Let’s Stop “Palming” Orangutans Off

Posted on February 15, 2016 by Jami Tarris

What do Chocolate, Shampoo, Pizza and Baby Orangutans have in common?

Image: Baby Orangutan with Rasta Hair

No, this is not a joke. They really do have something critically important in common: palm oil.

“What!?” you might be saying to yourselves.

I said the same thing when I first met a new friend – Jami Tarris – who will open new windows on the world for all us from time to time on EWC.

Image: Jami Tarris with a long lens on her cameraJami is an amazing photographer who has traveled the world and will be sharing her stories and work with us here on EWC over the coming months. Today’s article will be filled with the most beautiful and compelling photographs from her work with an Orangutan Orphanage in Sumatra, made necessary by this connection to Palm oil.

The good news: by the end of this article, you will know Jami’s little friends and best of all, know how to help them.

It turns out to be easier than we might imagine to disrupt the palm oil/ baby orangutan connection, simply by shopping a little more carefully, but more on that later.

Image: A close-up portrait of a female orangutan (Pongo pymaeus) and her young together, Tanjung Puting National Park, Central Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia
A close-up portrait of a female orangutan (Pongo pymaeus) and her young together, Tanjung Puting National Park, Central Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia

I’ve gotten to know Jami and her husband Theo Allofs recently and feel confident in saying they both seemed poised to make some real change in the world through their breathtaking artistry and insights.

Today, we’ll also learn about one extraordinary orphanage: The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program and the story will gradually weave it’s way into our hearts.

Image: Orphanage helper with baby orangutan eat a papaya

I’ll let Jami Tarris tell you the story…


 

Image: A touching moment as an infant orangutan touches his mother's lip with his small finger ( Pongo pygmaeus ) and she wraps her big finger around his, Borneo, Indonesia
A touching moment as an infant orangutan touches his mother’s lip with his small finger ( Pongo pygmaeus ) and she wraps her big finger around his, Borneo, Indonesia

Just before Christmas, I arrived back home from a month long trip to Sumatra and Borneo. As soon as I walked in the door (and kissed my husband) I told him that I decided I was going to adopt a baby – orangutan.

I went to Sumatra and Borneo to photograph the devastation caused by the (still burning at the time) fires that were deliberately set by palm oil plantations. Many are unaware that palm oil is a growing industry. Palm oil is replacing canola, sunflower, vegetable and other oils in cooking and household products. Palm oil is a HUGE cash industry in developing countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. It is so profitable that oil palms are now being grown in Brazil, Colombia, and several other South American and African countries.

Image: Baby orangutan clutches helper's arm

You may be asking why this is a such a bad thing. It is bad for one simple reason: it is destroying pristine natural forests that are home to so many animals, including orangutans, leaving babies orphaned.

Before they incinerate the forests (illegally by the way) in order to plant oil palms, they first have to cut the trees down. This is called “slash and burn” clearing. Too often there are still orangutans sitting up in the trees and the palm oil workers will cut the tree down, killing the adult orangutans and selling the babies to the illegal pet trade. Owning an orangutan in Asia contributes significantly to social status.

I know it’s hard to hear on EWC, where we usually read about hope and possibility, but that’s the long and short of it.

But there is possibility and I’d like to tell you more about some extraordinary people and how you and I can help.

Here’s a wonderful piece done by NBC that will give you all the insights you need to enjoy the rest of today’s empowering EWC article:

Via: SOCP 1

When I went to Sumatra, I wanted to photograph the fires, the palm oil industry, and of course, the orangutans. But as soon as I arrived, Dr. Ian Singleton, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP) immediately sent me to SOCP’s quarantine Care Center in Medan, Sumatra.

He told me that two days before my plane landed, three infant orangutans were in the back seat of a car being driven down to southern Sumatra by two men who were going to illegally sell them as pets. A twist of fate occurred when the driver of the car holding the orangutan infants ran a red light and hit a car in the intersection. Two policemen happened to be sitting at the intersection and when they went up to the scene of the accident they discovered that there were three plastic cages in the back seat of one of the cars containing tiny orangutan babies.

