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Sumatra: Charity rescues orangutans left orphaned by the Palm Oil Industry

With a stern expression, this huge male orangutan stares out from behind bars in the cage where he lives

[This article was written for Barcroft Media and published in National Geographic, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, Science Magazine, The Guardian, CNBC, The Sunday Post, The Mirror]

Tragically the metal enclosure being used to house him is necessary because it causes him the least distress.

As a rescued illegal pet, being behind bars is all he knows and the staff at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program caring for him are trying to make him feel comfortable.

Another young orangutan has a brighter future. Also behind bars, this one has a chance of survival in the wild because animal workers will attempt to release him.

The next steps for SOCP are to save the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra – an area of forest located in the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra. Their aim is to ensure that the orangutans have some hope as the conservation also continues to provide a sanctuary for those displaced.

Once home to scores of orangutans, this series of photographs show why the island that was once called the “Emerald of the Equator” isn’t anymore – with images exposing the illegal deforestation and scarred wasteland.

Professional wildlife photographer, Jami Tarris travelled to Sumatra to spend time with the orangutans orphaned and saved from being sold illegally as pets as a result of the soaring demand for Palm Oil.

“With the help of the SOCP, I was able to use a drone to photograph aerials of the palm plantations and the forest damage adjacent to national parks and primary forests.

“The Palm Oil industry is a very controversial and dangerous topic in Indonesia and during my trip to Sumatra I was urged not to let others know that I was a photographer.”

With the help of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program and Dr. Ian Singleton, during Jami’s visit to Sumatra in November to December of 2015, she was able to spend time and photograph three orphaned baby orangutans.

Jami said: “Two days before I arrived in Sumatra, three infant orangutans were in the back seat of a car being driven down to Southern Sumatra by two men who were going to illegally sell them as pets.

“We are losing these beautiful animals and it won’t take long for this to happen at the current rate.

“It is a tragedy and this story needs to reach all households so that we stop the demand for a product that is rapidly destroying the home of the orangutan and many other animals.”

Dr Ian Singleton, the director of SOCP said: “The Palm Oil plantations are now threatening the few remaining forest areas that are still left, the remaining flatter and lower altitude areas are were the orangutans need to be, and so whilst we’re not yet losing all of the remaining forests, the critically important low lands are massively under threat.”

“Over the past 20 years, an astonishing 190 square miles have been cleared to make way for palm oil.”

The cheap oil is found in many supermarket products and widely used in foods, cosmetics, and household cleaning products. The Palm Oil business brings jobs and development to Indonesia which is the world’s largest supplier. However, it comes at a price as Dr Singleton and the IUCN website states that there has been an 85% loss of orangutans in Sumatra since 1900.

Dr Ian Singleton said: “Clearing by fire is an illegal process as forests should be cleared manually.

“People have been confiscating illegal pet orangutans since the early 1970s, and if you count the number that have gone into rescue centres since then its at least 3000.

“I only know of a handful of prosecutions and all of those have been in the last five years – so this is very much still the tip of the iceberg, and I hope there will be a big change in law enforcement against wildlife crime.”

“When the forests are being destroyed, there are often orangutans in the trees being cut. When they kill a mother in a tree, the baby is often taken by the poachers and sold into the illegal pet trade for income.”

Dr Singleton said: “We have a moral obligation to save as many species as we can, orangutans have just as much right to be here as we do.”

To view the full set of images, visit:


KeiKei is a London-based award-winning journalist and videographer with a degree in Broadcast Media and Journalism from the University of the West of Scotland and an extensive reporting background in news, entertainment, travel, and lifestyle.

KeiKei has travelled the globe interviewing, reporting and reviewing. Her work has been published in worldwide media outlets including, The New York Post, The Guardian, The Mirror, The Daily Mail, National Geographic and Conde Nast publications.


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