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Zoos in various states in Australia recently issued defiant statements defending their position to continue to allow NGOs to use their premises as campaign grounds to link the oil palm industry with orang utan habitat loss. Posters displayed by the NGOs on the cages housing the orang utans at the zoos were found to be offensive by a visiting Malaysian Tourism Minister as they contained insinuations which do not reflect the true situation of how orang utans have long been cared here in Malaysia.The controversy probably has increased the zoos gate collection but propagating lies about orang utans and the Malaysian oil palm industry would not be tolerated by Governments as they affect the livelihood of our oil palm farmers who are dependent on this crop as a source of income to feed their families.

Zoos Victoria and other related zoos should take note that orang utans colloquiums are organized regularly in Sabah, Malaysia. If any of the Zoo officials are interested in discussing progress and other aspects of the orang utans, they should register and participate in such colloquiums and offer their expert opinion for discussion with other renowned orang utan scientists. As reported at our earlier colloquium, orang utan conservation programmes initiated in the 1960s in Sabah have shown that the population of our orang utans has stabilised in parallel with the size of land that the state has gazetted for conservation as permanent forest reserve. The total area of the permanent forest reserve is approximately 50 % of the total area of the state, thus setting aside ample forest land for purposes of biodiversity conservation, habitat needs for wildlife and mitigation of global warming.

Orang utan is a national icon for our tourism industry especially for Sabah and Sarawak where these animals are indigenously found. It is highly unethical for zoos in Australia to use them as an icon for antagonizing the oil palm farmers. Millions of tourists come to Sabah and Sarawak to see genuine orang utans in the wild and at sanctuaries where they show up during feeding times unlike the caged enclosures in zoos in Australia where the orang utans are essentially prisoners.

We are aware that the Zoos are playing crony to the NGOs on a bigger plan to legislate for the labeling of palm oil to discourage its use in food in Australia. With the new minority government, the threat of such negative labeling to be approved will be significantly raised because of the influence of the green MPs in the coalition. Trying to block the flow of palm oil into Australia for food applications through legislative means may seem to be a small issue to the zoos which are partly funded by the state governments. However, palm oil is a major agricultural produce of Malaysia and Indonesia. Trade in palm oil is an important source of revenue for these countries and their farmers.

Australia should know the importance of promoting trade in agricultural products. Annually, Australian farmers exports RM389 million (2009)worth of live animals and meat to Malaysia in addition to the exports of huge amount of cereals. Malaysian farmers in exchange export (a lower amount) RM 306 million worth of palm oil to Australia. For many decades, governments and farmers from both countries have worked hard to establish a healthy growth in trade for their agricultural commodities, but this is now being jeopardized by campaigns carried out by Zoos Victoria and their cronies which could wreck the two-way friendly trade of agricultural products of both countries. Even if the zoos and their cronies are successful in persuading the Australian government to pass the discriminative labeling legislation proposal through parliament, and curtailing RM 306 million worth of palm oil from being freely used in food products in Australia, it is unlikely that orang utans will benefit from this exercise. Have they for a moment stopped to ponder that the oil palm farmers could very well ask their government to retaliate and Malaysia may have to look elsewhere for the supply of beef and live animals worth RM 389 million? It is also likely that Indonesian oil palm farmers will ask their government to join the retaliation and further damage could be inflicted to the beef and live animal trade as Indonesia is a bigger importer of beef from Australia as compared to Malaysia. Governments know better than to allow such a situation to occur as it affects their trade and government relations. Certainly, the Australian beef farmers Associations would not allow trade to degenerate and Zoos Victoria will be held accountable for such predicaments.

There are options to consider for the serious conservationists at Zoos Victoria . Orang utans sanctuaries are commonly found in the states of Sabah and Sarawak. Projects related to orang utan conservation can be proposed under the auspices of the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund (MPOWCF) for consideration. All that needs to be done is to write in to MPOC with a comprehensive project proposal.

Alternatively, Zoos Victoria should focus on the conservation of the many endangered animal species in Australia because of habitat loss. For example, the Koala bears population is reducing rapidly, down to about 40,000 and the Cassowary birds are fast disappearing with a population estimated to be less than 1000 throughout Australia. The Cassowary birds would be far more interesting as a study option as compared to the orang utans. If you were to disturb their young, they can defend themselves by giving you a frontal kick which can be fatal! However, if the genes responsible for the big size of the Cassowary birds are transferred to chickens, the world could potentially have more meat supply. But if the Zoos in Australia are busy in their self-appointed role to campaign for our orang utans (which are already well cared for), and neglect to conserve their own Cassowary birds and allow them to go extinct, the world may miss a golden opportunity to improve on the poultry industry.

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