Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin, while responding to criticism against the local palm oil industry, has made a bizarre claim about the critically endangered orangutans
According to Zuraida, the palm oil industry in Malaysia is not harmful for the orangutan population and it's the orangutans who are more likely to kill humans than the other way round.
She was speaking at the Malaysian Palm Oil Council's 2022 seminar and dialogue on 5 January, but an excerpt of her speech began circulating on social media this week and is currently trending on Twitter.
In her speech, the minister mentioned that while she was in Mecca, she learnt that school books in Arab countries are painting the palm oil industry in a negative light, because "we kill the orangutans".
"I just came back from my umrah. I was talking to our ambassador there, so he told me that in the schools in the Arab countries which [sic] his students went to, the books are still talking bad about our palm oil because we kill orangutans. I told him, in Malaysia, if you see an orangutan, the orangutan will kill you first, not you kill the orangutan first, betul ah (right)?" the minister can be heard saying during her speech.
Zuraida also stated that the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) have proper procedures in handling the primates
She claimed that the procedures are in place to remove the orangutans, instead of killing them.
"Perhilitan has its policies. Do you think they simply go and kill orangutans?" Zuraida said while incorrectly stating that the same is true when Perhilitan personnel spot lions in the wild.
There are no lions living in the wild in Malaysia.
"Even lions and tigers also, when they see, they don't kill them. They have to have some kind of procedure to faint [sic] them and take them to the zoo. We have all these procedures. We don't simply kill orangutans."
The minister then goes on to claim that the wildlife department has all the information about the orangutans in the country, how many have died, how many are still living, and where they are
Zuraida said that this information from Perhilitan should be used to counter pressure from the countries such as the UK, the European Union, and the US that are critical of the local palm oil industry.
She, however, failed to acknowledge the well-documented drop in the orangutan population.
According to an estimation from 1973, there were 288,500 orangutans in Borneo.
Following which, another estimation in 2008 found that there are about 104,000 Bornean orangutans, 14,000 Sumatran orangutans, and 800 Tapanuli orangutans remaining in the wild.
An additional 1,000 orangutans are being held in conservation sites.
It is estimated that there will be 47,000 Bornean orangutans left in the wild by 2025.
Additionally, Perhilitan does not operate in Sabah and Sarawak, where orangutans are found.