By now the team will have arrived in Sumatra, and we are not expecting any news. If there are any updates they will be posted first on The Extreme Expeditions Facebook page. In the meantime, Oll Lewis presents the first in a series of articles giving some background to the search...
Back in the 1980s when I was but a mere sprog-lett and the music, tv and computer games were much better (this is never actually true you just forget the rubbish stuff, do you remember ‘On the up’ for example? Exactly, I think I’ve proved my point) I started to take an interest in animal conservation. It was at this time I learnt that an area of the Amazon rainforest the size of Wales, or Belgium it varied, was being destroyed every year and if we didn’t do something about it then pretty soon there would be none left in a few years.
Well, despite valiant efforts by a number of charities the large swathes of Amazon rainforest is now a patchwork of grazing land with wooded areas in between and those wooded areas get smaller every year, the same thing is happening in the Congo as well. In recent years though among the worst deforestation to occur has been that of the rainforests of Sumatra. The main culprit of this alarmingly fast rate of deforestation is palm oil.
Palm oil looks innocent enough, it is a cheep alternative to vegetable oil that can be farmed with greater efficiency than vegetable oil in warm countries. Technically palm oil is a boom crop for developing countries and could be used to increase the country’s GDP and the lot of the people there. Western companies love palm oil, mainly because it’s cheep and it is hard to tell the difference in taste from vegetable oil in food. Check some of the items in your cupboards and freezer and you’ll be surprised at how many food products contain palm oil these days. Palm oil is in everything from chocolate to fishcakes and it has been merrily sneaked into all these products without notification and I’d bet a crisp new £5 note that you didn’t notice (were I a gambling man). Now if palm oil is grown properly on existing farm land then everything’s fine and no animal, plant or habitat need suffer. Sadly because of high demand it is not always the case.
Unscrupulous palm oil companies are destroying large tracts of virgin rain forest in Sumatra and other parts of Indonesia. The filthy reprehensible criminals behind these companies clear fell and burn the forest in order to make new farms for palm oil. In the segment of the rain forest that they destroyed there could have been new species of plant, fungi and animals. Who knows whether one of those plants contained the cure for some form of cancer or can treat the symptoms of another disease, quinine for example, which still remains an effective malaria treatment to this day was first discovered in rainforest trees in South America. The destruction of the habitat has caused the numbers of already endangered species like the orang-utan to crash. If the orang-pendek does exist (as is almost certain given the wealth of evidence already collected) there is every chance it could be killed by some evil bread-head capitalist breaking the law in order to make money from farming palm oil destroying their habitat or burning them in a land clearance.
There is no way to be certain that the palm oil in your food comes from legal and environmentally ethical sources, even if they are classified as rainforest certified. There is so much illegal or unethically produced palm oil on the market it is simply impossible to keep tabs on it all and it is not as if it will glow blue under ultraviolet light or something if it is dodgy or has fake paperwork. If you want to save the rainforests your best option is to boycott all products containing palm oil and write to the companies telling them exactly why you are boycotting them. Of course if only a few people do this then you’ll not achieve anything, but sometimes a company will listen if enough people do this. Nestle, Kraft, Unilever, Shell and Sainsburys have all agreed to completely end supply contracts with the worst offender in Indonesia, the appropriately named Sinar Mas, by 2015 in favour or smaller providers that claim to offer 100% certified sustainable palm oil after successful boycotts organised by Greenpeace.
Rainforest deforestation has, as I pointed out in the opening paragraph, been going on too long, not just for my whole lifetime but long before that. You have to stand up to unethical companies like Sinar Mas to stop it getting even worse, sometimes as the Greenpeace campaigns prove a few people really can make a difference.