Wollongong’s Miss Earth a champion for the orangutan

Use the app: Lyndl Kean, pictured here in Sumatra, said easy smart phone apps can tell you which products use palm oil.

Use the app: Lyndl Kean, pictured here in Sumatra, said easy smart phone apps can tell you which products use palm oil.

An Illawarra woman is parlaying her modelling career into a bid to save one of humanity’s closest relatives – the orangutan.

Lyndl Kean won the title of Miss Earth Australia 2016 – which she describes as “a beauty pageant that’s environment-based” – and as a lover of monkeys since she was a child, is using her profile for a good cause.

Endangered habitat: Lyndl Kean with an inquisitive orangutan above her.

Endangered habitat: Lyndl Kean with an inquisitive orangutan above her.

In particular, she wants Australians to know about the damage done to orangutan habitat by an industry with its tentacles in many of the foods we eat, and the soaps and cosmetics we use: palm oil. 

Ms Kean, 27, has recently returned from a trip to the Bukit Tigapuluh ecosystem on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, where the advance of the palm oil industry is threatening an ecosystem which is estimated to be home to 150 orangutans.

“In the past 20 years they [orangutans] have lost 80 per cent of their habitat,” Ms Kean said.

“One of the really big eye-openers for me was during the six-hour drive from Jambi airport to the national park, where for the majority of it all we could see were palm oil or rubber plantations where the dense rainforest use to stand.

“It was truly harrowing to see the extent of the destruction of the rainforest first-hand.”

But for consumers who have difficulty identifying whether their usual products contain palm oil, Ms Keane proposes a very contemporary solution: there are smart phone apps which allow users to scan a product’s barcode, and it provides information about the presence of palm oil.

Ms Kean, who went to school at Figtree High but now lives up the track in Sydney, is working with a charity called The Orangutan Project (TOP) and has organised a fundraiser for the group at the Kittyhawk bar in Sydney’s CBD next Friday night. 

“We want to reduce demand for palm oil products, and help The Orangutan Project secure their habitat,” Ms Kean said.

“Palm oil is in up to 50 per cent of products in the supermarket – and it’s sort of hidden at the moment under vegetable oil.

“We’re trying to change the laws on palm oil labelling so people can make an informed decision on what they’re buying.”

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