London Community News
By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
The orangutan isn’t one of those animals that North Americans typically know a great deal about.
Kylie Grace is a definite exception to that situation. The 27-year-old learned a great deal about orangutans — including the greatest threat to their survival — during her four months living in Indonesian Borneo.
Grace returned home to London earlier this month after volunteering for Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) and working at their rehabilitation facility, Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ), in the village of Pasir Panjang.
“I was very naive. I didn’t fully understand the issues around orangutans,” said Grace, who looked after OFI’s communications needs while in Borneo. Those needs including writing articles for the OFI website — www.orangutan.org — and its regularly distributed newsletter. OFI is based out of Los Angeles, Calif.
“I mean why would I know, we are on the other side of the world,” Grace said. “But at the same time, we are one of the factors causing the problems for them with the reliance on palm oil. And I had never even heard of palm oil before.”
Borneo, the third largest island in the world, is divided between Indonesia (which holds approximately two-thirds of the land), Malaysia and the tiny sovereign nation of Brunei. Orangutans are only found in Borneo and Sumatra, which is another province of Indonesia.
At this time, although Grace said the number fluctuates, OCCQ is working with 340 orangutans, 63 of which being babies. Orangutans come to OCCQ for two reasons, either as a result of the illegal pet trade (people take the infants as pets, but tend to abandon them when they get larger and more dangerous) or due to the consequences of the palm oil industry.
“Palm oil is the number one export right now in Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm oil is found in 40 per cent of all foods in Canadian grocery stories. It is high in saturated fat; it is really bad for you,” Grace said. “Basically, it is in everything delicious, cookies, chips, chocolate. And then things that are foamy, toothpaste, shampoo; it is in everything.”
As a result of the demand for palm oil, Grace said Indonesia and Malaysia are cutting down huge portions of the native rainforest and replanting palm trees. It is a situation Grace said is becoming desperate for the world’s orangutan population.
“Currently it is believed that if the deforestation rates continue as they have, orangutans will be extinct in the wild within 10 years,” Grace said. “We do the orangutan conservation and rehabilitation side, but we also work hard to preserve the native rainforest. So we are buying up large chunks of lands and basically release our apes there.”
Grace’s interest in orangutans actually began nearly a decade ago. At 19 she volunteered for two months at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Malaysian Borneo.
Grace would return to Canada after that, moving to Montreal for a period of time. However, she soon returned to the other side of the world, Melbourne, Australia in fact. While there, Grace earned her masters in publishing from Monash University.
While watching an iTunes trailer for the movie Born to Be Wild, Grace found out about OFI and immediately began looking into volunteering once she graduated.
“The application process takes four months, there is a lot involved. You also have to look after our living costs; you have to be aware of the living conditions,” Grace said. “You have running water that you can’t drink, you have a bucket that you bathe from, they don’t have showers. They just want to make sure you are aware of what you are committing to.”
Although she would have to adjust to local culture, struggle to pick up the Indonesian language (which she says she can now get by with), and get used to powdered milk, Grace said the experience in Borneo was everything she hoped for and more.
“In the grand scheme of things, I wasn’t there for a long time. I didn’t expect it to have the impact that it did. I learned a lot about humans, but not from humans, but from the animals,” Grace said. “You see the orangutans faces light up when the see these staff members, some of whom they have been with for 20 years. They love them like they are their parents, like they are their children. You learn a lot about love, unconditional love. It is an amazing thing to watch.”
Grace is now looking to get an actually paying job and although she doesn’t necessarily expect that to involve animals, she remains open to the opportunity. In fact, she continues volunteering for OFI today, writing more articles and raising awareness where she can about the struggles of the orangutan.
“I will always, as much as I can, help out with OFI. At this point, it is helping out with some of the writing, trying to help raise funds,” said Grace, who added OFI doesn’t receive government funding and operates strictly through fundraising. “I have always loved animals. I think I will stay involved, helping in whatever way I can.”
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