In the sweet time before man existed, the air was clean and pure, the forests were rich in life and the sea was brimming with biodiversity. In the dank depths of the rainforest, insects thrummed out a melodious tune whilst flowers pumped their heady scent into the thick, humid air. Creatures of all sizes slithered, clambered, swung, crawled and scampered through the dense undergrowth and lush canopy. It was exotic, vibrant and beautiful. Fourteen million years ago, a new species of primate began to proliferate; the Man of the Forest – the Orangutan. They settled in the jungle, being representatives and stewards of their home, dispersing seeds and ensuring the continuation of the forest, procreating, nurturing their families and perfecting the art of survival. All of this effort done composedly, with slow deliberate movements and resourceful, inventive minds. All of this effort, all of this careful adaptation and adjustment over fourteen million years, only for humans to bulldoze into their homes, leaving trails of acrid smoke and burning flames, simply to plunder the oil to add texture to our snacks.
Now in 2018, deforestation is rife. Twenty orangutans are killed daily due to our incessant demand for Palm Oil. Our greed is the root cause of their demise. Destruction of their home has resulted in a scarcity of food available for the orangutan, meaning that they’re enforced to ‘trespass’ onto the land of farmers, where, driven by hunger they steal crops such as the fruit from the Oil Palm tree.
There is a clear solution to this seemingly complex problem. The culpable companies that are decimating the land could and should be required by law to pay a tax on all the resources that they consume. If they cut one tree, they pay. If they annihilate thousands of hectares of rainforest, they pay. This money can be invested in the education of local subsistence farmers and their families, demonstrating to them how vital orangutans are to the ecosystem and the country’s economy (due to the tourism that they encourage). This will certainly reduce the killings that are a consequence of fear, ignorance or animosity. It will show people that the orangutan is not a malevolent creature to be feared, but a placid primate to be respected.
The remaining money can be used to pay compensation for farmers whose crops are consumed or damaged by the orangutans. This will pacify the farmers by assuring them that although they may lose money due to the orangutans, this will be reimbursed by the government. However, if they are found harming or attempting to harm an orangutan, no money will be compensated for and severe penalties will be enforced. This solution will dissuade farmers from coming into conflict with orangutans and subsequently, the two primates will be able to coexist peacefully.
We share ninety seven percent of our DNA with the orangutan, yet our similarities extend far beyond that. In the Summer, I visited the steamy rainforests of Borneo. One afternoon, whilst trekking through the dense jungle, we encountered an orangutan mother with her juvenile son. The little light that penetrated the canopy filtered through her auburn hair, creating an angelic halo that framed her deep brown eyes and thick lips. Whilst we stumbled over the rutted ground, ungainly and incompetent on the rugged terrain, she hung from one hand, casually exuding an air of easy elegance and grace. Her son fingered the damp leaves and occasionally threw a handful down on us with evident glee. The wet leaves stuck to our hair and plastered onto our damp foreheads like a blessing from the sublime creatures above us. Then, on a whim, the young male abandoned his secure viewpoint and began to descend from the branches. His movements were sanguine and smooth, but he had an evident destination; us. However, just when his supple form was mere metres from where we stood, his mother raced down in an anxious haste. Her lips smacked together in an anguished ‘kiss-squeak’ and her son began to retreat. The moment was fleeting, a transient taste of what we used to be. I gazed into the deep depths of his eyes and saw my own gaze reflected back at me. We were just two primates inhabiting the same planet, two children sharing an ethereal moment of understanding and mutuality. It was then that I fully understood how precious these creatures truly are. We cannot lose them.