Ape Washing

Listen to Today's Edition
Voiced by Amazon Polly

Malaysia unveiled plans this month for “orangutan diplomacy,” intending to gift the critically endangered apes to countries purchasing its palm oil, a proposal that drew criticism from conservation groups, CNN reported.

Last week, Johari Abdul Ghani, Malaysia’s minister for plantations and commodities, announced the plan during a biodiversity summit outside the capital Kuala Lumpur.

He said the move emulates China’s panda diplomacy, which has seen Beijing wielding its soft power by loaning the beloved animal, a national symbol, to foreign zoos over the past few decades.

Ghani noted that the diplomatic tactic aims to bolster ties with countries purchasing its palm oil, amid concerns over the climate impact of the agricultural product.

He did not elaborate on the timeline, or how the animals would be acquired, but called on palm oil giants to “collaborate” with local environmental groups in caring for the endangered giant apes.

Malaysia is the world’s second-biggest exporter of palm oil, a component found nearly in everything from shampoo to ice cream. Despite initiatives promoting sustainability, including green certificates for compliant companies, Malaysia faces scrutiny over its environmental practices.

Following the announcement, conservationists and environmental groups swiftly criticized the plan as “obscene, repugnant and extraordinarily hypocritical.” They noted that palm oil cultivation significantly contributes to deforestation and the destruction of orangutan habitats.

They urged Malaysia to address deforestation, with a report showing that the country lost more than 19 million acres of tree cover between 2001 and 2019, predominantly due to palm oil cultivation and logging.

Orangutans, iconic symbols of biodiversity, face severe population declines, particularly on Borneo island, shared by Malaysia and Indonesia.

Once found in greater numbers across Southeast Asia, there are around 100,000 orangutans in Borneo and some 14,000 on Indonesia’s Sumatra Island.

Not already a subscriber?

If you would like to receive DailyChatter directly to your inbox each morning, subscribe below with a free two-week trial.

Subscribe today

Support journalism that’s independent, non-partisan, and fair.

If you are a student or faculty with a valid school email, you can sign up for a FREE student subscription or faculty subscription.

Questions? Write to us at hello@dailychatter.com.

Copy link