‘Orangutan Diplomacy’: Malaysia Channels China, Proposes Gifting Apes To Trading Partners

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John Oyewale Contributor
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Malaysia proposed gifting orangutans to its palm oil trading partners in a diplomatic effort designed to imitate China, a Malaysian government official said Tuesday.

Malaysia’s Plantation and Commodities Minister Johari Abdul Ghani announced the “orangutan diplomacy,” styled after China’s “panda diplomacy,” in a series of tweets during the inauguration of the Biodiversity Forum of the Malaysian Palm Oil Green Conservation Foundation (MPOGCF) in the country.

“It is a diplomatic strategy, where we will make it a gift to trading partners and foreign relations, especially in major importing countries such as the European Union, India and China,” Ghani explained.

The strategy “directly proves to the global community that Malaysia is always committed to biodiversity conservation,” he added.

Malaysia “need[s] to show the countries of the world that Malaysia is a sustainable palm oil producer and is committed to protecting forests and environmental sustainability,” he said.

Acknowledging concerns about the environmental impact of palm oil farming, Ghani called for collaboration between large palm oil companies and non-governmental organizations around the conservation of the “iconic” orangutans.

“This will be a manifestation of how Malaysia conserves wildlife species and maintains the sustainability of our forests especially in the oil palm plantation landscape.”

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), however, appeared unconvinced, calling instead for the conservation of orangutans in their natural habitats, according to Reuters. (RELATED: Indonesian Orangutan Successfully Self-Medicates In The Wild, Study Shows)

“WWF supports in-situ conservation of wildlife, and would urge that trading partners are brought to Malaysia to support this initiative, as opposed to sending orangutans out of the country,” the WWF told Reuters.

“Orangutan” is Malay for “man of the forest.” Orangutans are listed as critically endangered species, numbering about 119,346 across Malaysia and the Indonesian archipelago, down from about 230,000 a century ago, according to the WWF.

Palm oil, a versatile commodity used in foods from chocolate and margarine to cosmetics and soap, grows well in tropical areas, the BBC reported. However, palm oil plantations increasingly supplant Malaysian forests, threatening orangutan populations, according to the WWF.

The European Union banned commodities linked to deforestation last year, a move that threatened palm oil exportation from Malaysia and elicited condemnation from the Asian palm oil giant, Reuters reported.