Company owned by Malaysians clearing PNG forests

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Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia has published a press release to bring to light the clearing of forests in Papua New Guinea by a company owned by a Malaysian family. Satellite images showing continued clearing in the palm oil company’s development area available at this link. Four photos in the same link courtesy of Global Witness. You have permission to reprint the press release below and use the satellite images and photos. Please credit Global Witness for the photos.


PRESS RELEASE, 30th August 2018 – Company owned by Malaysians clearing PNG forests.

A palm oil company owned by a prominent Malaysian family is threatening Papua New Guinea’s unique forest ecosystem and is presenting a serious risk to palm oil industry sustainability policies, according to NGO Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia [FOTO].

The Bewani Oil Palm Plantations Limited [BOPPL], headquartered in Vanimo, Papua New Guinea, has cleared an estimated 25,000 hectares of forests including an estimated 12,000 ha in the last four years since obtaining a lease for the palm oil development project in 2010, claims FOTO.

“BOPPL obtained a lease for almost 140,000 of forests eight years ago. These are pristine rainforests are made up of primary and secondary forests. Destroying forests for palm oil or any other agricultural crop is unacceptable and must stop”, says NGO director Upreshpal Singh.

FOTO adds that BOPPL holds a Special Agricultural Business Lease, or SABL, which is an agricultural lease given out to developers by the PNG government on behalf of customary landowners.

In 2013, a report by the PNG Commission of Inquiry into the Special Agriculture & Business Leases found widespread abuse, fraud and lack of accountability and transparency, among others, in the awarding of SABLs in the country. The commission report, which accused BOPPL as a company with a “chequered history”, also recommended that its SABL be revoked[1].

In early 2017, PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill announced that all SABLs in the country had been declared illegal and that they should be revoked[2], while earlier this year a PNG online news portal reported that BOPPL’s lease had been cancelled following a court decision due irregularities in the awarding process of SABLs [3], though this was contested in a major PNG newspaper owned by Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau[4].

FOTO adds that despite the uncertain legal status of BOPPL’s operations the company had continued to clear forests and satellite images show that clearing was taking place as of July this year. The company plans to plant 20,000 ha of oil palm trees by 2020[5] .

BOPPL is owned by nine members of the prominent Malaysian Tee family[6], who are also shareholders of eight palm oil mills in Peninsular Malaysia. These mills appear in the supply chains of companies with sustainable purchasing policy commitments including Sime Darby, IOI, PepsiCo, Nestle, Unilever and others.

FOTO wants traders buying from the palm oil mills owned by the Tee family to immediately suspend purchases and demand the latter to stop clearing on their BOPPL plantation in PNG.

“The palm oil industry is undergoing a shift since the last few years as more and more companies adopt sustainability policies and remove deforestation from their supply chains. That many of these companies are still buying palm oil from mills owned by individuals active in forest clearing undermines these sustainability policies and attempts to combat deforestation in the industry”, concludes Upreshpal.











Despite the uncertain legal status [of BOPPL’s lease as mentioned above], in June 2018 the National Planning & Monitoring Minister Richard Maru visited the plantation to review developments. He heard that the Bewani Oil Palm Plantation plans to plant 20,000 ha of palms by 2019, and the mill is currently undergoing tests before it is commissioned. Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill will officially commission the mill. One question that remains is how the Tee family are funding this venture.  With an investment cost of around RM30,000 per hectare for infrastructure and costs to maturity, the capital needed for a plantation of this size are significant.

The Bewani Oil Palm Plantation is owned by nine members of the Malaysian Tee family; Tee Kim Tee, Tee Cheng Hua, Tee Lip Jen, Tee Lip Chuan, Tee Chain Yee, Tee Lip Sin, Tee Lip Hian, Tee Ching Chan and Tee Cheng Hu. The project’s inauguration in October 2010 was attended by Tee Kim Tee, who publicly signed inauguration documents at the event.

