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Daniel Clarke: How A Starlight Wish Put Me On A Quest To Save The Orangutans

This week Peta welcomes conservationist Daniel Clarke. Discover how a childhood passion, ignited by Steve Irwin, led Daniel on a lifelong quest to save orangutans. Learn about the challenges Orangutans face and how you can help. Amazing to think a 6 year old's idea has led to 15 years of positive change for for Borneo and Sumatra.

Connect with Daniel:

Daniel's Australian Story:

Connect with Peta:

Instagram: @petahooke


Episode Transcript:

Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to the I can't stand podcast. The podcast answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peta. I have cerebral palsy and I'm your host this week. I have the amazing Daniel Clarke. Daniel is a conservationist. He started his quest with his brother at just the age of six to save the Orangutans. If you have any suggestions for a future guest, you'd like to be on the podcast. You can always get in contact with me via Instagram. My handle is at Peter Hooke, spelt PETAHOOKE. Or you can send me an email. My email addresses is I can't stand podcast at Let's hand over to Daniel.

Peta [00:02:22] I have to let you in on a little secret, Daniel. When I started planning this podcast before its release. Must be three years ago now. You're one of the first guests that I ever wrote down that I wanted on the pod. So it's such a thrill to finally have you here.

Daniel [00:02:40] Oh, well, I'm glad to be here.

Peta [00:02:45] There are a lot of amazing organisations and worthy causes that are out there today. So many issues that society is facing. Why orangutans?

Daniel [00:02:57] It all started when I was a very young kid, six years old and I used to watch Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter all the time. My brother and I we were addicted to that show and him as a person. And the one about the orangutans that really captivated us. And so when he passed away, we were both devastated we just could not believe it. Thanks so young, I thought Steve Irwin was the only person looking out for the orangutans and then I thought why can’t I do it? And that’s where it all went from. From that one question.

Peta [00:03:58] That's amazing. Six is so young to have a passion like that. Kids do go through phases and are very idealistic. What made you stick to this cause to saving the orangutans?

Daniel [00:04:14] For me, it was knowing that I could make a difference. It’s always been instilling me that you can do whatever you want to do regardless of your disability. And I wanted to save the orangutans, and I was determined to do it.

Peta [00:04:40] So you were on the Australian story many years ago now, and I highly recommend for anybody who is listening to this episode to go and watch it. It is on your website and I will link it in the description. But from my perspective, I think another element that fostered your connection with the orangutans was the Starlight Foundation. But unlike many kids, when you got the opportunity, you didn't wish to go to Disneyland or any of the theme parks or anything like that. You wish to go see the orangutans there.

Daniel [00:05:14] yeah well when starlight wanted to grant me, one wish it didn’t take me long to decide what I wanted to wish for. And I said I wanted to say the orangutans of Borneo and Sumatra. And they were like whoa! We’ve never had a selfless wish ever before. As you said, a lot of people want to wish for a holiday or a new computer. And I wanted to wish for something bigger than myself. And they didn’t know how to handle that. They sent me to a Wallabies match because they knew I liked the Wallabies. And it was after that match, I got lucky enough to go to the dressing room. We had no idea but the Prime Minister at the time John Howard was in the locker room as well. I wanted to go up to him and tell him about my quest to save the orangutans. So I did that. John Howard spoke to me eye to eye and said, leave it with me. We had an anonymous sponsor send me and my family over to Borneo. Which was absolutely crazy it was amazing to see the orangutans in the wild. It took about four or five days to get there with a five hour boat ride. No mobile reception no Internet at all. As you can imagine in a wheelchair, it was completely inaccessible. But we had a team all around me that would literally carry me when we were trekking in the jungle. It was just amazing.

Peta [00:07:44] That is amazing. You must be one of the only people in the world that have trekked through that area, literally being carried over the forest floor.

Daniel [00:07:55] I felt like some sort of royalty you know, being carried all that way I just can’t thank them enough for what they did.

Peta [00:08:05] As an animal lover myself, I'm fascinated to hear about how the orangutans responded to you in your wheelchair and how they interacted with you. As we've discussed, it was so difficult to get there. So I have no doubt you're probably the only person that they've ever seen in a mobility aid. What was that like?

Daniel [00:08:29] Orangutans had the intelligence of about five year year-old child, that’s their intelligence level. Curious about absolutely everything. So when I come in on this chair on wheels, they like oh my god how does it all work? They were coming up to me. They were spinning the wheels. They were so fascinated, really wanting to know how it all worked.

Peta [00:09:10] So when you did finally arrive home, you started an amazing organisation alongside your brother. Called Tears In The Jungle. Talk to me about how the Orangutans are today. What's their life like?

Daniel [00:09:26] When we first started our quest all those years ago. Experts said that orangutans only had 10 years left in the wild before they went extinct. Now we’re 15 years down the track and they’re still being found in the wild. The numbers still are on the decline, but there are pockets of really healthy numbers. We’ve been extremely lucky to be able to help not only on the ground find donating to charities that employee ranges to patrol their habitat but we’ve also been giving to the care centre as well that rehabilitate the orangutans. So the care centres have been able to purchase new medical equipment build, brand-new state of the art cages to, how’s the orangutan when they come in. Just fantastic to know that the support we have shown and the support that Australia has shown it is made a massive difference.

