Another horrible thing wandered across my radar today, under the lively title “Orangutans being used as prostitutes!!” The attached text (which was written by a random Facebook friend, not a journalist) implied that hundreds of orangutans are being snatched from the trees and used as prostitutes in villages in Borneo. It included a link to a Care2 petition begging everyone to stop the orangutan prostitution industry.
So, some quick research. There’s a bunch of stories on this floating about, and they all seem to reference this story, written on October 3, 2007 by Jack Adams of the online magazine Vice, which appears to be something of a news outlet but whose main-page stories (as of 5/27/12) also include articles like “If You Don’t Like The Spurs, You’re A Wall-Eyed Moron” and “Dave Hill Wrote Some Stupid Book“. The orangutan story is extremely short (9 paragraphs, including the introduction) and does not go into a lot of detail. It also does not in any way imply that orangutan prostitution happens outside of this one incident.
The interview is with Michele Desilets, director of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, founded in 1991. The BOSF web site does not mention Pony or prostitution at all. Neither does Michele Desilet’s Facebook page. You would think that if orangutan prostitution was a huge industry (or even an industry at all), there would be mention somewhere. Instead, we have a tweet from Michele personally (dated April 2012, and directed at someone else who was researching the petition site’s allegation): “The case of Pony the orangutan was the only case we have ever come across of this type. It is NOT common.”
Is the use of animals of any kind (and, arguably, of humans) in a brothel an unforgivable atrocity? Yes. Is it terrible that this happened (and it does seem to have happened), and that the perpetrators won’t be punished (there are no laws forbidding this kind of behavior in Indonesia)? Yes. Is this a sad, sad example of how low some people will sink? Yes. Are hundreds of orangutans being captured for use in Indonesian brothels? No.
What is really threatening orangutans? Habitat loss due to deforestation, related to the palm oil industry. Want to help stop the idiocy? Don’t just sign an online petition — get out there and donate some money, try to reduce your use of products containing palm oil, (here’s a handy wallet card!) or, at the very least, Facebook or tweet about the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (or the animal support group of your choice), and get people angry about a problem that actually exists.