Summit women reach out to orangutans |

Summit women reach out to orangutans

Ashley Dickson
Summit County Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the DailyBarbara Shaw poses with Sawit, an orphaned Orangutan rescued by the Orangutan Conservancy.

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado ” In 1992, Breckenridge resident Barbara Shaw took a break from her life in Summit County and went to Indonesia to teach children. Yet when she arrived in Borneo, she found there was an entirely different population that needed her help.

Because of rapid deforestation in Borneo and Sumatra, the wild orangutan population is quickly approaching extinction and, after seeing the devastation for herself, Shaw decided to take action.

She began volunteering at the Orangutan Conservancy, a U.S. nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting orangutan populations and raising awareness about the growing threat of extinction.

According to the Orangutan Conservancy, Orangutans are one of the more critically endangered of the great apes and currently the population in Borneo is estimated at between 45,000 and 69,000.

Many UN scientists predict that if more isn’t done to save the Orangutans in the natural habitat the species could become extinct by the year 2012.

After her first visit in 1992, Shaw began traveling back to Borneo every year, each time bringing supplies to help support the conservancy and the more than 1,000 injured or orphaned orangutans that are sheltered there.

“One of our first big projects was in 1995 and was focused on renewable energy and lighting the facility with solar equipment,” said Shaw. “The orangutan population is in crisis mode, so there is no time to sit and wait for grants. You have to do what you can.”

One of the largest threats facing the orangutan population today is the growth of the oil-palm trade. With a growing global demand for biofuels, companies in Indonesia are looking to cash in by cutting down rainforests to plant oil palms.

Indonesia announced it plans to double oil-palm crude production by 2025, a goal that would require millions of additional rainforest acres to be transformed. The loss of their natural habitat leaves orangutans with little resources for survival, and ultimately forces many into human care at the conservancy in Borneo.

“Every time I go over there it’s different. They need hands-on support so we try to get it out to veterinarians and hospitals that any donations help,” Shaw said.

Through that effort, Shaw connected with Lyn Krueger, a veterinary technician from Silverthorne with an interest in primates.

“I was smitten with the project when I heard about it,” Krueger said. “People are very empathetic when they hear about this situation, so the key is making more contacts so people in hospitals and vets’ offices know what to do with leftover medical equipment.”

This year, Krueger has decided to join Shaw on her annual trip overseas, bringing donated supplies to the conservancy, which is operated completely by dedicated volunteers.

The two Summit County locals embarked on their trip to Indonesia on Tuesday, completing a 39-hour trip from the mountains of Colorado to the exotic rainforests of Southeast Asia.

“The first time I went, I experienced culture shock arriving in Borneo,” Shaw said. “Now I feel culture shocked when I come back to Summit County.”

Shaw and Krueger will be returning to Colorado in July, and hope to organize a slide show to share their new photos and videos with those interested in learning more about the struggles facing the orangutan population.

Those interested in donating cash or supplies to help the Orangutans can e-mail Barbara Shaw at or visit the Orangutan Conservancy website at for more information.

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