Ian’s rescue team drove 10 hours south to pick up these three baby orangutan orphans. His rescue team is “on call” 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And now I was going to a quarantine center where they were being monitored, fed and cared for…with my camera in hand.

image: A caregiver in a quarantine center for orphaned orangutans feeds a newly arrived infant Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) that was rescued from illegal pet traders after its mother was killed, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia
A caregiver in a quarantine center for orphaned orangutans feeds a newly arrived infant Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) that was rescued from illegal pet traders after its mother was killed, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

After I put on a face mask on, what I found was most unexpected. I found three feisty, happy, sweet, playful, and naughty babies in diapers! They were so cute and fun to photograph that I could barely tear myself away from them in order to photographer the other 49 orphans currently at the care center.

The loving keepers at SOCP’s care center are with these orphans around the clock. They know that infant orangutans are with their mothers 24 hours a day and need constant attention.

And so I spent many hours in the nursery watching some of the playful antics of these three that were SO much like those of human babies.

Image: A critically endangered Sumatran orangutan infant (Pongo abelii) that was rescued from illegal pet traders after his mother was killed, is now safe and is playfully being naughty with his keeper at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program's Care Center in Medan, where he needs to live until he is old enough to be released safely back into the wild, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia
A critically endangered Sumatran orangutan infant (Pongo abelii) that was rescued from illegal pet traders after his mother was killed, is now safe and is playfully being naughty with his keeper at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program’s Care Center in Medan, where he needs to live until he is old enough to be released safely back into the wild, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

This might be a great place for some interesting Orangutan Facts:

  • Humans share 97% of the same DNA as orangutans.
  • They are among the most intelligent primates and have been studied for their extensive learning abilities. They can use a variety of sophisticated tools and they have even been taught to communicate to humans using sign language.
  • They are susceptible to human diseases. Because they live in the forest, they have not been exposed to bacteria and virus spread by humans. They don’t have the antibodies to protect them from a common cold which can kill an orangutan.
  • Orangutans can live up to 40 to 50 years of age in the wild.
  • Females do not reproduce until they are at least 10 years old and then they can give birth every 5 years. But usually, there is a longer time interval between offspring. An orangutan female may give birth every 5 – 10 years and then to only one infant and on rare occasion twins. This combined with the long period of time between babies, means that orangutans have an extraordinarily low rate of reproduction. Like humans, their gestation period is about 9 months
Image: A young critically endangered Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) that was rescued from illegal pet traders after its mother was killed, plays in the quarantine center in Medan where he needs to live until he is old enough to be released safely back into the wild, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia
A young critically endangered Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) that was rescued from illegal pet traders after its mother was killed, plays in the quarantine center in Medan where he needs to live until he is old enough to be released safely back into the wild, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

What I saw and photographed: They are in diapers! They hit each other. They scream. They play bite. They want to be held. They love toys.

They love to climb around and grab anything colorful or shiny. They get mad. They have temper tantrums.

They laugh and giggle when they are tickled.

Image: A keeper helps the baby orangutan make a funny face
A critically endangered Sumatran orangutan infant (Pongo abelii) that was rescued from illegal pet traders after her mother was killed, is being tickled and plays in the quarantine center with her keeper where she needs to live until she is old enough to be released safely back into the wild, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

After spending time with these three little ones, I spent days at the center photographing the orphans who are a bit older. They are kept in cages where they are safe. They are matched up with each other – and are not alone since normally they would still be with their mothers.

Twice a day they are carried out to a play area outside where they can climb, play and have fun together.

Image: Baby Orangutan outside looking up sweetlyEvery orphan in SOCP’s care center (as well as Orangutan Foundation International) will be released back into the wild when they are ready.

A few older males cannot be – they were either born in captivity or are too dangerous to release.

Males are territorial, and if there isn’t a suitable territory to release them, it would be too dangerous for their survival.

A critically endangered dominant male Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) that was rescued from illegal pet traders looks out from his cage where he needs to live because he has been in captivity his entire life, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia
A critically endangered dominant male Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) that was rescued from illegal pet traders looks out from his cage where he needs to live because he has been in captivity his entire life, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Now, we just need to hope that there is still enough forest left to release these orangutans.

We can make a difference here if we just tell everyone and anyone who will listen to be aware of products that contain palm oil – and stop buying them ourselves. Just check ingredients before you buy. Your buying power – actually has power to save lives.

~ Jami Tarris

Image: A darling tiny baby orangutan with a ball


Here’s how you and I can save the day!…

Fortunately, there are some solid, easy steps we can take to influence this crisis a little.

First, let’s get really familiar with how Palm Oil finds its way into all our lives. I had heard of palm oil, but frankly never thought much about it. Turns out it’s in 50% of the consumer products in a typical grocery store.

