Bread, Nutella, ice-cream, breakfast cereal, shampoo and many other everyday products all have one thing in common… they contain palm oil. But all that palm oil comes at a cost – the destruction of tropical rainforest in places like Borneo and Sumatra, writes Amy Cashman

The destruction of swathes of jungle in Indonesia and neighbouring Malaysia has been a disaster for one of forest’s’ unique inhabitants – the orangutan.

The Sumatran orangutan has been pushed to the edge of extinction, with only 14,600 animals remaining in the wild – and in grave need of salvation.

Moved by the plight of the critically endangered great apes, Abingdon-based charity Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS) is working to support projects on the ground in Indonesia to secure a brighter future for the orangutans and fellow forest-dwellers, including humans.

The Oxford Times:

The creatures which share 96.4 percent of their DNA with humans are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, says Lucy Radford from Headington, who works with SOS to spread awareness of the apes’ plight.

She said: “They’re just fascinating! Their intelligence and almost magical ability to move around in the trees makes them endlessly interesting to watch and to learn about.”

She said the removal of forests to enable the production of palm oil proved a major threat to the species as it destroyed their natural habitat leading to populations being fragmented and small groups or even individuals becoming isolated, unable to reach other orangutans to breed.

The palm oil problem was brought into focus when frozen food store Iceland themed its Christmas advert around the issue to raise awareness. The ad was banned for being too political.

However, with over 4.5 million people in Indonesia alone relying on the trade for their livelihood, it is not an easy matter to solve.

The Oxford Times:

To help combat the problem, SOS recently raised £890,000 to purchase an 870-acre plot of land in the north of Sumatra. Soon the charity will start replanting native tree species and turning it back into a forest, adding to the 1,647,853 they have already planted.

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Closer to home, SOS are partnering with Chester Zoo to launch the concept of Oxford becoming a ‘sustainable palm oil city’. They will work with people from the hospitality and food sectors, such as schools, attractions and restaurants, to educate and reduce usage of the oil.

Lucy added: “People feel a strong emotional connection to orangutans, especially because they are so closely related to humans. Also, nothing exists in a vacuum. Orangutan habitat is one of the most important carbon stores and losing it would have a drastic effect on climate change. This would affect everyone, no matter how far they are from Sumatra.”

To raise awareness and funds, SOS is today holding a wildlife-themed funday with a screening of Disney’s The Lion King at the Abbey Cinema in Abingdon. Donations will be spent on tree-planting, orangutan rescue, and education. Screenings are at 10.30pm and 2pm.