MASSACRE OF THE APES
Daily Express U.K
Monday May 18,2009
By Nigel Blundell
DESPITE a new population of orang-utans being found in Indonesia recently conservationists believe these amazing creatures could be wiped out within a decade thanks to the £14bn palm oil industry .
We find it in bread, cereals and cakes, chocolates and frozen foods, even in soap powder. Soon we will be urged to run our cars on it. The ingredient is palm oil. it is the cheapest form of cooking oil and, since it is also being hailed as the biofuel of the future, it’s a worldwide growth industry beyond compare. But though the cost seems cheap the true price being paid is devastation on an unprecedented scale.
Such is the race to clear the land for palm oil plantations that entire rain forests are doomed – along with the animals that live in them. it is no longer scare-mongering to forecast that the orang-utan, one of man’s closest cousins, will be wiped out in the wild within a decade. “It’s not just cruel it’s criminal,” says Faith Doherty, a senior campaigner for the UK-based environmental investigation Agency (EIA).
“The last strong-holds of Asia’s only great ape are being devastated by loggers and plantation owners, many of whom are acting illegally and out of sheer greed. We as consumers bear some responsibility for that”.
‘They’re so much like us yet we’re wiping them out’
So in a supreme irony the drive to save the world from global warming by promoting palm oil is actually helping destroy it. The part of the globe that is moving most swiftly to supply us with the oil is indonesia and Malaysia. The result is that within 15 years only two per cent of the rainforests of those nations will be left.
Long before the rainforests vanish so will some of the world’s most important wildlife species. These include the Asian elephant, the Sumatran tiger and the orang-utan, which shares 97 per cent of human DNA. These red-haired “people of the forest”, as the natives call them, are under tremendous pressure through habitat loss because the lowland jungles where they live have been the first to go. Plantation owners kill them as pests
because they eat their plants and poachers hunt them for bush meat and sell the young as pets. And while last month’s discovery of 219 orang-utan nests in a remote corner of indonesia have given a rare boost to the endangered species, there is little hope of reversing the situation. “in reality it’s already over for the orang-utan,” says Willie Smits, who has fought to save the creatures for 20 years. “Their entire lowland forest habitat is gone and now the hunters have moved in we find their corpses decapitated or burned. Hunters are paid the equivalent of £8 for the right hand of an orang-utan to prove they’ve killed them.” Willie, founder of the largest primate rescue organisation in the world, Borneo Orang-utan Survival foundation, runs two centres housing 1,000 of the creatures, most rescued from palm oil plantations.
But once rehabilitated they cannot be released into the wild as it is not safe. Another orang-utan saviour, Lone droscher-nielsen, has been forced to relocate her centre’s creatures to a remote island to save them from annihilation. She says: “This is orang-utan genocide. They are among our closest relatives yet we humans are killing them by the thousand. If only people in the West could understand what is happening here in Borneo. The demand for palm oil is devastating the rainforests, which are being destroyed at the rate of one football field every 30 seconds.”
Rainforests are vital for the planet’s health. They curb global warming by absorbing carbon dioxide and, being an important part of the water cycle, prevent droughts. They shelter 420 species of bird, 210 species of mammal, 254 species of reptile and 368 species of freshwater fish. Lone, who quit her job as an air hostess to join Borneo Orang-utan Survival foundation, has 600 orang-utans in her care at the Nyaru Menteng centre. “Most of those we take in are orphans whose mothers have been slaughtered by palm oil planters,” she says. “Orang-utans are so much like us. They are highly intelligent, can solve simple problems and there is an immensely strong bond between mother and child that lasts for the first eight years of a baby’s life. Yet we are allowing them to be wiped out. A century ago there were 300,000 Bornean orang-utans. If nothing is done there will not be a single one left in the wild within five to 10 years. Yet demand for palm oil grows. Is nobody listening?” Lone’s dedication to the orang-utans began 14 years ago while she was a flight attendant with Swiss airline SAS. She only intended to be a short-term volunteer but became so fascinated with the animals that in 1993 she moved to Borneo permanently. “I fell in love with them,” she says. “So much so that I have abandoned any wish to have my own children.” Her centre in Central Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) has rehabilitated hundreds of orphans. It is run like a kinder garten because newcomers need 24-hour care. Lone employs 80 Indonesians, women as “babysitters” for infants and men caring for the older orphans. The aim of the project is to hone the animals’ survival skills.
Butsince there are no longer safe areas of the forest in which to free them funds were raised to buy a 100-acre offshore sanctuary, to which the young are introduced at the age of eight in batches of about 25. Their first faltering steps, filmed for the recent Animal Planet TV series Orang-utan Island are a glimmer of hope for the creatures. But Lone concedes that their island existence is only “semi wild”. It is too small to be a full-scale sanctuary and the orang-utans there will have to be closely monitored. The fact that they can no longer roam freely is purely down to the palm oil boom. The tragedy in the view of conservationists is that the devastation of the jungle for the creation of the palm oil plantations is unnecessary. “There is no need for continual destruction of the rainforests,” says Lone.
“There is already open grass- land that can be used for this purpose. But we need pressure from the international community to tackle a problem that will ultimately affect every human being on earth. We must not give up the fight to protect the rainforests, the orang utans and, ultimately, ourselves. “Consumers can play their part by putting pressure on companies that use palm oil in their products and persuading them to source oil which has been produced by environmentally-friendly methods.” According to recent findings the UK is now Europe’s biggest importer of palm oil. Manufacturers use the ingredient (usually labelled as “vegetable oil”) to bind and bulk out chocolate, biscuits, bread and spreads. Palm oil is a £14billion global industry and an international organisation has been set up to try to ensure that manufacturers use oil that comes only from “sustainable” plantations.
Yet the Roundtable On Sustainable Palm Oil certifies only four per cent of world production as being “sustainable”. The rest comes from the destruction of rainforests. More than 30million tons a year – about 85 per cent of the global supply – is exported from the vast islands of Borneo and Sumatra, which form parts of Indonesia and Malaysia. Conservationists believe the rush to create this “green fuel” is often an excuse for loggers to make a quick killing. The hardwood trees are felled, the timber sold and the palm oil is merely an after-thought. The corruption behind this land grab is rife and timber barons will go to any lengths to protect their illegal trade. The EIA’s Faith Doherty was kidnapped and beaten during a mission to expose them. She was seized at gunpoint nine years ago in Tanjung Puting National Park, central Kalimantan. It is supposed to be a safe haven for orang-utans but she discovered illegal logging in the park. “That shows the power of the timber barons,” she says. “It is incredibly dangerous to investigate them. I was on an undercover mission when I was kidnapped, held for four days and beaten up.
My fingers were broken and I had a gun to my head as they ordered me to retract an EIA report I had made about their activities. I refused and was lucky to be freed. It was no use looking to the police for help, they were in cahoots. That’s the problem: bad governments and corruption right down the chain. “The land turned over to palm oil plantation owners is supposed to be ‘degraded land’. They’re not even supposed to be in the rainforest at all. What they’re doing is quite simply illegal. It is a crime that the orang-utans are under serious threat and if we don’t act now we’ll lose them forever.” To learn about the orang-utans’ plight visit www.eia-international.com, www.savetheorangutan.org.uk and www.wspa.org.uk