Here’s an infographic put together by the World Wildlife Fund:

Image: Many classes of Palm oil products
Source: WORLD WILDLIFE FUND
Image: Infographic of product insights revealed
Source: WORLD WILDLIFE FUND

Turns out we can choose to simply read labels and purchase products that do not contain palm oil…

or better yet, support the farmers who are producing palm oil sustainably. It can and is being done!

Take a look at this ray of hope…

There are some recent victories!

There are some gains being made by consumer pressure and organization shining light on this corner of the world.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has a wonderful project. Check out their “Palm Oil Scorecard” and scroll down on that page for some major companies who are key players in this crisis. (The list will surprise you!) You’ll find a remarkably easy way to send a letter to BurgerKing, Subway, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks and Dairy Queen, about this issue. Check it out!

But here’s something brilliant: You’ll find a remarkably easy way to send a letter to BurgerKing, Subway, Dominos, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks and Dairy Queen, and many others about this issue. 

(All are companies that I was shocked to learn are making Palm Oil matters worse for orangutans.)  Check it out for their sake:

Image: Baby Orangutan peeking through bars of a cage
A young critically endangered Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) that was rescued from illegal pet traders after its mother was killed looks out from his cage where he needs to live until he is old enough to be released safely back into the wild, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Other victories do include some major global companies committing to finding sustainable sources of palm oil that are “rain forest friendly.” Here’s some that we found with some links if you’d like to dive deeper: Click through on a few and you’ll get a nice surprise this time!

Company Updates

Let’s see if we can get these little guys back into the forests.

Image: baby with purple towel

If you’d like to read a superb article that lays out where this issue stands, Take a look at this article from Triple Pundit called The Messy Business of Sustainable Palm Oil.

MOST IMPORTANTLY:

The good news you don’t have to give up products containing palm oil! It can be produced in a responsible manner that respects the environment and the communities where it is commonly grown.

 

And we can look for one of these two “PALM LOGO” lables. Just like the Dolphin Safe tuna labels, they are easy to spot at a glance:

 

RSPO Logo Look for the RSPO label to ensure you purchase products made with certified sustainable palm oil.

This label gives you the confidence that the palm oil was produced in a socially and environmentally responsible way.

 

 

 

 

Green Palm LabelCan’t find the RSPO label? Look for the Green Palm label! This label indicates products in support of the transition to certified palm oil.

Proceeds from Green Palm certificates help growers fund the transition to sustainable palm oil.

 

Let’s end today’s journey with an interesting twist:

 

Thank you to both Jami and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Project for showing how ordinary people can do extraordinary things!

Jami Tarris’s photography website is one of the best websites we’ve ever seen. My mother and I spent the most delightful morning browsing through her galleries, sighing and swapping stories that her images inspired. She’s doing far more than orangutans over there! I just popped in now and the website was opening with a jarring image of a pair of running, bare feet in the foreground and a charging lion in the background. I suspect there’s another story for us there.Take a look!

She also shares her skills by hosting trips all over the world with photographers eager to master new ways of capturing wonder through the lens of their cameras. The photography on that website – Focus Expeditions – will also take you on some journeys you could not have gone on without them.

Here are some remaining words from Jami Tarris:

Both SOCP and OFI are in dire need of donations to pay for the care and shelter of the orphans. One such way to donate is to adopt one of the orphans.

Both organizations let you choose where your money actually goes and I have seen for myself that every dollar goes to the animals – and not to administration costs like so many of the other larger organizations.Image: Baby orangutan clutches helper's arm

These two foundations are managed by people who are dedicating every waking hour to saving orangutans and other animals in these forests. You can make a difference too!
SOCP: http://www.sumatranorangutan.org/
OFI: https://orangutan.org/

If these small red hairy apes have touched your heart, then please look for my next article about something a bit bigger, less hairy and long in the tooth!

 

So well said!.. I personally love today’s article! It’s such a joy to work with people like Jami and Theo who are bringing us steps closer to a better word.

IF YOU WANT TO SEE A FEW MORE POSITIVE NEWS ARTICLES, FUN, OR INSIGHTS, scroll down to the very bottom of this page for my recommendations, or head to our homepage to check out our latest articles, circles, and archives! Even better, subscribe below to receive the latest from EWC right to your inbox!

Stay open, hopeful and curious!

~ Dr. Lynda Ulrich