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Orangutan Warnings Aimed At Palm Oil Industry Says Malaysia

Malaysia has been championing the use of palm oil as a biofuel which can be used as an alternative to fossil fuels, but environmentalists and wildlife groups have debated its possible effects on the environment. AFP Photo
by Staff Writers
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) April 16, 2007
Malaysia on Monday said scientists who claim orangutan populations are threatened by forest-clearing are trying to hurt the country's palm oil industry. Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said the scientists were trying to undermine the image of palm oil, a mainstay of the Malaysian economy touted as an important biofuel of the future.

"It's not true. There is an ulterior motive which is to hurt the interest of the oil palm industry. That is the real intention," Najib told reporters.

Malaysian officials have previously accused Western scientists of trying to smear the palm oil industry to boost rival products from developed countries.

Najib's comments came amid recent claims by scientists, published in Malay-language daily Utusan Malaysia, that Borneo island's orangutans were under threat of extinction as their habitats disappear.

A study completed in September orangutans and other animals along the Kinabatangan river, in central Sabah province, said the apes could face extinction in less than 50 years if immediate conservation measures were not taken.

Chunks of forest land in Malaysia's Borneo, where orangutans reside, have been carved away by private land ownership, mainly plantations, to grow crops.

But Najib insisted that Malaysia had a proven international track record for its forest conservation and clearing forest land for plantation was done on a sustainable basis.

"In terms of our forest cover, including permanent forest reserves, land size, we still have wide areas. We have also gazetted sizable areas for orangutan conservation programmes," Najib said.

He said in terms of conserving forests, "Malaysia is among the best, far better than many European countries."

Malaysia has been championing the use of palm oil as a biofuel which can be used as an alternative to fossil fuels, but environmentalists and wildlife groups have debated its possible effects on the environment.

Orangutans are Asia's only great ape and are split into two species, one of which -- the Pongo pygmaeus -- is found only on Borneo, an island shared by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Most of them are in Malaysia's Sabah province.

Besides forest clearing, orangutans are also threatened by forest fires, commercial logging, hunting and poaching.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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