TODAY | October 18, 2012
>>> back now at 7:39 with a desperate fight to save a species, the increasingly rare red ape .
>> it's being described as a key battle to save the orangutan, less than 7,000 of which are left in the wild on the island. their forest habitat is being destroyed. but as i discovered in northern sumatra , they're fighting back. these have been rescued after being driven from their forest home .
>> if they weren't doing this, they could be dead already.
>> reporter: one of the habitats is being slashed and burned. he is leading a battle to save what remains.
>> still remember me? huh?
>> reporter: among the 46 orangutans in singleton's care is 2-year-old chocolate who arrived scrawny and bewildered after being rescued from animal traders. then there's losa, blinded after being shot in the head. and marvel who was captured and chained so tightly that his foot had to be amputated. on the indonesian island of sumatra , less than 7,000 remain in the wild. the focus of singleton's battle is an area where huge forests are being illegally cleared to make way for plantations. until just a few months ago, all of this was pristine pete forest, one of the richest eco systems on the planet and homes to scores of orangutans. now looks like this, a scarred and scorched waste land for just about as far as the eye can see. another victim of the relentless march of the business.
>> reporter: palm oil is a cheap, edible oil found in about half of all supermarket products. indonesia is the world's biggest producer, but at what cost? singleton is taking the battle to the plantations.
>> engage engine, one, two, three.
>> reporter: was a powerful new weapon, a drone, to collect evidence of illegal deforestation. when they find an isolated orangutan, they move quickly to sedate and remove it from harm's way.
>> he wouldn't have survived in there.
>> no. no.
>> this is absolute last resort. we have no choice. it's either he can have another life of another 40 years, maybe have several kids or stay here and die of starvation.
>> reporter: under pressure, the indonesian government is investigating and recently revoked one company's permit. but the burning continues. the companies involved reluctant to answer questions.
>> i've merely tried to get a response to these accusations. could you talk to us?
>> reporter: singleton believes their future could only be secure if the indonesian government enforces its own laws and rolls back the assault on the forest.
>> well, since we returned from sumatra , there's been reports of more than 100 new fires in that area. the good news, though, is that little chocolate is doing well. he's put on weight, he's healthier, he's mischievous, and singleton's confident he can be eventually returned to the wild, savannah.
>> fascinating story, heartbreaking too. ian williams , thank you.