Peta [00:11:07] From my perspective and from what I've seen, I'm sure you'll educate me on this, Daniel. But the main concern is palm oil and deforestation in that area. What's the current situation there like in regards to palm oil and protecting their habitat?

Daniel [00:11:26] So currently over there, their habitat is being destroyed at a rate of 300 football fields, an hour every hour. So that is to make way for palm oil as you said, and illegal logging. Currently 8 out of 10 supermarket products that we buy contain palm oil. We have seen positive steps taken by some companies, stepping away from Palm oil, like Darrell Lea but we need more and we need consumers to realise what they’re eating. Their favourite products contains palm oil. And if the palm oil is not sustainably farmed, it is contributing to the destruction of habitat in Borneo.

Peta [00:12:44] Other than supporting amazing organisations like yours, Tears in the Jungle, what can people listening and what can I do to help improve the situation for the orangutans?

Daniel [00:12:58] people can help the orangutans in so many ways. Palm oil is the biggest issue and we need people to realise then what they’re eating might contain palm oil. But we need to encourage more producers to create more sustainable, palm, oil, plantations. The consumers need to let them know that that’s what we want. Other things people can do is go to Orangutang charities like The orangutan project or Borneo Orangutang survival and adopt an orangutan. By adopting an orangutan, you’re helping to pay for their food the medical care while they’re in the medical care centre and help them on their rehabilitation journey to go back to the wild.

Peta [00:14:12] As I mentioned before, you do have your own Australian story, which I recommend everybody go watch. But it was quite a few years ago now and you were just a teenager. You as a teen said that you didn't see yourself as having a disability. Talk to me about your disabled identity. Where are you with that now?

Daniel [00:14:36] Well, I was young back, then, when that was all filmed. I knew I had a disability, but I sort of didn’t realise it. I was in a mainstream school. All my mates didn’t have a disability. I was always included in everything. I did not see myself with a disability because no one around me, treated me like a person with a disability. But as I’ve got older, and I’ve had to fight for things that I need, particularly going through university, employment and navigating the NDIS. I’ve slowly become to realise and embrace my disability. I realise that I am a part of this amazing community. And with everything that I’ve done, I can be a voice for this incredible community. I want now to be proud of my disability and to embrace it as part of my identity. We all have our challenges we all have our struggles but I believe that has contributed to the person that I am now. I have developed resilience and determination to never give up and to really follow your dreams.

Peta [00:16:34] So I don't know whether this was a dream of yours, but you're awarded the Young Australian of the Year in 2021 alongside your brother William. What was that like?

Daniel [00:16:46] that was definitely incredible. To be nominated for that, and then to win the Queensland young Australian of the year was just incredible you know. When we started off our quest we just did it because it was our passion and we felt that we wanted to make a difference. We went in it to win any awards, been nominated or be recognized but to have that platform and to be on a national stage it just accelerated our quest.

Peta [00:17:38] I'm fascinated by your dynamic with your brother, William. Obviously, your passion for both of you was created through watching Steve Irwin and the fact that you wanted to save the orangutan after Steve Irwin passed away when you were just six. But it's been quite a long time now since then. Have you ever worried or do you worry that William one day will come up to you and say. It's been great, Daniel, but I think I'm ready to move on and explore other things. What's that dynamic been like?

Daniel [00:18:17] it’s interesting, you say that Peta because I think we’re getting to that point right now. Will has been amazing he’s been by my side this whole time for 15 years. Really, I couldn’t have done what we’ve done without him. But now Will has his own life he’s just graduated from the Queensland Consortium of music. He got a casual role at the ABC as a content producer. So he really wants to explore that side of his career, more. Still for a passion for the environment, and I think that is never going to escape us. We’re always going to be passionate about the environment. But Will now wants to take that passion and explore it in the arts and the media. So we are at a bit of a crossroads at the moment. But we will still come together to talk about the orangutans every time we get a chance.

Peta [00:19:42] And what are you working towards? Are you still full throttle? The orangutans. What are your goals for the future?

Daniel [00:19:52] yeah currently, I still have school talks lined up. Still working to save the orangutans, but for me I see myself going into government. Either work for the environment minister or the disability minister and really change the policy in our country.

Peta [00:20:25] What do you wish people better understood about living with a disability? Daniel.

Daniel [00:20:31] That is a really good question. I think I would like people to understand the constant fight that we have to have in all aspects of our lives. I’ve had to always fight for my own voice I’ve had to fight for the simple things like inclusion I’ve had to fight the NDIS just to get the things I need for daily life. I’m at something, most people don’t have to deal with. That constant fight that constant battle.

Peta [00:21:19] Given your ambition to go into politics, I have no doubt you'll have a brilliant answer for this question. What do you wish the future will be like for people with disabilities?

Daniel [00:21:33] I would like a far more inclusive society. I definitely think we are going down that path. I think in the next 10 years, especially with the Paralympics coming to our shores in 2032. I think that’s going to change the game for people with disabilities in society to be accepted to be treated just like anyone else and I believe we can do that.

Peta [00:22:17] Thank you for listening to this week's episode. I hope you enjoyed it. If needed, can I encourage you to leave a writing interview on whatever platform you're listening on? It'll help small people find the podcast. And to be honest, I really appreciate the feedback. Thank you, as always, for listening. But until next week. Have a good one, guys. Find. I'd like to pay my respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, but especially to the Bunarong. Where this podcast was recorded.


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