There's an orangutan wandering around London

orangutan in London
CC BY 2.0 Taylor Herring (used with permission)

It's searching for a place to live because its home has been destroyed by our addiction to palm oil.

If you haven't yet watched the Iceland supermarket ad about palm oil that was banned from UK television for "being too political," go do it right now. And take some Kleenex with you, too, because you'll need it.

A petition with over 880,000 signatures has not succeeded at convincing Clearcast, the body that vets advertisements for TV, to revert its decision, but Iceland had taken matters into its own hands. Phase Two of its anti-palm oil campaign features a life-sized animatronic orangutan that can be found in the streets and parks of London today and will later travel to Manchester and Birmingham. The orangutan is apparently "searching for a new home," as its own has been destroyed by palm oil plantations. As Iceland's managing director, Richard Walker, said,

“Our stranded, distressed orangutan is a stark and potent symbol of the effects of deforestation. We are determined to be at the forefront of efforts to guarantee palm oil is not causing rainforest destruction and Iceland will continue to be a driving force until this environmental impact is drastically reduced.”

The eerily realistic robotic orangutan was built over months of meticulous designing and is controlled remotely, "by a specialist puppeteer who has studied the ape’s movements," according to the Guardian. From PR Week:

"The initiative follows on from new research commissioned by Iceland, which reveals that deforestation and the use of palm oil are among the top three environmental concerns of consumers, alongside food waste and single-use plastics."

Despite this, a study of 1,500 British adults found that more than half were unaware of the devastating effects of palm oil production on rainforests and orangutan habitat. So while it's a widely-known issue, it's not yet mainstream.

orangutan on the streetTaylor Herring (used with permission)/CC BY 2.0

Palm oil is found in half of the items in the supermarket, from baked goods to chocolate to shampoo to household cleaners. In order to produce it, rainforests are burned or bulldozed to make way for oil palms. The resulting monoculture is one in which the native orangutans, Sumatran tigers, pygmy elephants, rhinoceroses, and sun bears cannot survive. The rainforest is being cleared at a mind-boggling rate; an area equivalent to 146 football pitches disappears every hour in Indonesia and Malaysia. Eighty percent of orangutans' habitat has disappeared in the past two decades and, as the Iceland ad states, 25 die daily.

It's not every day that one sees a life-sized orangutan loping through the streets of London, and it's bound to turn heads and spark conversations that might otherwise not have happened. Iceland isn't giving up its fight to raise the alarm about palm oil – the campaign was designed to market its new range of palm oil-free Christmas food products – and I suspect people will be more curious than ever to listen.

orangutan in front of ParliamentTaylor Herring (used with permission)/CC BY 2.0

There's an orangutan wandering around London
It's searching for a place to live because its home has been destroyed by our addiction to palm oil.

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