As he visited the Oklahoma City Zoo's orangutan exhibit on Thursday, Ian Singleton marveled at the coloration of Toba, one of the zoo's Sumatran orangutans.
Singleton has spent 12 years working with the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program and PanEco to help the plight of orangutans in that country that are endangered because of deforestation by the palm oil industry.
Through its conservation outreach programs, the Oklahoma City Zoo has donated about $60,000 to the project.
Last summer, several zoo staffers visited Sumatra to see firsthand how the money was being used. This year, Singleton is returning the favor.
He toured the zoo Thursday and gave a presentation to the public about orangutans.
Palm oil is used in many household products, from food to laundry detergent.
“It is a complicated issue,” Singleton said. “The amount of destruction of rain forest and wildlife in Asia from palm oil is immense. It's kind of an enigma, because on one hand, it causes a lot of destruction, but of all the vegetable oils, it produces the highest yield per acre.”
Palm oil trees can be grown in open land, but Singleton said companies prefer forested lands because they are usually owned by the Sumatran government, and permits are easy to obtain.
“They take an official out to dinner, and you get your paperwork and you're done,” he said. “It's one-stop shopping. If you go to nonforested areas, there are often questions about who owns the land. It's usually barren for a reason. Companies aren't keen on doing that.”
There are companies that have taken steps to protect orangutan habitat, however. Singleton said Unilever, a manufacturer of household products, recently helped form the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil with organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund.
Consumers now can make a choice whether to buy products from companies that care about helping, and choose not to buy from companies that don't.”