In brief: While an orangutan casually making its way around the streets of London might sound like the start of a Planet of the Apes-style doomsday scenario, it’s actually an animatronic commissioned by a UK supermarket chain that’s meant to highlight the impact of palm oil production.
The story began last week when UK retailer Iceland had its Christmas TV ad banned for breaching rules related to political advertising. The animated short, originally developed by Greenpeace, raised awareness of the damage caused by demand for palm oil.
It's estimated that about 6,000 orangutans are wiped out each year with 80 percent of their natural habitat disappearing in the past two decades. A rainforest area the size of 300 football fields is cleared every hour to make way for palm oil production.
The ban led to a Change.org petition along with more than 12 million people viewing the ad on YouTube. Celebrities such as James Cordon have also offered their support.
This commercial was banned from TV for being too political. I think everyone should see it x pic.twitter.com/ns2XnGSnv6— James Corden (@JKCorden) November 11, 2018
To raise more awareness of what deforestation is doing to Orangutans, Iceland commissioned a special effects team to create a lifelike robotic replica of the ape — designed by a team who previously worked on TV shows including Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes.
The animatronic is controlled remotely and by a specialist puppeteer who spent years studying the animals. It showed up on a Christmas tree in Coin Street, south London, before moving to other locations, and will appear at Iceland stores around the UK “searching for a new home.”
"Our stranded, distressed orangutan is a stark and potent symbol of the effects of deforestation," said Iceland managing director Richard Walker.
Iceland has promised to remove all its own-brand products that contain palm oil by the end of the year.