The Tee family are also the majority shareholders of four palm oil mills (Tagar Properties, Rompin Palm Oil Mill, Prosper Palm Oil Mill and Endau Palm Oil Mill) and the minority shareholders of four other mills (KilangKosfarm, WujudWawasan, Kilang Sawira Makmurand Cheekah-Kemayan Plantations) in Peninsular Malaysia.These mills appear in the supply chains of companies with sustainable purchasing policy commitments, including Wilmar, IOI, Musim Mas, Bunge, Mewah, ADM, Sime Darby, AAK, Cargill, Colgate Palmolive, PepsiCo, Reckitt Benckiser, General Mills, Mondelez, P&G, Nestle, Olam, Mars and Unilever.

The Tee family’s shares in these eight mills are via several intermediary companies, commonly known as the Prosper Group of companies, and their mills typically appear in company supply lists as ‘Prosper Group’, or a variant of Prosper. The Prosper Group’s publicly listed plantation entity, Far East Holding Berhad, has two main shareholders: Prosper Trading Sdn Bhd and LKPP Corp (Pahang State’s Company for Agriculture Development).

Tee Kim Tee & Tee Cheng Hua are currently non-independent, non-executive directors of Far East Holdings Bhd, and minority shareholders. Tee Cheng Hua is also on the senior management team of Far East Holdings Bhd as Executive Director Plantations (as per the 2017 annual report). Family members Tee Lip Jen, Tee Kim Tee, Tee Cheng Hua, Tee Lip Chuan, Tee Chain Yee, Tee Lip Sin and Tee Lip Hian are also majority shareholders in Prosper Trading Sdn Bhd.


Questioning Semenggoh’s orangutan adoption program

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Photo: Celebration of baby Mas’ first birthday at Semenggoh on 16 September 2017

In September 2017 the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, run by the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) threw a birhtday party for a baby orangutan called Mas, celebrating his first birthday. Mas was born in Semenggoh on September 16 2016. SFC were also encouraging people to adopt Mas. According to the SFC websiteSemenggoh’s main attraction for visitors is its Wildlife Centre, where endangered species, once kept illegally as pets, are trained on how to fend for themselves before being released into the forest.”

This gives the impression that orangutans are being rehabilitated at Semenggoh but there is actually no rehabilitation taking place at Semenggoh. What is really happening is massive tourism and it surely does effect the orangutans. Baby Mas and her mother should be living in a forest far away from humans, which means not at the Semenggoh Nature Reserve forest.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) discourages tourism involving orangutans once familiar to humans as habituation is associated with physical risk and that of communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis. There is also evidence to suggest that unsustainable orangutan tourism (in other words, doesn’t abide by IUCN guidelines) contributes to a higher infant mortality rate.

Our estimation is that Semenggoh Nature Reserve is only about 460 hectares (we are open to be proven wrong) despite claims that it is bigger than that, and SFC claims there are 28 orangutans, including 13 females (roaming in the non-contiguous reserve). However, our estimation is that there are only about 10-15 orangutans in Semenggoh. There is also the problem of inbreeding considering the tiny patch of forest. In reality, experts say that a female orangutan uses up to 1500 hectares while males use at least 3000 hectares. Even if Semenggoh is 1000 hectares in size, it is still insufficient to sustain a healthy orangutan population and avoid inbreeding, which will cause the population to plummet. There is no control of breeding of orangutans at Semenggoh.

There has also been rumours that there has been no veterinary care in Semenggoh for over 10 years and it will be sold off to a Chinese company. SFC is a for profit corporation. So we question, what is Semenggoh running an orangutan adoption program for?

Orangutans should be wild and never semi-wild and orangutan tourism at Semenggoh is all about tourism money and not conservation or rehabilitation. We urge the public to channel your donations towards ethical and genuine rehabilitation centres, the ones which do not allow tourism in or near its centres. If you would like to see orangutans in Malaysia visit wild orangutans in the forest where they are far away from humans, but strictly following IUCN’s great ape tourism protocols.


