Newest zoo cutie gets kiss for a cause

The baby orang-utan awakened slowly, her liquid brown eyes full of innocent curiosity as she looked up at the older primate cradling her in its powerful arms.

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Returning her gaze, the baby's mother, Puteri, placed several gentle kisses on her daughter's tiny nose before pressing the four-week-old safely back into the vibrant red fur on her chest. Puteri, 39, exposed her formidable teeth at a small crowd gathered at the railing of her enclosure. But the unnamed baby, Perth Zoo's newest resident, largely ignored the crowds at her public debut yesterday morning.

Leif Cocks, Perth Zoo's curator of exotics, said the baby was healthy, happy and already exhibiting a gentle and loving personality.

But while the newest member of Perth's 27-strong orang-utan population was doing well, the same could not be said for her wild cousins in the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia.

Hundreds of thousands of hectares of the Sumatran orang-utan's native habitat are destroyed every year to make way for palm oil plantations. In addition to habitat destruction, the Sumatran orang-utan is also under threat from poachers.

With some 6000 orang-utans killed every year, Mr Cocks said the new baby was invaluable to the continued survival of the species. Yesterday, the baby became the face of a new campaign called Don't Palm Us Off, which aims to force the Australian Government to change labelling laws so that it becomes mandatory to list palm oil as an ingredient on retail products.

Perth Zoo's director of corporate and commercial development, Carol Shannon, said better labelling would allow consumers to avoid buying products that contributed to the destruction of the orang-utan's habitat. To show support, register on the zoo's website or sign a postcard at the zoo. The resulting petition will be sent to the Government.

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