Palm Oil

Reporter: Mark Gibson

When you see the stunning Sumatran orangutans thriving at Perth Zoo, it's hard to believe their species is so desperately under threat.

Kylie says "The Sumatran orangutan is critically endangered, there's only about 6,000 left in the entire world and most of them are living in unprotected forest areas."

Here's what's happening in their natural habitat, the Sumatran rain forests are being wiped out in the name of big business. The forests are being replaced with cheap, profitable palm oil plantations.

"Palm oil production has increased massively in the last 10 years, it's a very popular product, and it's used as a bio-fuel and also in a lot of food items." As the senior orangutan keeper at Perth Zoo, Kylie Bullo doesn't just play Mum to the twelve orangutans currently here.

This was Kylie in 2006. Kylie oversaw the release of Temara, the world's first orangutan, born in captivity, to be set free. Perth Zoo kept tabs on Temara for a few years she's now thought to be making her own way in the Indonesian forest. "She knew her way around the area so she chose to move further north into the park area and we're hoping that she came across a nice adult male and really would love it if one day we saw her again with a baby."

But the future of Temara and her friends in the wild could be helped by Australian shoppers.

Here's where consumers can make a difference, in the supermarket, but trying to find the products without palm oil is where the fun really starts.

Leif Cocks from the Orangutan Project is leading the charge against palm oil consumption. He says sneaky labelling makes it difficult for Aussie consumers. "Unlike the clothes on our back where it's mandatory that the country of origin is put on them, the Malaysian palm oil industry lobbied our politicians who caved in to the pressure to not allow Australians to have a choice to whether they're eating palm oil or not."

"How difficult is it to find these products without palm oil? It's very difficult because it's pervasive and in a whole variety of products."

Apart from being environmentally disastrous, palm oil is also high in saturated fats, so it's not even good for us. Leif says "So it's not cheap really, it's just cheap for the quick buck and those companies who have decided to do the right thing and spend a little bit more for an environmentally friendly oil should be applauded and we should support them."

Perth Zoo has one of the world's best breeding programs. Baby Sungai is the twenty ninth Sumatran orangutan to be born here.

Kylie says the future of these intelligent primates is vital. She's joined the call for shoppers to boycott products containing palm oil. "This is about getting people aware of what's in their shopping and also we want mandatory palm oil labelling for products so people can make a choice about what they buy."

For more information on foods that do and don't contain palm oil