By Emily Beament, Press Association Environment Correspondent
An animatronic orangutan has taken to the streets of London as part of a campaign to highlight how rainforest destruction threatens the ape.
The orangutan was seen clinging to a Christmas tree in Coin Street and walking the streets as part of supermarket Iceland’s campaign to offer shoppers a festive season without palm oil in their food.
The ape was designed and built by special effects artists and is controlled remotely and by a specialist puppeteer.
Last week, regulators banned Iceland’s Christmas advert from TV screens for being too political – a move that has prompted 600,000 people to sign a petition for it to be allowed to be shown.
The commercial, voiced by actress Emma Thompson and originally produced by Greenpeace, features a cartoon baby orangutan – “Rang-tan” – warning its rainforest home is being cleared for palm oil plantations.
Since it was banned it has had more than 12 million views on Facebook, the retailer said, and celebrities including James Corden have backed the campaign.
The company pledged in April to take palm oil out of 130 food lines by the end of 2018, a move which it said would reduce demand by more than 500 tonnes per year.
Palm oil is mired in controversy, with warnings that “sustainable” versions are not preventing deforestation, while there are concerns that a switch to alternative oils could have greater impacts on habitat destruction elsewhere in the world.
Greenpeace warns that an area of rainforest the size of 146 football pitches is cleared every hour to make way for palm oil production, and the industry contributes to the death of 25 orangutans a day.
A survey of 1,500 people for Iceland suggests more than half (56%) were not aware of the impacts of palm oil production on rainforests and orangutan populations.
But palm oil and deforestation is still one for the top three environmental concerns for consumers, along with single-use plastics and food waste, the polling suggests.
Iceland managing director Richard Walker said: “Our stranded, distressed orangutan is a stark and potent symbol of the effects of deforestation.
“We always try to give people a real choice about what they buy and this was a key driver of our decision to allow Iceland customers to join us in saying ‘no to palm oil’.
“We are determined to be at the forefront of efforts to guarantee palm oil is not causing rainforest destruction and Iceland will continue to be a driving force until this environmental impact is drastically reduced.”
Richard George, Greenpeace UK forests campaigner, said: “What Iceland has done over the past week has really raised the debate. Big brands should take note.
“People have a right to know where the palm oil in products comes from and they’re not happy about it causing mass deforestation and killing orangutans.
“By dropping suppliers linked to deforestation, big brands have the power to change the whole industry because palm oil can be made without destroying rainforests – that’s the real solution to Rang-tan’s problem.”