Mission of mercy for jet-set vet
A combination of the world’s thirst for palm oil and heartless gangs of poachers has made the future bleak for Borneo’s magnificent orang-utan
AUSTRALIA’S favourite vet Harry Cooper recently travelled to Borneo to see the endangered orang-utans.
He will share his journey on Better Homes and Gardens this week and hopes the playful images and experiences he and the film crew shared will educate audiences about the plight of this threatened species.
Favourite place to travel overseas?
HC: I went to Antarctica at the end of 2012 and it was a lifechanging experience. It’s so quiet and so beautiful. You see your first iceberg and you’re speechless, struck by how beautiful it is.
Two days later you go, “Oh, that’s a nice iceberg” (laughs). The wildlife in Antarctica is spectacular. I remember pulling up by a piece of land covered in little black dots.
Thousands of penguins assembled in one area sitting on their eggs on the rocks, trying to keep them warm with snow all around us. It’s an incredible destination.
What’s on your bucket list?
HC: I’d love to go to the Galapagos. I’d like to see what Darwin saw.
What was your favourite part of your recent trip to Borneo?
HC: I loved watching the adolescent orangs in the wild. Some of them are pretty clumsy swinging through the trees. They’re a bit, “Whoops-a-daisy, missed that branch, fell down on the floor, get back up and try again”. Some of them would come and sit quite close – we weren’t allowed to approach them but if they approached us, that was OK. One did touch me and that was quite a privilege.
What was the most challenging part of the trip?
HC: It’s not easy to get there and the standards have a long way to go, but we spent a couple of days in a care centre where they look after something like 300 orang-utans. There were babies just a month old to ones that were seven or eight years old and ready to be released. Sadly the Indonesian Government wants to be the world’s largest palm oil producer and has cleared tremendous tracts of forest. Along with the risk of poachers and people who want to sell the babies on the black market, the orphans don’t have anywhere safe to go. I look at these little guys, I look at their eyes and what do I see? A sort of a longing to be loved, I suppose, and I worry about what’s going to happen to them. It breaks your heart.
What can Australians do to help?
HC: Donating to organisations that are buying up forest for the orang-utans and avoiding products that contain palm oil. The big problem, of course, is that labelling in Australia only requires we label stuff as vegetable oil – it doesn’t say palm oil. I think the younger generation are acutely aware of the situation and determined to do something about it.
Did anything go wrong on the trip?
HC: I got a pretty good chomp on my arm from one of the baby orangs but it wasn’t like that wasn’t going to happen (laughs). See Dr Harry Cooper and the orangutans on Better Homes and Gardens on January 31, at 7pm on Channel 7.