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Australians urged to help Borneo’s orangutans

THE PLIGHT of Indonesian orangutans and what Australians can do to help their closest primate relatives will be in the spotlight at the next USQ Green + Thumbs session at University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Fraser Coast.

Coinciding with Threatened Species Day 2015, USQ business student Sophia Fuller of Hervey Bay will talk about her experiences in the Indonesian forests and the work being done there to ensure the orangutans’ survival.

orangutans

Sophia Fuller will talk about saving Borneo’s orangutans at USQ Fraser Coast.

Threatened Species Day is a national day held on September 7 each year to commemorate the death of the last remaining Tasmanian tiger (also known as the thylacine) at Hobart Zoo in 1936.

The event is a time to reflect on what happened in the past and how people can protect threatened species in the future.

Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Australia statistics show orangutans are an endangered species with an estimated 50,000 left in the wild.

“This large, gentle red ape is one of our closest relatives, sharing 98% of our DNA. The greatest threat to their survival is the destruction of the rainforest.

“Some experts say about 6000 orangutans are disappearing every year and without our collective help orangutans could be extinct in the wild within our lifetime.”

Ms Fuller’s interest in Borneo orangutans began in 2009 when she was still at high school in Brisbane.

“Working through the DeforestACTION centre we focused on the palm oil aspect, spreading the word,” she said.

“Natural forests were being cleared for logging and palm oil plantations. Orangutans can’t live in those plantations – there’s no fruit suitable for them to eat. When the forests are burnt the orangutans either die, get poached, or taken as pets and traded.”

BOS statistics show palm oil accounts for 35% of world edible vegetable oil production.

“About 80% is used as a vegetable oil or put in other ingredients. It can be found in many processed foods from ice cream and chocolate to cereals and fruit juice.

“Palm oil is also found in cosmetics and household products including toothpaste, shampoos, makeup and detergents.”

In 2014 and 2015, Ms Fuller and her fellow students visited the Orangutan Centre in Borneo.

“We saw the clinic where baby orangutans are rescued, rehabilitated and trained to live in the wild,” she said.

“The babies come out once a day to play in the trees. When they reach the next step in their growth, they’re moved to another place and eventually taken about 60km out of the city and released into a protected forest.

“Another protected forest I went to is specifically for research. They’ve got the most current data you can find in Indonesia and they’re doing some amazing things with conservation and reforestation.”

The USQ Green + Thumbs session will also include a talk on Australian Threatened Species.

For more information on orangutans including how to help the species survive, visit www.orangutans.com.au or https://planetfunder.org/projects/StudentsforOrangutanTropicalPeatland

What:              Threatened Species session hosted by USQ Green + Thumbs
When:             5.30pm to 9pm, Monday September 7
Where:            USQ Fraser Coast, Room A139.
Cost:               Free

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Aliens, or old friends?

HUMAN infants were born on forest floors for thousands of years before the advent of sterile hospital theatres yet our race not only survived, it thrived, says University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Fraser Coast Nursing Lecturer Ruth Newby.

“Today, human infants born by cesarean section are at a nutritional disadvantage compared to those born naturally,” Mrs Newby said.

“A cesarean-born baby will take longer for its gut to be colonised in the same way as an infant born naturally because it doesn’t get the same ‘bugs’ from the mother.”

Modern society’s excessive reliance on disinfectants and antibiotics will be in the spotlight at the USQ Fraser Coast Open Day this Sunday (August 2) when the local scientist and research fellow makes her Future Talks presentation titled Aliens, or old friends?

“Most of us look into the night sky and wonder if there is intelligent life somewhere else in the universe,” Mrs Newby said.

“When we look for aliens in outer space, what we don’t always recognise is that aliens are not only around us in our environment but actually inside us.

“We look at our own planet and think scientists know all about everything on Earth but we are yet to discover the full spectrum of life here.

“Humans are intrinsically reliant on the organisms in our gut to make us healthy, to nourish us, yet we don’t know everything that’s there. We don’t recognize the DNA signature of about 25% of what’s in our gut so it’s a very alien environment.”

Mrs Newby said animals also had unidentified life forms inside their bodies.

Ruth Newby

Lecturer Ruth Newby talks about Aliens and old friends.

“Koalas only digest gum leaves because they have microorganisms in their gut that allow them to ferment the leaves and extract the goodness,” she said.

“The microorganisms get there during birth. The babies eat their mothers’ waste to colonise themselves with the ‘bugs’ that allow them gain nourishment from their environment, enabling them to live.

“Baby koalas separated from their mothers soon after birth are unable to digest gum leaves and die.

“Humans also get a lot of nourishment from the microorganisms that come from the outside environment into our gut.

“In the earliest years of human existence, infants were born on forest floors so they naturally got a good gulp of mum’s ‘bugs’.

“Only now we’re learning how these aliens inside us are intrinsic to our health. We’ve been led to believe all bugs are bad but many bugs are incredibly important.”

Mrs Newby said the largest part of the human immune system was in the gut.

“Our immune system is involved in sensing and tolerating the external environment and it needs to learn how to identify what is good and what is concerning.

“If doesn’t get exposed to the entirety of the outside environment including the ‘bugs’ we get from our mothers during birth, it learns the wrong lessons.”

Mrs Newby is a USQ medical scientist, nursing lecturer and University of Queensland research fellow.

Her PhD project – Feeding Queensland Babies Study – investigates infant feeding attitudes and behaviours among first-time mothers in Queensland.

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Feature photo: Are aliens closer to home than the moon?

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