13/10/05 KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysia's palm oil industry deniedaccusations it was driving orang-utans towards extinction.
Environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth last month said demand forpalm oil, which is widely used in processed foods, could cause Asia's onlygreat ape to be wiped out within 12 years unless there was urgentintervention in the palm oil trade.
The Malaysian Palm Oil Association, Malaysian Palm Oil Board and MalaysianPalm Oil Promotion Council denied the charges, saying palm oil was astrategic, well-planned agricultural industry which supported thepreservation of wildlife including the orang-utan.
"These allegations are not well founded and contain a number of factualinaccuracies," they said in a joint statement to the national Bernama newsagency.
"The industry is far better regulated and the orang-utan far betterprotected than is suggested in the report," they said adding that theindustry often preserved jungle reserves and wildlife sanctuaries as partof efforts to maintain the existing biodiversity found in plantations.
A recent survey showed that thousands of orang-utans remained in andaround the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in east Sabah state on Borneoisland, they added.
In a report which Friends of the Earth dubbed the "Oil for Ape Scandal",the environmental group said wildlife centres in Indonesia were over-runwith orphaned baby orang-utans that had been rescued from forests beingcleared to make way for new plantations.
"Almost 90 percent of the orang-utan's habitat in Indonesia and Malaysiahas now been destroyed. Some experts estimate that 5,000 orang-utan perishas a result every year," it said.
"Oil-palm plantations have now become the primary cause of theorang-utans' decline, wiping out its rainforest home in Borneo andSumatra."
Palm oil is found in one in 10 products on supermarket shelves, includingbread, crisps and cereals as well as lipstick and soap, it said.
The red-haired apes, close kin to humans, are found only on Borneo, whichis shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, and on the Indonesian islandof Sumatra.
Their numbers have dwindled to less than 60,000 from a population thatonce spanned Southeast Asia.
As well as forest clearing, they are threatened by commercial logging,hunting and poaching for the bush meat and pet trades and forest fires.