“Kid Conservationist” Fights to Save Orangutans

Daily Point of Light # 7717 Jan 3, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Jack Dalton. Read his story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light. 

It’s not often that a 13-year-old goes on speaking engagements around the world. It’s even less common that he has written a children’s book, but Jack Dalton is a rarity. The child of a nurse and a teacher, Jack grew up moving around a lot. It was a stint in Memphis, however, that changed everything. Jack was 8 years old. He and his mom had a membership to the local zoo. They would walk over a couple of times a week.  

“The orangutans were always my favorite. In particular, Rowan the orangutan, who was a baby at the time. I just fell in love,” Jack recalls of his fellow redhead. 

Lexi Yang, now caring for primates at Utah’s Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, was the zookeeper at the time and a passionate conservationist. As a fan of the orangutans and their mischievous, puzzle-solving ways herself, Lexi was determined to teach visitors about why they’re endangered and how people can help. 

“I threw a birthday party for Rowan, who was turning 3 […] and made it Dr. Seuss themed, because he has a lot of really good conservation quotes,” she says. “I made a lot of signs and messaging about palm oil and orangutan conservation.”

Palm oil, a product derived from the oil palm tree, grows exceptionally well in Sumatra and Borneo, Indonesia, which are the only places in the world orangutans live naturally. In order to plant more palm oil plantations, people cut down rainforest vegetation, causing orangutans to lose their natural habitat. Lexi recommends using an app called Palm Oil Scan to ensure you only buy products using oil from farms that use good practices. 

“If you use it while you’re shopping, you can easily scan a barcode, and it will tell you if the product that you want to buy has sustainable palm oil in it or not,” Lexi states.

Jack Dalton, the “Kid Conservationist”, dedicates his time to raising awareness about how to get orangutans off the endangered species list, including by writing a book, Kawan the Orangutan, Lost in the Rainforest./Courtesy Jack Dalton

Needless to say, Jack learned a lot at the birthday party that day and was spurred into action to save his furry friends’ species. 

“I decided to write letters to three companies about their palm oil usage,” he recollects. “And ever since then, I’ve just been doing more and more conservation work in the name of getting orangutans off the endangered species list.” 

Jack then asked his parents to film him for an educational video to put on the YouTube channel he later named Kid Conservationist to reflect his new venture and differentiate himself from the crowd. It took off from there, especially after the COVID-119 pandemic hit. Parents and teachers were thrilled to have educational material, and people have viewed his videos more than 1 million times in 100 different countries. 

Orangutan Alliance, an international conservation organization, saw one such video and asked him to be a youth ambassador. That’s when the presentations and fundraising events began. Using his longtime hobby of designing PowerPoint presentations made preparing fun. Jack was excited to be able to have purpose beyond designing a “Welcome home, Mom!” slideshow and jumped at the chance to speak at schools, museums, zoos and beyond. He expanded his reach through documentaries, podcasts, blog articles and emceeing fundraisers. 

“[Jack] has so much passion and enthusiasm for it as well as being a phenomenal public speaker. I would have never been public speaking when I was 8 years old. He speaks to very large crowds and does it extremely well,” Lexi asserts. 

Jack has since acquired similar responsibilities at Orangutan Republic—where he raises money to send conservationists to college in Indonesia—Borneo Orangutan Survival USA and Plastic Coalition. He’s grateful for these partnerships that have amplified his impact. He has also independently raised more than $20,000 for animal rehabilitation, education and reforestation.  

A couple of years later, at age 10, Jack wrote Kawan the Orangutan, Lost in the Rainforest when he reconnected with Lexi for a YouTube interview. Jack considers Lexi one of his biggest inspirations and mentors and asked her to do the illustrations. Lexi, a self-taught artist who has sold pieces for conservation fundraisers in the past, modeled the characters after Rowan and his mom. It’s a heartfelt story that does more than educate readers. 

“For every book sold, a tree is planted in the Indonesian rainforest. It’s one of my proudest accomplishments as the Kid Conservationist, and it’s sold over 3,000 copies,” Jack says. 

The duo has stayed in touch through various projects, and last year, Jack invited Lexi to join him on a trip to Indonesia with Orangutan Alliance. 

“We started in Borneo and spent the first three days on a river boat floating downstream looking for wild orangutans and other wild animals,” Lexi reminisces. “That was the first time we got to see orangutans in the wild.” 

Jack leads a presentation for students at a New Hampshire school including information on orangutans, the rainforest, deforestation and what they can do to help./Courtesy Jack Dalton

Jack was struck by how they test their weight on the branches before they swing on them. With substantial body mass—females weighing up to 150 lbs and males nearly double that—they are cautious movers. 

Along with their expedition into the rainforest, they spent a day with a Dayak tribe and visited a wilderness-based school where students learn from the outdoors. They donated copies of the book and provided funds for the school to purchase some much-needed, locally-sourced furniture. 

“It was really neat getting to meet people my own age, who I couldn’t really communicate with because they spoke another language but who were learning English,” Jack adds. 

One of their final stops was to personally plant some of the trees that their book proceeds funded. It was an experience that reinvigorated Jack’s motivation.  

“Jack says that I was his inspiration, but now, he inspires me,” Lexi says. “As zookeepers, we’re passionate about animals and wanting to teach people how they can help save them, but we never really know if that’s going to go anywhere. The fact that this one person listened to me, and he’s taken it so far, has been more than I could have ever imagined.” 

Aside from caring deeply, Jack says he’s an activist because it’s fun. He loves making videos, writing and talking to people about orangutans, though it’s the last of these that he finds most rewarding. 

“When you go in [to a speaking event] and see these kids, they look pretty bored. And once you start presenting, you see their faces light up with excitement,” he says.  

Once, after he presented at a school and donated copies of his book, he got a package with thank you notes and hand-drawn pictures from each of the kids. Inspired and grateful, he felt like he had planted a seed that would one day lead the students to take action.  

“No matter how old or young you are, you can start making a difference. Now is the best time to make a change. Some experts say orangutans could be gone within the next 10 years. If we want to help them, we better help them now, before it’s too late.” 

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Jack? Find local volunteer opportunities. 

Kristin Park