November 2017 update:

A Bernama publication on 5th November 2017 claims that Semenggoh is “The biggest orangutan rehabilitation centre in Sarawak…” and that “The main goal of the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre is to rehabilitate wildlife captured due to prolonged captivity by humans with the objective of releasing them to the forests eventually…”


More voices for Lasah

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Photo: Their Turn’s protest out Malaysian consulate in NYC

On 12th August, Their Turn, an American animal rights organisation organised an amazing protest for Lasah outside the Malaysian consulate in New York City. The consulate knew the protest was coming, and it closed earlier than usual, which means authorities are paying attention to this campaign for Lasah, thanks to you. We did inform supporters about this protest in previous updates. Photos and video of the protest [thanks to Their Turn] are in the link below:

Over here in Malaysia we too of course are working hard on freeing Lasah and we will bring you more updates as our efforts progresses. In the meantime we are raising awareness publicly and we still welcome those who live in Malaysia to join us to campaign for Lasah. Non-Malaysians welcome too. We have materials for you to use and disseminate.

Thank you to those who tweeted to make the authorities here aware of Brigitte Bardot’s call for Lasah’s freedom. Over 1,500 of you tweeted! If you haven’t tweeted, please click here to tweet now.

From the time and effort we have spent thus far to rally supporters like yourself we’ve got over 7,000 tweets in total for this campaign. Thousands have written to the authorities in Malaysia. We ourselves have protested for Lasah here. And much more really!

More updates to come. Thank you for fighting for Lasah alongside us. Like you, we’ll never give up.

Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia


Orangutan attack at Sepilok

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Photo: The lifeless body of Yoda after his tragic electrocution at Sepilok


In a Tripadvisor post made by a tourist in March 2017, an orangutan attacked a tourist at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre [SORC] in the East Malaysian state of Sabah. For years SORC has been a huge tourist attraction when in the first place tourism should not be allowed at all in any great ape rehabilitation centre. The Sabah Wildlife Department [SWD], which manages SORC, is aware that rehabilitation guidelines are being broken at SORC. However, the lure of financial profit at the expense of Malaysian orangutans at Sepilok does have its effect on orangutans at Sepilok. We have contacted the SWD regarding the attack and are awaiting response.



Read our media publication on the tragic death of Yoda the orangutan at Sepilok in 2016. Click here to read and share the publication.

The video below [not related to the attack] shows a tourist playing with two orangutans. We do not blame tourists for coming into contact with the apes as it’s mostly the apes who approach tourists at Sepilok and tourists are not told what damage they are potential doing to themselves [disease, attacks] and the orangutans. Please click here to know why you should stay away from orangutan rehabilitation centres.


Lasah denied freedom

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Dear supporter,

On May 10th the Malaysian environment ministry announced that Lasah will remain at the Langkawi Elephant Adventures [LEA] after an evaluation.

In a publication by a government owned news agency [re-published by The Sun Malaysia] the ministry claimed that Lasah is in a “healthy condition” based on checks by the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) and the Malaysian Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (Mazpa). Mazpa has previously said that elephant rides provides Lasah with exercise, an excuse while ignoring the fact that elephants used in rides are abused.

You may read the government’s response at the link below:

Our remarks:

– Our concerns regarding Lasah’s health, use and abuse has never been addressed to us, including in the article above.

– In March, eight months after the campaign for Lasah started, the environment ministry finally said that “only two of Lasah’s legs are tied” [when not exploited for tourist money] and called it normal practice.

– LEA claims Lasah was chained on all four feet to help him recover from wounds. We responded, no one replied. Our response here:

– The ministry and LEA claim the latter abides by the law. However our emails to the former regarding Lasah’s [daily] chaining relating to Malaysian wildife laws were never responded.

What you can do today:

1. The wildlife department posted a photo of Lasah on their FB page with a quote “Lasah safe in Langkawi”. Please comment:

2. Supporter Ms. Julia Savory started a petition demanding Tripadvisor remove LEA’s listings promoting them. Please sign and share her petition:

3. Donate, please help us keep our campaign going. Click on the donate button on the right of this page. Any amount will be of help.

