Palm Oil Industry and the displacement of Orangutans

Before I jump into this article, I want to thank to Dave, one of our faithful visitors and commenters, who took the time to send us this Reuters news article on the current state of orangutan conservation. You should know already that orangutans are severely endangered, their populations are on the verge of genetic collapse, and the outlook for the ecosystem they inhabit is bleak.

All in all, it is a terrible situation.Orangutans Lying Beside Each Other

Because of the logging industry and ultimately the destruction of rain forests in favor of cash crops, many orangutans have resorted to raiding palm oil plantations in Indonesia, Boreno, and Malayasia. Subsequently they are,

“branded pests for venturing out from their diminishing forest habitats into plantations where they eat young palm shoots.”

And because of this behavior, many Indonesians and Malaysians have a negative impression on orangutans. Lone Droscher-Nielsen, founder of the Nyaru Menteng Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) center in Central Kalimantan describes how people will,

“Kill the [orangutans] if we don’t go [to save them] … It’s cheaper to kill the orangutan than put up a fence or snare.”

Lone has photographic evidence of people that cut the hands off apes, slashed to death with machetes, and others with bullets through their foreheads.

Again, orangutans are raiding the palm oil plantations because where the plantations are now were once orangutan stomping grounds. Since their habitat is now destroyed, and food is sparce, these animals are doing what every other animal does — raid the easiest food source possible.

Palm oil is a booming industry and is considered an alternative to pricey crude oil. But it is “deforestation diesel“! It is not sustainable because the destruction wreaked on rain forests is irreversible.

I see many problems that can be remedied in this situation. The biggest and most prevalent problem here is the impression Indonesians, Borneans, and Malaysians have on the orangutan. So long as they see this great ape as a pest there will be no significant conservation impact. Public relations and education can reverse this. People need to understand they are the ones being ‘pests’ in this situation.

Secondly, with the help of the UN, who has identified the problems with habitat destruction in Indonesia, governments need to regulate rain forest with a heavy hand. The Reuters article goes on to state how the rain forests being leveled are not just homes to orangutans. Many other species are at risk, and since rain forests are dense and diverse biomes – -the conservation of them are more important than just the fate of the organgutans.

Lastly, this goes out to those of us primate conservationist who aren’t in the hot zone. We must support conservation efforts. I’m not just making a plea to send money to places like Lone’s Boreno Orangutan Survival center. That’s one way to help, another way is to send emails, post in your blogs, and help spread the word about the current state of orangutan survival. More often than not, the best conservation efforts come about from the masses who send small amounts of support than the big donors.

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5 thoughts on “Palm Oil Industry and the displacement of Orangutans

  1. Who would one send emails to? I have seen things like postcards, and have sent letters to the grocery chains I shop at, but otherwise, I do not know where to send things that will have the greatest impact. Do you have more info I could use?

  2. For what it’s worth, I posted something about this on my blog, and I frequently reference issues related to primate conservation both online and in person (I just took a Comm 101 class and 2 of my seven speeches were about great apes and the threats they face), but I don’t feel like I make much of a difference.

    For me, this issue is of the utmost importance, but for seemingly most of the people I know–including people to whom I talk and write frequently regarding conservation–it is peripheral at best. Sad.

  3. What I’d like to know is who are the companies, what are the products – who can we contact and boycott???

  4. To musings,
    Palm oil is present in so many of our everyday products, and as it is labelled as vegetable oil, calling for a boycott is somewhat impractical. In an effort to make some impact, I only use products containing olive oil, sunflower oil, etc., basically if it states the type of oil present, well and good. Reading the ingredients label, if you see the words glyceryl stereate, you know this is a palm oil derivative…

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