Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters


Palm oil is having a devastating effect on orangutans

Wildlife slaughtered in name of farming

December 15, 2008 - By Craig and Marc Kielburger, Special to the Vancouver Sun

Kesi's name could not be more fitting. It means "child born in difficult times." Kesi was given the Swahili name at a rescue centre on whose doorstep she arrived at just three-months-old. Her mother had been killed -- slaughtered by machetes. Kesi survived the attack but lost her left hand and received a deep wound on her foot.  Kesi was brought to the Nyaru Menteng Rescue Centre in Borneo wrapped in a blanket. She was nursed back to health by the staff. Soon, the baby orangutan learned to play and climb like the others.

Nyaru Menteng is one of world's largest ape rescue operations. Right now, it's seeing an influx of orangutans like Kesi, born into difficult times. "The orangutans are being slaughtered," says Richard Zimmerman, director of Orangutan Outreach, an NGO that works to preserve the orangutan's habitat. "We prefer to say murdered because these creatures are so closely related to us."

It's hard to believe that anyone would want to hurt a baby like Kesi. Orangutans are gentle creatures and Kesi's eyes have the intelligence that so closely resembles people. But, it's humans who are clearcutting Kesi's rainforest habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia. Orangutans are being forced from their homes. Adults are shot on sight while babies are sold into the black market as pets. And, it's all happening in the name of palm oil.

Palm oil is one of the most widely used vegetable oils in the world. It is found in products ranging from ice cream and cookies to soap and detergents. More recently, it has been used in biofuels.

In the past year, the palm oil business has been on a rollercoaster ride. The price of the commodity derived from the oil palm plant hit an all-time high of $1,239 per ton in March before falling to a three-year low of $376 in October. During that period, farmers in Borneo and Sumatra began clearcutting the vast rainforest in order to plant more of the lucrative crop.

But, despite the fall in price, the razing of the rainforest continues. It's estimated an area the size of three football fields is cut down every minute of every day, displacing the forests residents - including the already endangered orangutan. "It's absolutely devastating," says Zimmerman. "It's been a free-for-all because the prices were so high. Now that prices are low, we have a worthless crop and now we have people starving, too."

Independent farmers, who make up 30 to 35 per cent of Malaysia's palm oil industry, are seeing their profits disappear and their businesses pushed to bankruptcy. While Kesi may have been born in difficult times, Zimmerman says things can improve. Palm oil has alternatives such as corn or soy oil. Or, as Zimmerman says, "good, old-fashioned butter." It could be a sustainable crop, with proper regulations. The oil palm grows easily on degraded grassland, meaning clearcutting is unnecessary. Plantations could expand onto barren lands without encroaching on rainforests.

Cutting out unsustainable palm oil can be tough. It is often labelled as vegetable oil and some companies don't know where it comes from. By pushing for clearer labelling practices, consumers can make more informed choices. And, better enforcement of illegal clearcutting on the ground in Borneo and Sumatra could save what remains of the orangutan's habitat.

But, measures need to be taken soon. Since 2004, the orangutan population has declined by 14 per cent in Sumatra and 10 percent in Borneo. Some scientists fear they could become extinct in the wild as soon as 2011. Without drastic changes, orangutans like Kesi won't be born into difficult times. They won't be born at all.

Comment: Not only will there be no orangutans, there will be no other species, other than human, at the rate we’re going.  We’ve got to stop our ruthless exploitation of non-human beings and concentrate on saving this planet.

September 8, 2011 Illegal Orangutan Skulls Found on Palm Oil Plantations

February 18, 2011 Are Girl Scout Cookies Killing Orangutans?

Comment:  A Victoria, BC Girl Guide has been campaigning throughout 2013 for GMO-Free Girl Guide Cookies, and has stopped selling them. However, at this point the business manager for the cookies is unreceptive, saying, “With the current world market for food products, it’s not a financially viable option. It would triple the cost of our cookies.” A similar campaign from a Girl Guide to remove palm oil in order to save orangutan habitat was met with a similar answer. November 20, 2021: A Moose Jaw girl is also petitioning against the use of palm oil in Girl Guide cookies.

Palm oil is a major driver of deforestation of some of the world’s most biodiverse forests, destroying the habitat of already endangered species like the orangutan, pygmy elephant, and the Sumatran rhino.

Read more: Orangutan Conservancy

Orangutan Foundation International - The Problems with Palm Oil

Our behavior and the relationships that arise from it are at the centre of every issue that troubles us: human overpopulation, loss of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, poverty, the violated rights of individuals from other species, climate change, waste, and social and economic injustice, to name a few.

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