Popular grocery items linked to image of orangutan cruelty

A starving baby orangutan has been found stuffed inside a birdcage in a remote Indonesian village.

While her situation may seem a world away, investigators suspect her capture at a village in Borneo is likely linked to the farming of palm oil.

It's an ingredient used in many household items sold in Australian and New Zealand retailers like bread, biscuits, margarine, soap, chocolate, ice cream, toothpaste, detergent and instant noodles.

It's believed her mother was likely shot because she’d wandered onto a plantation growing palm oil. While it remains unclear why the baby was then captured, illegally selling orphans into the wildlife trade is a common practice on the island.

An infant orangutan inside a bird cage.
An infant orangutan was rescued after being held inside a bird cage in Indonesia. Source: Supplied

Video shows the youngster, later named Mabel, listless and sucking water from a bottle. As the orangutan had not been given food, she was severely bloated, curled up in pain and her breathing had become laboured.

On November 9, she was rescued by government forces. Mabel was then handed to the Bornean Orangutan Rescue Alliance, a joint initiative of which Australia’s The Orangutan Project is a member.

Baby orangutan facing long-term health issues

Mabel was so tiny rescuers originally thought she was just four months old, however a medical examination revealed she was likely closer to 11 months.

Heartbreaking footage shot after her rescue, shows Mabel sitting in a clothes basket. She is so weak that she struggles to eat, almost losing consciousness as she bites into a banana.

The Orangutan Project's founder Leif Cocks told Yahoo News Australia the “ultimate plan” is for Mabel to be released into protected habitat. While her physical health will gradually improve, helping her overcome the trauma from her capture could be the biggest hurdle.

“She’s probably seen her mother killed, and then she’s been not treated well,” Mr Cocks said. “Orangutans are self-aware persons just the same as we are. A major part of her recovery will be repairing her broken mind to recover her mentally.”

Mr Cocks said staff will be providing love, support, warmth and care to help her recover. “Without mental health, there's no possibility of long-standing physical health, or the ability to learn and socialise and become wild again,” he said.

Palm oil is an ingredient found in common supermarket products and its leading to the extinction of orangutans. Source: Getty (File)
Palm oil is an ingredient found in common supermarket products and its leading to the extinction of orangutans. Source: Getty (File)

Palm oil threatening the future of orangutans

There are an estimated 55,000 orangutans in Borneo, but their numbers are rapidly declining. All three subspecies are now critically endangered.

Around 100,000 orangutans have been killed on the island in the last 20 years, and Mr Cocks warns this decade will be our “last opportunity” to protect viable populations amid an extinction crisis.

Mabel the orangutan in her carer's arms
Orangutans who see their parents killed suffer similar mental health impacts to humans, Mr Cocks said. Source: The Orangutan Project

Logging and conversion of rainforest habitat into unsustainable monoculture crops for short-term profit remains the biggest threat to orangutan survival.

It’s believed Mabel became orphaned due to her mother’s proximity to a palm oil plantation. A 2019 study found its farming is responsible for 39 per cent of forest loss in Borneo between 2000 and 2018. Next time you’re at the supermarket, look closely and you’ll see it hidden in the ingredients list.

It’s often hidden in well over 20 including vegetable oil, palm kernel oil, sodium laurel sulphate, palmate and stearic acid.

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