Thursday, 1 December 2016

A Very Private Place

Since reading an article about Indonesian orang-utans in 2008, I have shopped politically, written poems and talked to everyone that I can about a terrible threat to the population of this most private creature. Baby orang-utans have endearing features and are poached to be sold as pets. This trade usually involves killing the mother: They are very protective of their off-spring, just like we human mothers.  Removing the baby from a population is one thing but removing a female and the potential for further babies, is a devastating blow. 

In Borneo, a female orang-utan only reproduces every 9 years and although the reason that it is the least frequently reproduction mammal is as yet unclear, recent studies show that trees in the region where they live, only fruit every four years.  Scientists believe that in times of plenty the orang-utans are fatter and that this is when they become fertile. This makes sense to me. Many anorexic young women do not menstruate.  There is a link in mammals between female weight and fertility.

As dreadful as poaching mothers and babies may be  this is nothing compared to the loss of orang-utans that happening every day because of the global demand for palm oil.  Orang-utans are very private and usually solitary individuals, unlike gorillas and chimpanzees who live in groups and are easier to study.  These magnificent creatures live in the highest part of the rain forest canopy in Sumatra, Borneo and Indonesia.  In the last two decades, with the help of GPS tracking, scientists have at last been able to assess populations but have also discovered that there may be three distinct species of Orang-utan.

The decimation of rainforest, to grow palm oil, is lucrative for growers, governments and indeed global suppliers but devastating for these very private creatures.  In 2008, I made a conscious choice to avoid all palm-oil products.  It has been a surprising and confusing journey.  I set out with the view that palm-oil was just in cosmetics.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  Palm oil is in thousands of food-stuffs.  Years ago I switched to vegetable suet for puddings only to discover that it is made from palm oil and only today, I read the label on some high end organic stock cubes, only to discover that they too contain palm-oil.  On some Sainsbury's packaging, I have found the words, 'contains sustainable palm-oil'.  What I really want to know is, who is sustaining the orang-utans that have died so that the palm-oil can be grown over thousands of hectares of land that was previously vital orang-utan habitat?

I wrote the poem in 2008 when orang-utans were judged to be on the brink of extinction. I performed it at the first Dead Good Poets open mic that I attended. At the time I hoped to get the message out there and perhaps with your help today, I finally will. Recent population counts are not so bleak but if we keep demanding more and more palm-oil, then Asian governments with burgeoning populations, looking for a quick fix may cost us one of our most private and precious creatures. Orang-utans use tools, they are problem-solving and caring. We have shared ancestry - perhaps that is something that the palm-oil industry forgot.



Last man of the forest

Let me take you on a journey to the not so far off future,
Hold my hand and walk with me, it takes a little trust.
Destination Borneo.  Time zone 2030.
Once a teeming forest, now a barren isle of dust.
There remains a small oasis. One green and luscious belt,
with a solitary occupant who is seldom ever seen.
They say he is the last of those who dwelt in this dominion
His nightly piercing cries are mourning for what might have been.
Then call him the Orang-utan. The old man of the forest.
His fleeting rusted, redness sometimes glimpsed from down below.
If we're lucky, we may see him, deftly swinging through the branches
as he searches for the mate, he'll never find but cannot know.

The natives say the canopy was infinite last century,
greed has ripped the trees away far faster than then grew.
It seems the palm-oil industry was proving highly lucrative,
without regard for conservation, bulldozers powered through.
The Indonesian government brokered five million hectares.
Greedy 'cruel oil' barons reaped their profit as they may.
The scourging of the forest was relentless for two decades
Ecological disaster looming closer every dreadful day.
Many adult females died before they reached maturity,
most of them lay crushed beneath the excavated trees.
The sanctuary worked tirelessly to nurture and protect them
but no ears were tuned to listening, though they pleaded on their knees.

Palm-oil for cosmetics, on the ugly face of vanity
worn by a throw away society oblivious to cost.
Washed in soap extracted from blood of dead orang-utans.
a stain indelibly imprinted for what the world has lost.
His upturned leathered palms have done no human any harm.
Can you see his doleful eyes and hopeful tender smile.
Look closer, with your heart - regard the last man of the forest,
hold his portrait in your mind forever - in Da Vinci style.
This handsome, gentle creature is the last one of his species
and we, like him are hollow vessels, weeping for the tree.
So return now to the present day and tell of what you witness,
his demise may be prevented if all nations can agree.
Make them strike a balance to prevent this bleak prediction,
tell your governments to intervene to save the canopy.
He's the last man of the forest,
the Orang-utan of Indonesia.
His survival is dependent on the voice of you and me.

Thanks for reading. Please share, please read the packaging and please lobby MPs. Adele
Reactions:

0 comments: