You can make a difference
Oct 7 2008 By Diane Parkes
JUST a few days ago Charlotte Uhlenbroek was flying over the rain forest in Borneo – and seeing the results of the decisions we make every day in the supermarket.
There to film orangutans for a new television series looking at primates, the zoologist and presenter saw how thousands of trees had been ripped up for palm oil plantations – an oil which forms the basis of countless products in our shopping baskets.
“I was last in Borneo about five years ago and this time we were doing an aerial view of the forest and you could see these huge areas which had been deforested for palm oil,” she says.
“You see miles and miles of palm oil plantations and then these little patches of forest. And it is when you see things like this that you know you are part of a global situation.
“Every time you buy a packet of biscuits or a bottle of washing up liquid, you have a direct impact on the world. If people really care and they really want to do something, they have to be making the right shopping decisions.”
And those decisions can have a huge positive impact.
“When I was there I saw plantations where they have started to create forest corridors for wildlife,” says Charlotte.
“They want to then market their products as sustainable and that is solely because of pressure from shoppers.
“I was at a meeting with Tesco and we were talking about the impact of palm oil plantations on the planet. They said that because the oil comes from so many sources and gets mixed on the way it is not possible to ensure the palm oil they use is sustainable.
“But, you know, if people overnight refused to buy a product that was not sustainable they would find a way to do that. Shops cannot ignore pressure from shoppers – everything is linked and we can have an impact.”
Charlotte was talking to the Birmingham Mail in between her visit to Borneo and a trip to Uganda to go gorilla spotting.
A renowned primates expert, 41-year-old Charlotte first became interested in animals as a child when she lived in Nepal and took to rescuing stray dogs on the streets of Kathmandu.
Returning to the UK, where she spent her first 10 days before her family moved abroad because of her father’s job as a United Nations agriculturalist specialist, Charlotte took a BSc in zoology and psychology and a PhD in zoology.
After her studies, Charlotte spent more than four years studying chimpanzees on projects with world-famed chimp expert Jane Goodall in Tanzania and Burundi before being discovered for television when she appeared in an episode of the Jonathan Scott series Dawn to Dusk.
In the past 10 years she has presented a host of programmes including Chimpanzee Diary, Congo’s Secret Chimps, Cousins, Talking with Animals and Secret Gorillas of Mondika. And despite all the creatures she has spotted, primates remain close to her heart. Which is why her visit to Borneo was so exciting.