Mis­sion of mercy for jet-set vet

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - CELEBRITY ESCAPE -

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.

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