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Palm Oil: Threat to Orangutans
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Palm Oil: Threat to Orangutans

"A man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to him, that of plants and animals as that of his fellow men, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help." - Albert Schweitzer

There are numerous threats to the viability of the remaining wild orangutan population in Indonesia and Malaysia. The primary threat is loss of habitat with up to 80% of suitable forest in Indonesia and Malaysia having been lost in the past 20 years. Estimates of the numbers left in the wild vary from as low as 16,000 to as high as 65,000. Most recent estimates indicate fewer than 7000 Sumatran orangutans and 50,000 Bornean orangutans survive in the wild today. At this rate of loss, many experts estimate orangutans could be extinct in the wild in less than 25 years. Expansion of the oil palm industry is largely responsible. Around 7 million hectares is now under oil palm plantations in Indonesia but considerably more forest has been lost. Often logging occurs on the pretext of being for oil palm but merely to gain income from the timber.

Each palm plantation that destroys thousands of hectares in the pursuit of massive profits also takes with it the lives of many orangutans. Palm oil is a globally traded agricultural commodity that is used in 50 percent of all consumer goods, from lipstick and packaged food to body lotion and biofuels. Demand for palm oil in the U.S.has tripled in the last five years, pushing palm oil cultivation deep into the rainforests and making this crop one of the key causes of global rainforest destruction.

Approximately 85 percent of palm oil is grown in the tropical countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) on industrial plantations that have severe impacts on the environment, forest peoples, orangutans and the climate. Palm oil and its derivatives are used in a wide array of packaged foods, including ice cream, cookies, crackers, chocolate products, cereals, breakfast bars, cake mixes, doughnuts, potato chips, instant noodles, frozen sweets and meals, baby formula, margarine, and dry and canned soups. Some three-quarters of global palm oil is used for foods, with the remainder used for industrial purposes including bio-diesel. Palm oil is not used as a biofuel feedstock in the United States, but it is in Europe.

Friends of the Earth have a fact sheet about palm oil that explains the situation in great detail. Please click on the fact sheet here.

Names for Palm Oil

Palm oil kernel
Palmitate or Palmate
Elaeis gunieensis
Hydrated Palm Gylcerides Hexadecanoic
Palmitic Acid

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Most Noteworthy Organization

The Orangutan Project (TOP) is the world's foremost not-for-profit organisation, supporting orangutan conservation, rainforest protection, local community partnerships and the rehabilitation and reintroduction of displaced orangutans back to the wild, in order to save the two orangutan species from extinction.

TOP is a non-partisan organisation that collaborates with several orangutan conservation projects, as well as providing habitat protection through its own programs to deter wildlife poaching, illegal logging and land clearing in Indonesia.

What you can do

You can speak on behalf of wild animals such as orangutans who are losing their habitat at an unprecedented rate due to the unsustainable production of palm oil.

The best action you can take right now is to write letters to keep the pressure on government and manufacturers.

Ask your local politician what they are doing to help achieve mandatory labelling of Palm Oil.

Online Resources

The Orangutan Project page on Palm Oil.

Orangutan Foundation International.

What you can do (Say NO To Palm Oil)

Sumatran Orangutan Society.

Threats to Orangutans - Orangutan Conservancy

WWF page on Orangutans.


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