We will not give up on Lasah and will continue campaigning. More updates soon. Thank you for all you have done so far.

Any comments? Please click here.



Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia

Sukau bridge project scrapped

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Photo: Proboscis monkeys near Sukau, Kinabatangan. @fotomalaysia

The good news wildlife enthusiasts have been waiting and hoping for. The Sabah state government announced on April 20th 2017 that the much much maligned Sukau bridge project, in the wildlife rich Kinabatangan region of East Malaysia, has been canceled. This comes after much pressure from conservationists, including Sir David Attenborough. In early March, Sir David criticized the plans for the bridge and laid out the damage it would cost the fragile ecosystem in Kinabatangan. For more details about the cancellation of the Sukau bridge project please click here.

Our work monitoring deforestation in orangutan range in the Kinabatangan continues. If you would like to report to us regarding deforestation, orangutan abuse/killing in Kinabatangan please contact us here. If you prefer to report to us anonymously you can create a Gmail, Hotmail or other account without using your real name.

California and London demo for Lasah

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Photo: London demonstration @HannahMorrisPhotography

In March supporters in California and London of the campaign for Lasah organised public demonstrations for the abused and exploited Malaysian elephant .

A huge thank you to supporters who showed up at the demonstration for Lasah outside the Malaysian embassy in London, and to Hannah Morris Photography [HMP] for the selfless time and effort spent on organising this.

Thank you too to Supporters Christina Ku and Ariane Gogny who organised a demonstration for Lasah in Santa Monica, California.

The government of Malaysia has responded to your pressure and only continued pressure will help #FreeLasah from a life of slavery and chains.  Public show of support is extremely vital to this campaign and we urgently need more supporters to organise similar demonstrations. Please get in touch with us here if needed

For more photos from both demonstrations please click here.


FOTO Malaysia government response regarding Lasah

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On October 17th the Department of Wildlife and National Parks [the wildlife department of West Malaysia, better known as Perhilitan] responded to our and supporters’ call for Lasah the solitary working elephant on Langkawi island to be transferred to the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary. It has come to our attention that supporters of the campaign for Lasah were blind copied into the response by Perhilitan and we have decided make public our reply to Perhilitan. Below is their email followed by our response.

We hope to get continued support from you for Lasah. Visit this link for updates and more action you can take.


From: Perhilitan

Date: 17 October 2016


Dear Sir / Madam,

We have received your letter expressing concerns about Lasah, the elephant in Langkawi Elephant Adventure.

Thank you for your concern on this matter. For your information, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Malaysia through the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia has investigated these allegations and given a written response on the said matter to Malaysian media in July 2016, included here for your reference:(

The Malaysian Government is serious and committed to wildlife conservation and protection for a sustainable future for all. Your concerns on animal welfare are very much appreciated. Thorough investigations and checks have been conducted in the Langkawi Elephant Adventures premises and investigations have found the elephant to be healthy. The condition of the premises was also found to be adequate, as it fulfilled the requirements set by the department with wide spaces, shade and such.

We take this matter very seriously, therefore, we would also like to seek for your kind attention and cooperation to verify with us any issue or information so as to help us focus our efforts and resources on issues that are genuine and need to be addressed.



On 18th October Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia responded to Perhilitan. Our email is as below:



To: Mr. Abdul Kadir bin Abu Hashim
Department of Wildlife and National Parks [Perhilitan]


Dear Sir,We thank the department for the response provided. It is much appreciated. Kindly see our notes below.

1. The department declared that Lasah is healthy. However, Langkawi Elephant Adventure [LEA] has publicly announced  that Lasah “…has a medical condition that has “bugged us since” that requires them to occasionally prevent sores under the supervision of its veterinarian.” In this instance isn’t the caring and experienced staff at Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary able to provide better veterinary and husbandry care for Lasah at the sanctuary?

2. Has the department considered the comments by elephant experts we have consulted? Has the department contacted elephant vet and expert Dr. Philip Ensley, who has expressed his willingness to help?

