You’ve probably heard enough about rape for this week – what with Rep. Paul Ryan’s concept of “forcible rape” and Rep. Todd Akin’s notions about “legitimate rape.”
Whatever your definition of rape, it derives from the Latin word to “seize” and has always included the violent seizure of land, property and other living beings, too.
Which brings us to the rape of the rain forest in Indonesia – and the rape (yes, by every definition) of our close cousins, the orangutans.
As the forests are burned to the ground to make way for palm oil plantations, the few remaining, endangered orangutans either go up in flames, too, or they try to escape to the edge of the forest, where they can be picked up and sold to the exotic pet trade.
Or, as in the case of an orangutan named Pony, they can be sold into prostitution.
According to the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation:
Pony is an orangutan from a prostitute village in Borneo. We found her chained to a wall, lying on a mattress. She had been shaved all over her body. If a man walked near her, she would turn herself around, present herself, and start gyrating and going through the motions. She was being used as a sex slave.
She was probably about six or seven years old when we rescued her, but she had been held captive by a madam for a long time. The madam refused to give up the animal because everyone loved Pony and she was a big part of their income. They also thought Pony was lucky, as she would pick winning lottery numbers.
You could choose a human if you preferred, but it was a novelty for many of the men to have sex with an orangutan. They shaved her every other day, which meant that her skin had all these pimples and was very irritated. The mosquitoes would get to her very badly and the bites would become septic and be very infected, as she would scratch them constantly. They would put rings and necklaces on her.
Pony the orangutan’s story is by no means unique. And it is not only the orangutans who are being raped; it’s the entire rain forest and all the orangutans for whom it was once home.
Two months ago, yet another massive wave of fires was lit across the forests of Sumatra to clear the land for palm oil plantations.
Just 7,000 orangs are left on Sumatra – a tiny fraction of their former numbers. At the end of June, one of the forests, the Tripa forest, which used to be home to 3,000 orangs, had 200 left.
According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:
There has been an estimated decline of over 80% over the last 75 years … This decline continues, as forests within its range are under major threat. Most orangutans are outside of protected areas, including within potential logging areas and conversion forests. After a period of relative stability, pressure on these forests is increasing once again.
… The most recent estimate for [the orangutans of the region] is around 7,300. … A few small fragments of forest outside of those listed may still contain small numbers of orangutans but none are considered viable in the long term.
This is rape on a vast, industrial, inhuman (or perhaps very human) scale. And unfortunately we are all part of it. Check the labels of your food products and cosmetics – anything that might contain oils in its processing, from cookies to eye makeup. If you see palm oil in the list of ingredients, you’re sending money to the companies that are committing this rape.
And in this case, the rape is not only “forcible”; it’s considered “legitimate” in every sense of the word.