Orang utans, palm oil and roadside breakfasts
Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia: 21.06.04
Sepolok Jungle Resort.
Orang Utans hate palm oil for a reason.
Today I saw the orang-utans at the Sepolok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. Pretty amazing really – i think there was 18 or so, ranging from a mum and her tiny baby clinging tightly to her for dear life to older mature males and lots of younger or teenage animals. I also saw heaps of monkeys (not proboscis) and a snake. The snake was green and yellow and curled up in a tree. It’s amazing how things coloured so brightly can be so camouflaged. We also saw some lizards of varying sizes.
Watching the group of adorable apes get up to all types of mischief and playing around like kids (and their grumpy dads who just want to eat all the bananas) I learned and reflected on why these beautiful animals are at this centre and why they are so endangered. It wasn’t hard to understand as the evidence had been making me angry for days. At first, I couldn’t believe it.
Driving along the country side was depressing and truly shocking! Our bus ride from Mt Kinabalu to here was bereft of its vitality and beauty. The jungle which was so amazing and rich with mind boggling life has all been chopped down in favour of squat, ugly palm oil plantations. Palm oil nuts yield pretty high quantities of oil which is used in cooking and cosmetics. Apparently, Malaysia is the top producer of the stuff. All we could see was vast swathes of destruction and chopped rainforest swapped for rows of palms and wasted nuts for hours on both sides of the road for as far as the eye could see. The ugliness was interrupted every now and again only by sorry looking towns and forlorn banana trees.
It was totally unbelievable! I can even imagine the environmental impact and how much wildlife and native villagers were displaced during the logging process – it must have been a LOT! Nothing else, no villages, no ecosystems, no wildlife can exist in such a monoculture and I am positive that the locals didn’t receive any benefits either.
Everywhere I travelled in Sabah (Sandakan and Sepolok are exceptions) this became a familiar sight with the villages in between the plantations looking pretty ramshackle, filthy and depressing. Are they only for the workers? Is there no pride or community heart here? Homes, shops and restaurants are swept only to the border of the premises and rubbish is left to lie there. The next day it happens again but and then the plastic and wind blown crap goes everywhere, pollutes the community and lines the sides of the roads. More is added as the country side becomes the landfill. I still, no matter how often I see the sight, am astounded that people don’t clean up after themselves. We have know for centuries the importance of sanitation and the diseases carried by rats and rubbish.
No wonder the poor Orang-utans are so close to extinction! Avoid palm oil where you can.
This person has written a blog on their efforts to avoid it in the US
I’m sitting in the bus waiting for it to depart for Semporna, I’ve just inhaled my breakfast of soto ayam and kopi (6rm, NZ$2.50 for 2 breakfasts – cheap as chips!). The coffee here is strong, and today it came with sweetened condensed milk – too much for some but I liked it. Of course I needn’t have rushed as the bus clearly hasn’t departed on time.
Yesterday I breakfasted at a roadside restaurant before the bus and had an excellent mushroom omelette and the blackest coffee I have ever drunk. It looked really black, but didn’t taste bitter to me.
The restaurants we ate in were clustered together in the middle of a square tarmac area they call the station. The stalls are tacked together against some sorry looking small trees and while they look pretty makeshift, I am sure they’ve been here for years. The plastic table cloths cover up uneven tables with mismatched planks and benches are shiny with many bums. You have to not think too much about where you are, instead concentrate on the hot steaming food, that’s being turned over fast with the bus passengers coming and going. There is of course, plastic rubbish strewn everywhere and if anything is wiped down, it’s only wiped as far as the ground.
This is where the slinking and ill treated dogs and cats come in – a sorry part of the urban ecosystem. Diseased and depressed, these feral animals are a sorry sight – I saw one dog at a rest stop with a huge bulbous growth under his chin – and all are mangy, undernourished and skittish. But there are smiles here too. We sat breakfasting with the Tuang Ma express bus ticket boys who were a bit of a laugh.
They don’t see the things we do, there is nothing to contrast it to. This is normal.