When will they have the rest of us?

When will they have the rest of us?

David R. Weiss, May 8, 2010

Kudos to the Pioneer Press for its piece (May 8, “They had her at ‘hello’”) on Megan Elder’s work with orangutans at Como Zoo. If understanding our animal companions better is key to preserving them and their natural habitat, then Megan’s work is a credit to us all and a benefit to the wild cousins of those whose company she regularly keeps.

Richard Chin, the article’s author, does a fine job as well of putting a face—actually faces: Megan’s, Jaya’s, and Markisa’s—on Megan’s vocational journey, the complexity of these noble creatures, and ultimately their peril in the wild.

Now that Chin has done all the initial homework, I hope he follows up with a report that explores Megan’s counterparts here in the Twin Cities: the corporations that drive rainforest destruction through their use of palm oil or their direct ownership of palm oil plantations.

Just last week Rainforest Action Network (RAN) activists called attention to Minneapolis-based Cargill’s role in undermining orangutan habitat as the largest importer of palm oil into the United States. RAN is also asking General Mills to join 45 other companies in committing to use only environmentally and socially responsible palm oil in their products—including many of the breakfast cereals that grace our tables; but so far without success.

While Cargill almost immediately denied the charges made in RAN’s investigative report, RAN has already stated that they stand by their charges—including that Cargill has destroyed an area of rainforest the size of Walt Disney World in the middle of Borneo. Chin could do a priceless service for Pioneer Press readers—that is, consumers and citizens—by sorting through these claims and counter claims in a next piece.

For those who can’t travel with Megan this week to Indonesia to see the plight of orangutans firsthand, the 45-minute film Green (you can watch it free at http://www.greenthefilm.com) offers a stunning glimpse into rainforest destruction through the eyes of one orangutan displaced by the First World thirst for palm oil.

It’s unusual for Minnesota households to be able to directly impact the welfare of Indonesian rainforests half the globe away. But putting public pressure on Cargill and consumer pressure on General Mills is an opportunity for us to use the best of our “Minnesota Nice” to help insure that the orangutan faces that delight us at the Como Zoo do not disappear altogether from the wild, where they truly belong.

Megan Elder says, of her first encounter with the Como orangutans in 2003, “They had me at ‘hello.’” With orangutans disappearing at the rate of 5000 per year and predicted to be extinct in the wild within 15 years, hopefully they’ll have the rest of us before ‘good-bye.’

David R. Weiss is the author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace, David lives in St. Paul, Minnesota and is a self-employed speaker and writer on the intersection of sexuality & spirituality. You can reach him at drw59@comcast.net and read more at https://tothetune.wordpress.com.

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