Singleton, ”at our project sites in Jantho and Jambi, we are releasing these “refugees” to create new, genetically viable populations of orangutans. These populations act as a “safety net” or “backup”, should a catastrophe befall the remaining truly wild populations.” he added.

“The value of the new wild populations we are creating has never been so apparent. Scientific consensus is that orangutans are likely to be susceptible to infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes CoVID-19 in humans, and we have a duty to keep not just our staff safe, but all of the orangutans as well, especially when we remember just how few of them there are left,” Ian explained. “Indeed, like others, we are very much on the front line of the covid pandemic here too, but fighting to protect three species, not just one!”

“We need to protect the remaining wild populations of both the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii), today numbering only around 13,400 individuals, and their last real stronghold, the Leuser Ecosystem, and the fewer than 800 Tapanuli orangutans (Pongo tapanuliensis) that remain in their only habitat, the Batang Toru Ecosystem in North Sumatra. Both species are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and the Tapanuli orangutan is the most endangered great ape species in the world!”

UK Ambassador to Indonesia and Timor Leste, Owen Jenkins, said: “We in the embassy are delighted that Dr. Ian Singleton’s work has been recognised in this way. Dr. Singleton has made a huge contribution – first to our understanding of these great apes – not least in the discovery of a new Orangutan species. Second in conservation – and establishing two entirely new, genetically-viable and self-sustaining wild populations of Critically Endangered Sumatran Orangutan in highly protected, expansive forest. Third in advocacy – in fearlessly speaking up for these beautiful creatures – and publicising their plight far and wide. Arguably one of these achievements alone would be worthy of an OBE, and so for all three together – we could not be more pleased Dr. Singleton has received this award." 

For more information, contact:
Castri Delfi Saragih, Communication Officer, YEL-SOCP - Email: [email protected] Tel: +62 (0)853 59991525