19 August 2013

Sumatran Orang-utans at Melbourne Zoo have celebrated a day designated in their honour: the first-ever World Orang-utan Day.

The worldwide event is aimed at drawing attention to the desperate plight of Asia’s only Great Ape species, rapidly losing their rainforest homes.

Deforestation to make room for African Palm Oil plantations across huge areas of Borneo and Sumatra is devastating the last two remaining natural habitats of orang-utans.

Unsustainable palm oil plantations are the single largest cause of the dramatic drop in orang-utan populations, with some experts predicting they could vanish from the wild in as little as a decade.

Palm oil is an invisible ingredient in about half of the manufactured foods on Australian supermarket shelves.

It’s invisible because labelling legislation permits manufacturers to label it as ‘vegetable oil’.

The Zoo’s Don’t Palm us Off campaign aims to inform consumers that every shopper has the power to make better choices in our supermarkets and that their choices, good or bad, have a direct impact on orang-utan survival.

Certified sustainable palm oil is produced from plantations grown on land that was previously used for another purpose, as opposed to making more wildlife homeless by clearing more rainforest to plant oil palm.

The certification process confirms that the oil was produced without harming wildlife by damaging or destroying their habitats.

The recently-launched Zoopermarket at the Orang-utan Sanctuary enables visitors to check the palm oil policies of 15 manufacturers and email either their praise or their criticism to those companies.

Almost 3,000 emails have already been sent, and another 5,000+ signatures supporting clear labelling and CSPO have been collected.

The palm family is diverse and widespread, with almost 3,000 species, mostly native to the tropics.  They produce useful foods such as dates and coconuts, their trunks can be used as timber, and their leaves become waterproof thatch for houses in many tropical countries.

The Zoo orang-utans enjoyed a palm picnic to celebrate their special day, playing with pruned palm fronds from some of the 17 native and exotic palm species growing in the Zoo gardens. 

Perched among the palm fronds, they enjoyed a picnic of coconut and dates, plus sugar cane and several species of tropical fruits.

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