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The orangutan: their fate is our fate

May 23, 2010

Charles Purcell‘s article this week, about the deforestation of the orangutans’ environment, has stuck in my mind. The plight of the orangutan is almost too sad to recount.

For anyone wondering what this is about, in a nutshell it is estimated that 25 hectares of rain forest are cut down every minute across the orangutans’ range for crops such as palm oil. As Prucell says “The sight of young orangutans wandering the scorched earth looking for shelter and kin after the destruction of their habitat is harrowing.”

But this is also a story about big business gone mad, with powerful companies too distant from their impacts and consumers blissfully in the dark. In supermarkets worldwide products containing palm oil — soaps, chocolates, margarine and cosmetics — are consumed in staggering amounts. Most consumers have no idea these products contain palm oil, often labeled as vegetable oil, and even less of a clue that conservationists are singling it out as being one of the main driving forces behind deforestation.

It is also a story of climate change and how politics fails to react to real-world problems. The fate of their habitat was very much in the balance during the climate change talks last year, with discussions of the UN-backed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (so called REDD).

Somewhere between the layers of all this lives the orangutan – the man of the forest. Our closest relative. How we respond to their plight – by our level of conscious choice with the products we buy, with the pressure we place on our own Governments and on the things we choose to see have huge impacts for these gentle souls.

They are, in so many ways our canary in the coalmine, becasue what we do to them we do to ourselves.

So yes, Prucell, I agree – if we save  the orangutans, we save the world.

Footnote: An international workshop on orangutan conservation will be held in Bali from July 15-16, 2010.

Charles Purcell
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