My heart is heavy after learning of the story behind the cruelty dealt to a mother orangutan and the death of her baby. The sad story is described here.
I will quote from that article the painful details:
Palm oil is used in everything from biofuel and cooking oil to lipstick and chocolate. Indonesia and Malaysia provide the world with more than 80 percent of this oil. The global appetite for palm oil is voracious.
The global market value of palm oil is almost $100 billion and continues to grow rapidly. To farm palm trees, rainforests are razed and burned down, clearing the land for plantations.
The palms are a species native to West Africa. These plants spread pernicious roots that make it difficult to till the land again for any other use. “Without palm oil, we cannot survive,” said the mayor of a Bunga Tanjung borough in Sumatra (Indonesia).
The majority of Bunga Tanjung’s residents are poor, economic migrants from other parts of Indonesia, lured by the demand for palm oil.
Orangutans live on just two islands in the world [Borneo and Sumatra]. They are the only great ape species that resides outside of Africa.
There are about 100,000 orangutans remaining on Borneo. On Sumatra [Indonesia] — where more than half of the forest cover has been lost since 1985 — there are now fewer than 14,000 Sumatran orangutans.
The unluckiest orangutans die in the fires set to clear the land. The more fortunate are marooned on small islands of trees among oil palms. Desperate for food, they stray into areas inhabited by humans, raiding crops and provoking villagers to act.
When Hope [an orangutan mother] showed up earlier this year on the outskirts of Bunga Tanjung village in Aceh Province on Sumatra, some of the earth was still smoldering. Neat rows of oil palm seedlings stretched toward the horizon. Confined to a narrow strip of secondary forest, Hope gobbled fruit from village orchards to survive.
Over a period of weeks, villagers repeatedly shot at Hope, trying to scare her away. But with few places to go but the sliver of jungle, Hope stayed put.
The men came at Hope and her baby with spears and guns. But she would not leave. There was no place for her to go. When the air-gun pellets pierced Hope’s eyes, blinding her, she felt her way up the tree trunks, auburn-furred fingers searching out tropical fruit for sustenance.
By the end, Hope’s torso was slashed with deep lacerations. Multiple bones were broken. Seventy-four pellets were lodged in her body. Her months-old baby had been ripped away.
X-ray scans of Hope performed by veterinarians at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, the rescue centre where Hope was eventually treated, revealed the following:
It is an orangutan body riddled with bullets from who knows how many air rifles and air guns.
I have seen this type of X-ray image before, closer to home: a local boy with an air gun had shot multiple bullets into a cat. That cat continued to live, but faced a shortened life of incredible pain and suffering. That cat had about 7 bullets. This orangutan endured 74 bullets. This a traumatic image that no one should have to endure.
This is not an isolated event. Orangutans are shot by air rifles wielded by palm oil farmers often. This BBC video shows a male orangutan shot 64 times and blinded in both eyes.
Even more painful to hear about Hope is that before this mother orangutan was rescued,
…her months-old baby had been ripped away from her.
Although selling endangered species is illegal, orangutan babies are often captured for the pet trade, or for zoos in need of a star attraction. A big-eyed baby with tufts of coppery hair can earn villagers $70. By the time the apes are sold to unscrupulous zoos or private owners, they can go for 100 times that.
A teenager from Bunga Tanjung headed for a cluster of trees to pry Hope’s baby from her arms. Even though pellets had robbed the mother of her eyesight, Hope struggled to protect her child, leaving scratches on the boy’s arms. But the teenager did ultimately succeed in taking the baby away, keeping it in a basket outside his home.
By the time local forestry officials were alerted to Hope’s presence and mounted a rescue effort, the baby was barely responsive.
With Hope sedated in the back of a vehicle, the baby restored to her embrace, [she was rushed to the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme] rehabilitation center near the city of Medan, 10 hours away. The baby died along the way [due to serious undernourishment].
A Swiss surgeon operated on Hope. Hope is now recovering in an enclosure. She has learned through touch to accept a papaya or bottle of milk from a keeper. Nearby, orphaned orangutans whimper and squeak. When Hope hears the babies, she curls into a fetal position and cries out.
Orangutans share nearly 97 percent of their DNA sequence with humans. The remaining 3 percent do not preclude Hope from mourning her baby. Her body is still producing milk.
“Hope’s body was broken, she lost her vision and her baby, and now she’s a wild animal in a cage,” said a veterinarian at the center. “I can’t think of a more stressful situation.”
Back in Bunga Tanjung, the teenager, whose name is being withheld because he is a minor, has been questioned by the police, but because he’s underage it’s not clear whether he will be charged. No adults have come forward to claim responsibility for Hope’s many injuries.
Here is the Facebook posting of Hope’s rescue and surgery. The Orangutan Conservation Programme accepts donations via PayPal.
This is a face of globalization
This website was created with an ambition to explore and to seed entrepreneurial opportunities to address the greatest challenges that confront the world today and in the future.
As this terribly sad story shows, our economic and engineered systems are straining this world.
This tragedy happened because impoverished people want to make a living through the $100 billion global market for palm oil. Their approach is an act of short term survival that will, nonetheless, do nothing to help these people escape their bleak economic prospects in the long term.
These people are not even from the area. They are simply migrating to an economic opportunity. In my opinion, this is the same theme of economic immigration that is catalyzing the confrontational politics of many noteworthy countries.
This tragedy happened because a poorly educated teenager did not even understand the basic nutritional necessities of another sentient species.
This tragedy happened because the world craves low cost materials sourced from far away places, whose problems appear to be just as far away.
This tragedy happened because the insatiable needs of a global population are depleting the world’s precious ecosystems.
These challenges are huge. As this article from Trends in Biotechnology outlines, getting rid of palm oil is not viable. Last month, this article notes that the EU recognizes that palm oil leaves big shoes to fill. Meanwhile awareness of its problems remains low. For example, the authors of the marker research report for palm oil (linked above) wrote it with a perspective that actually encourages expansion of this industry, and they are not alone in perpetuating this cycle by focusing on short-sighted economics.
However, huge problems offer huge opportunities. Because these challenges are so great in scope, I believe that solutions to these problems also create huge economic opportunities worldwide.
We have already seen one modest example: that of Beyond Meat attempting to create a sustainable source of protein. Since that post, I am dumbfounded that its stock price continues to far exceed a reasonable valuation. I suspect its current valuation represents an intuitive belief among investors of the company’s underlying role in a new, important economic theme of making the world a sustainable place, without exploiting ecosystems that we share with other sentient beings.
In the posts ahead, I will continue on topics about creating sustainable materials, as we hope to find other new opportunities.
Will you please join with me? Let’s do it for Hope.