Kobe Steele has found her life path - she’s on a mission to save the orangutans.
As the Founder and President of Orangutan Foundation International Australia, Kobe recently received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for her amazing work.
In honour of International Orangutan Day, we sat with Kobe to discover her passion for starting this organisation, the importance of Palm Oil Free and her greatest inspiration.
You were recently awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for services to conservation and the environment, a huge honour. What inspired you to dedicate your life to the orangutans?
It was the tragic death of my daughter and only child Kristin when she was 25 years old that lead me to Borneo where I had the absolute privilege of visiting Orangutan Foundation International’s Orphan Care Centre.
During that visit, I went to the infant’s playground which was full of little 3 and 4 year old orangutans. There was a young male infant, Faisal, standing over in a corner, away from all the others, who had just been rescued and brought to the Care Centre after his mother had been killed. As he climbed up into my arms and looked into my face, lightning bolts of happiness shot through me. It was the first time I had felt happiness since my daughter had been killed.
My deep love for orangutans started there and then. I came home to Australia determined to do something to help them.
Your journey led you to start the Orangutan Foundation International Australia (OFIA), tell us a little more about the work you do and what you’re most passionate about?
OFIA has two core campaigns; caring for orphaned, displaced and injured orangutans at the OFI Care Centre & Quarantine in Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo; and securing habitat for their future release.
OFI currently care for 300+ orangutans at their Care Centre. These orangutans have been orphaned primarily due to the destruction of their habitat for palm oil plantations, illegal logging and mining. Without the OFI Care Centre, these beautiful, gentle apes would be homeless and would have no chance of survival.
The Care Centre is a half-way house for orangutans, providing them with food, shelter and love along with the skills they will need when they are old enough to be released back into the wild. We must save orangutans and their rainforest home!
Palm oil and its derivatives exist in 70% of personal care products and is hidden in over 200 different ingredient names. Many people don’t even know it’s in their products. Can you explain why choosing Palm Oil Free products is important, and why the term ‘sustainable palm oil’ can be misleading?
85% of all palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia and is the major cause of deforestation. When rainforest is destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations the orangutan’s habitat is destroyed and they have nowhere to live. Having lost their forest home, orangutans become displaced and confused. With no source of food they inevitably starve to death or wander into the palm oil plantations, only to be killed by plantation workers who often view them as agricultural pests.
As their natural habitat diminishes, orangutans become more vulnerable to poachers, who kill orangutan mothers in order to capture their infants to sell into the illegal wildlife trade. On top of all that, deforestation is one of the major causes of climate change.
In regards to “sustainable palm oil” …
It’s not that we (OFI) have anything against the concept of “sustainable” palm oil however we believe that in reality, at this time, it doesn’t exist, regardless of what some companies may claim. Sustainable palm oil may be coming one day, but companies now pledging to be “sustainable” have not returned the tropical rainforests that they destroyed to establish their palm oil plantations. So how can these plantations claim to be “sustainable”?
Restitution for the deforestation of the past is necessary for the sustainability of palm oil in the future. Orangutans wait for the day when sustainable palm oil truly exists! Until that day comes, we believe the best palm oil is no palm oil.
Working tirelessly for the orangutans and their rainforest homes is a never-ending job. How do you replenish yourself and carve out time for self-care?
I really don’t know that I do that as much as I should, as my orangutan work gives me such joy. Unfortunately we can’t travel at the moment but the way I would usually replenish my body and soul is spending time in the jungles of Borneo “forest bathing”. The beauty and spirituality of spending time in the forest is so healing, both physically and mentally. I come back from Borneo feeling totally rejuvenated and inspired.
I do make sure to take time out to spend with friends. I love going good restaurants and to see live music and movies and there is nothing better than a good massage!
Let’s gain insight into your morning ritual, what does it look like and does it shape the rest of your day?
I’m not the best morning person I am more of a late night girl. My morning ritual is pretty basic. When I wake up I spend a little quiet time with my Labrador Baloo saying good morning. He gets up on the bed for his morning hugs, then I feed him and make myself a coffee. I really can’t function until I’ve had my morning coffee. And of course after my shower I use Retreatment Botanics skincare.
Who would you say are two of your greatest inspirations and why?
Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas is without a doubt my greatest inspiration. Founder of Orangutan Foundation International, Dr Biruté is an internationally renowned environmentalist, anthropologist and the world’s foremost orangutan expert.
This year marks 50 years since Dr. Biruté made camp in the jungles of Borneo to begin her pioneering study of orangutans. She has dedicated her life to the conservation of orangutans and the protection of their rainforest home. She has saved the lives of thousands of orangutans. Everything we know today about orangutans started with Dr Biruté. She is an extraordinary woman.
My other inspiration is my daughter Kristin. I make it my mission to live life for the both of us each day. All the work I do is her legacy and I know she would be so proud of the work I do for orangutans. She would have loved them as much as I do. Whenever I am in Borneo, I feel Kristin’s presence. I truly believe she is with me every step of the way.
We’re passionate about the cause and proud to be one of the first-ever premium 100% Palm Oil Free skincare ranges in the world. What’s your favourite Retreatment Botanics product (if you can name just one)?
I absolutely love every single one of the products in the Retreatment Botanics range and use them every day, but if I had to single out just one that I just couldn’t live without it would be the Restore Serum. It is the best serum ever! It makes my skin smile.