Gold Coast author ‘saved’ by orangutans, hopes to return the favour

Sue Feenstra, a former Gold Coast gym owner and aerobics instructor who endured a debilitating back injury, credits orangutans with saving her life. And now she’s trying to save theirs.

Having sustained a back injury so serious that she was told she would remain bedridden for an undetermined length of time, Sue faced a difficult road ahead. Instead of giving up, she wrote a work of fiction: ‘Pongo – Hands Through The Forest’ entirely on her iPhone.

Aimed at readers of all ages and set for release in June, ‘Pongo’ is a fictional tale about a young orangutan who enlightens the reader of the plight of deforestation threatening his species. Teaming with the Orangutan Foundation International Australia and its founder Kobe Steele, an inspiration and advocate herself, Sue has pledged 15% of all book sales to go directly toward bringing the orangutan back from the brink of extinction before it’s too late, and with the recent loss of Sudan, the last male white rhino in existence, this message of conservation could not come soon enough. We shot her a few questions.

Can you tell us a little about the plight of the Orangutans?

The Orangutans of Sumatra and Borneo are dying at thousands a year, in fact it is estimated that over 150 thousand have been lost over the last 16 years. Their jungle homes are being destroyed to make way for palm oil plants, trees that they are unable to survive in. Palm oil is such a cheap widely used product that can be used in anything from soap to make up and even pizza. Because it is a tasteless cheap vegetable oil it can be used in a variety of items, what we must do is buy products that are from sustainable palm oil plantations. Look for logos on all of your products and let the manufactures know that we don’t approve of any unethical destruction of rainforests.

What is it about them that drew you specifically?

I was born in year of the monkey ( although an orang-utan is an ape lol) but I love all primates, they are so like us, and I always wondered why such animals like NEMO or FREE WILLY had been given a spotlight, but the poor Orangutans had been missed out. So after years of reading about them and waiting for the moment a book or film emerged I was bedridden and without purpose, so I decided I would give myself a purpose. I believed that if I did something good and raised awareness or helped the plight in some way that maybe to world would fix me in return.

Can you tell us about where you are in your recovery process?

I am going really well thank you! I am just coming to a year past my surgery. I am able to do most things and am enjoying life again. The most wonderful part is that I can finally travel to Borneo and meet these gentle animals, something I could never have done when my back was going. So in September my husband and I along with OFIA travel to Borneo and meet with AMELIA, the latest orphaned ape that has been brought to the OFI care centre, named after a character in the book. Exciting times!

Pongo – Hands Through The Forest can be pre-ordered now, with copies being shipped on the launch date of 5 June to co-incide with World Environment Day. For more information or to pre-order, visit hellopongo.com.

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