Palm oil production is the leading cause of deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia – threatening the survival of critically endangered orang-utans, as well as tigers, elephants and rhinos.
What Is Palm Oil?
Palm oil is used for cooking in developing countries, but in developed nations it’s mainly used in soaps and cosmetics. Oil palm trees are grown only in the tropics. The industry has boomed in these developing nations as oil palms produce a far higher yield at a lower cost than other vegetable oils.
The Environmental Cost
Unfortunately, the palm oil industry’s quick expansion comes at a huge environmental price. In South-East Asia, approximately 300 football fields worth of forest are destroyed every hour to make way for palm oil plantations. Much of the forest is cleared by burning, thus releasing more carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere while simultaneously reducing the earth’s ability to reabsorb it.
The Threat To Orang-Utans
This deforestation is particularly bad news for our close relatives: the orang-utans. Since oil palms grow best in the lower wetlands favoured by orang-utans, about 80-90% of their natural habitat has already been cleared.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates there are just 54,000 Borneon orang-utans and only 6,600 Sumatran orang-utans left. To make it worse, around 1000 orang-utans are killed each year by deforestation. The Sumatran orang-utan is now critically endangered and will be extinct in the wild within the decade if things remain the same.
Orang-utans are slow-moving apes who live in trees. When the rainforest is burned to clear land for plantations, many of these animals are literally burnt alive in their homes. Most of the time they cannot outrun the engulfing flames. In addition, plantation owners in certain areas of Borneo and Sumatra see orang-utans as pests and shoot them on sight.
We Can Help
We have power as consumers. When we band together we can put pressure on companies to source sustainable palm oil that does not contribute to the continued destruction of the rainforest. You can help by:
- Supporting environmental organisations like WWF and Greenpeace
- Signing petitions
- Sending emails/letters directly to cosmetics and soap companies
- Boycotting products made with unsustainable palm oil
Consumer Power Works!
Last week, P&G – the multinational company best known for Head & Shoulders – gave into pressure from consumers and environmentalists. They have vowed to remove deforestation from their supply chain by 2015. Woo hoo! Read the full report here.
If we continue to put pressure on major producers who source palm oil, plantations will be forced to become sustainable in order to stay in demand. In this way, we can give the remaining orang-utans a fighting chance at survival.
If you want to avoid palm oil altogether, check the ingredients list carefully. Palm oil can be disguised under any of the following names…
– Palm oil kernel
– Elaeis gunieensis
– Hydrated Palm Glycerides Hexadecanoic
– Palmitic acid
Let’s save these beautiful creatures before it’s too late!!