Face to Face: Our Endangered Primate Cousins

baby orangutan
Creative Commons License credit: tashiya

Writing about the plight of our primate cousins the orangutans, gorillas and chimps has been on my todo list for a while so when I heard that the Australian Museum was featuring the “Face to Face” exhibition created by the Natural History Museum, London I immediately made time in my schedule to see it.

In Australia for the first time until 27 April 2008 the exhibition features thirty emotive portraits of primates – gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orang-utans – whose innocence and vulnerability forces us to question our own inhumanity and arrogance in the way we mistreat nature.

These extraordinary images were taken over four years by photographer James Mollison in ape sanctuaries in Africa and Asia.

The world’s leading authority on ape behaviour, Jane Goodall, helped him to develop relationships with the apes so he could capture their unique personalities through photography.

Bonny © James Mollison (orang-utan)
Credit: Bonny © James Mollison (orang-utan)

The photographs highlight the vitality and intelligence of these magnificent and threatened animals – our closest biological relatives.

The exhibition encourages us to consider our relationship with the natural world by bringing us face to face with some of the individual animals that have been most deeply affected by the actions of humans.

Reproduced at two metres high and presented in full-face, passport style, each photograph tells a tragic personal story eg: Bonny’s mother was killed so that he could be taken for the live animal trade.


A few days ago I went to a night talk at the Australian Museum run by the Borneo Orangutan Survival foundation explaining how they help take care of orphaned and injured orangutans as well as trying to maintain & restore their habitat.

First established in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan in 1994 as the Balikpapan Orangutan Society, BOS (which now stands for the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation) has grown to become the largest orangutan conservation organization in the world.

An Indonesian non-profit organization it’s whose mission is ‘to contribute to the conservation of the orangutan and their habitats’.

The photo of baby orangutans playing in a wheelbarrow at right is quite cute, they look just like little human children playing at school – until you realise that they are all orphans at a BOS sanctuary 🙁

It costs BOS US$4,500 to rescue, rehabilitate and release each orangutan. Help BOS continue its important conservation work by donating money or products.


“If we don’t do anything to save them, in 10 to 15 years the great apes could disappear from the majority of the areas where they now live”, said Jane Goodall, renowned primatologist, conservationist and United Nations Messenger of Peace.

Don’t miss this rare chance to look into the eyes of the living beings that share our planet and over 96% of our DNA. Be humbled by the humanity in the faces of those who have experienced such devastating inhumanity and consider the concept of a new world – for all of us.

“Face to Face” is at the Australian Museum until 27 April 2008

10 thoughts on “Face to Face: Our Endangered Primate Cousins”

  1. Aw, that’s incredibly sad. We should definitely be protecting these animals, they are obviously not so far off from being us and for us to go through life not caring about them is inexcusable. I’ve always wanted a monkey as a pet.

    EDITOR: Please note that it is illegal to keep an Orangutan as a pet – However, the capture of young orangutans for the pet trade is ongoing and is one of the main threats to their survival in the wild 🙁

    In order for a baby or juvenile orangutan to be captured the mother must be killed first. Field experts say that on average, 2 adults are killed in order to successfully secure 1 baby. Typically, up to 5 babies are shipped together in a single box, in hopes that one will survive the arduous journey

  2. Singapore Zoo’s most famous icon, an orangutan which once hobnobbed with Britain’s Prince Philip, popstar Michael Jackson and actress Elizabeth Taylor died earlier this month

    Ah Meng, a female orangutan from the Indonesian island of Sumatra was a “poster girl” to highlight the plight of the endangered apes

    “We mourn the passing of Ah Meng,” Fanny Lai, group chief executive of Wildlife Reserves Singapore, said in a statement.

    “She has touched the hearts of everyone who has met her and contributed immensely in helping promote awareness of how each and every one of us can play a role in anti-poaching, anti-deforestation and conservation matters.”

    More details at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ah_Meng and http://redapes.org/news-updates/ah-meng-singapores-beloved-orangutan-dies-at-48/

  3. I think its unconscionable in this day and age, knowing what we do, that we could allow any of these endangered species to die out.

    EDITOR: I think it would be really sad if we let that happen. Especially after I saw a video of baby orangutans playing with each other – they’re just like human children

  4. It is sad, but isn’t it amazing what people are doing to help? Yes, these stories always hit you right where you live, but I am glad people are getting in there and doing something about the problem! Keep it up!

  5. I grew up watching PBS shows on tv with Jane Goodall… I would love the chance to get that close to an orangutan. Thanks for posting this… in the world of people who don’t care, one small blog post can change alot.

  6. I definitely wouldn’t want my kids to not know what orang utans are. They are considered the national animal of our country Malaysia. We should definitely help protect them and maintain the forests for other animals as well.

  7. The orangutans are my favorite to watch at the zoo! I agree – there is no reason for any animal to get even close to extinction today. I’d like to see the exhibit.

  8. It is sad that people and the entire world is so self centered that they are disturbing other precious lives. Inability to talk and communicate their difficulties shouldnt be taken as a chance to exploit their life. Like humans they too should have their part of the world.

  9. This is really sad and you are right to bring it into attention. Everybody has a right to live in this world. Human beings are really so selfish to think that they can just exploit everything and anything in sight without thinking about the condition of those who are affected. We should be be able to defend and take care of those who cannot take care of themselves.

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