Dr Deepani Jayantha of Elemotion Foundation International, one of several experts including globally respected experts like Ms. Carol Buckley and Dr. Ian Redmond, has previously commented regarding Lasah’s plight:

“For an animal like Lasah, which has already spent so many years in captivity entertaining people will definitely have a better life in a well managed elephant sanctuary. Better nutrition, more space, adequate water, proper exercise and rest along with social interactions will make its life healthier.”

2. Referring to the 3rd paragraph in the response, please could the department expand what does it mean by “adequate” conditions for Lasah? What standards were used please?

3. Is Lasah chained everytime LEA is closed? According to the Wildlife Conservation (Operation Of Zoo) Regulations 2012 elephants must be provided with a night stall:

Inline image 1


Besides elephant experts, respected NGOs have also asked for Lasah to be transferred to Kuala Gandah. They include:

Animal Guardians
Animal People
Animals Asia Foundation
Blue Cross of India
Change for Animals Foundation
Earth Island Institute
Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations
Humane Society International
International Animal Rescue
International Fund for Animal Welfare
Jakarta Animal Aid Network
Philippine Animal Welfare Society
Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Hong Kong
Sarawak Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
World Animal Protection

Supporters who were blind copied into the response below have written to us to express their disappointment and frustration at the department’s reaction.

Our organisation is asking for the Natural Resources & Environment Ministry (NRE) and Perhilitan to transfer Lasah to Kuala Gandah on the basis on animal welfare, regardless of LEA’s compliance/non-compliance with the wildlife law. Lasah has suffered for many years and it is time he is given the respect and care he deserves.

We hope to hear from the department/NRE soon. Thank you.


Orangutan public awareness volunteers wanted

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Friends of the Orangutans (Malaysia) is currently looking to enlist two highly passionate Malaysian volunteers, part time, to join us in preserving our national heritage, the orangutan. You will play a major role in our awareness raising programme on orangutan conservation.



–          Lead and conduct awareness raising programmes in national schools and in public,

–          Communicate with national schools to set schedules for presentations,

–          Take part in public events organized by the NGO.



–          Able to conduct awareness raising programmes during weekdays too

–          Fervent passion and beliefs in animal rights and environmental issues,

–          Good communication skills

–          Punctuality,

–          Proficient in Bahasa Malaysia, both written and spoken,

–          Good command of English, both written and spoken,

–          Computer proficient, especially with MS Power Point,

–          Valid driving licence, preferably possess your own vehicle

–          Based in Kuala Lumpur/Selangor


This is a volunteer position. However, your traveling costs will be covered by the NGO.


Interested candidates should email us and include a copy of your resume.

For more details please email us at, thank you.

Why you should stay away from orangutan rehabilitation centres

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What’s wrong with visiting orangutan [and other great ape] rehabilitation centres? Orangutans undergoing rehab should not/must not be exposed to the public for two reasons:

1. Risk of disease transmission – orangutans who contract diseases such as hepatitis or tuberculosis [from humans] may not be releasable into the wild and doomed to a lifetime of captivity. Humans can also get infected by orangutans as we share 97% of their DNA.

2. Habituation to humans – ethical and responsible orangutan rehab centres such as International Animal Rescue’s orangutan rehabilitation centre in Ketapang, Indonesia, strictly control the presence of humans in their centres. Habituated orangutans may fail rehabilitation and never make it back into the wild.

Please stay away from rehab centres such as the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre [SORC] and Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island Foundation. The latter isn’t a rehab centre at all in the first place while the management of Sepilok is aware that tourism must not be allowed in great ape rehabilitation centres. Not only that, by allowing tourism Sepilok is openly breaking “Best practice guidelines for great ape tourism” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN]. If you want to see orangutans in Malaysia, see them in the wild, like at Kinabatangan in Sabah, Malaysia.

Please also read Orangutan Project’s excellent article on human-orangutan contact and its consequences, click here to read.


Three photos in this post of visitors to Sepilok in contact with orangutans.


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