That Humanist

Death to the orangutans!
April 26, 2008, 8:16 am
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A week ago today I visited the legacy of one of my childhood heroes, Gerald Durrell. He created a wonderful zoo on the Bailiwick of Jersey, using a lot of the money he had accumulated from his books. I read all of his books as a child; they were inspirational. They gave me a sense of wonder about nature, a curiosity, an appreciation, and a good laugh for they were often quite funny as well. (If you don’t own any, buy some!)

The zoo is as depressing as it is uplifting. It is a wonderful zoo, filled with exotic animals. However, many share a common fate: they’re almost extinct. How disheartening to see these marvelous animals and know that they’re on the brink of extinction.


I went to a few talks, given by the staff. The talk given in the orangutan enclosure was particularly moving. So much so that I didn’t even take any photos. Sarah, the member of staff, obviously cared enormously for these intelligent creatures, and was pretty depressed about their plight.

There are only about 7000 Sumatran orangutans left in the wild. Apparently, this figure is decreasing by close to 1000 a year. And why? Well, two major factors: logging and palm oil.

How often do you look at a piece of furniture and say: I wonder where that wood comes from?

How many of us eat processed food that contains vegetable oil. Or margarine. Or cook with vegetable oil. And how many of us stop and think: I wonder where this oil comes from.

How many of us want a “greener” earth and praise moves like decreasing emissions by using more biofuels. However, do we stop and think: where does that biofuel come from?

Well, the hard wood comes from Borneo. A good percentage of the vegetable oil is often palm oil (they simply label it vegetable oil) and comes from Borneo. And guess what, palm oil is being used in the manufacture of biofuel as well.

So, death to the orangutans. Many of us are contributing to their demise, unwittingly.

I wonder what the answer is. If we knew the source of all we eat, would it make a difference?

Here in the UK, showing the intensive farming of chickens on television has raised awareness, and now folk are thinking a little more about where there chickens are sourced from. Do we need to go further? I would love to see statements about the origin of the ingredients used in the food I eat. Is this available somewhere? Can we create a website? Will companies even oblige us and actually give us this information?

And finally, will it even matter? My fear is that animals such as the orangutan are so abstract to most people. Meat now comes from supermarkets, and the link back to the cow is becoming more and more tenuous. Luckily, the meat from a chicken is called chicken. But orangutans. Those are just animals you see in national geographic and the occasional whispered wildlife documentary.

PS. Thank you Clare and Daniel for the prod!