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Packing for Borneo to begin first filming of Karmele Llaño Sanchez for the film and today is Earth Day 2019 — a week before flying out, thinking a lot about how those two things are one.

rainforest burning for palm oil plantation Borneo

The last time I was in Borneo with Karmele the island was on fire — going up in flames. Literally the third largest island in the world was an inferno, a toxic witch’s brew of smoke and flames. Devastating fires, the result of a collision between political and corporate collusion, and El Niño had inflame a disaster long anticipated.

In the real world that meant us, and apes like us, were dying. In the three short months between late August and November of 2015, thousands of forest and peatland fires raged out of control, choking the entire region in a thick, toxic haze. When the haze cleared orangutan sanctuaries, like that in Ketapang, founded by Karmele and her husband Argitoe Ranting, were at crisis level with orphan victims, most were babies. When I arrived in September neither I nor they knew what to expect over the next month — definitely none of us expected the greatest man-made ecological disaster.

There is no El Niño in this April, but fires have already ignited in the peat forests on the neighboring island of Sumatra, inflaming worry in Borneo.

— Gerry Ellis

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