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Orangutans and You
By Terri Wentworth-Davis   View more articles by this author
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September 28

In my reading, I discovered yet another threat to wildlife that is hidden in the products we buy.  This threat is not to local wildlife. It is a threat to the survival of exotic species. Friends of the Earth refers to it as the “Oil for Ape Scandal”. 

It is expected that Sumatran orangutans will be extinct in 10 years and the Bornean in 2012.  The Sumatran tiger, Asian elephant, and Sumatran rhinoceros populations are also in imminent danger of extinction.  The reason is the agribusiness of palm and palm kernel oil.  Check out the ingredients of your cookies, crackers, chocolate, margarine, detergents, hand lotion, cosmetics, soap, bread, cereals, processed foods, soups, sauces, baked goods, and even health foods.  Many of these products contain this oil.  Some manufacturers think palm oil is healthier than partially hydrogenated oils. Palm oil sounds great since it is not considered a trans fat. However, studies have consistently shown that palm oil causes heart disease.  Despite this, manufacturers are racing to replace trans-fats with palm oil because it’s cheaper. Demand for this oil has tripled in the last 5 years and the United States is one of the world’s five biggest importers of palm oil. How does this connect back to wildlife?

Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papau New Guinea produce over 85% of the world’s supply of palm oil- and they are expanding.  Most of the plantations are on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.  The rainforests are burned, wiping out vast areas of wildlife habitat.  According to the report Cruel Oil, “oil palm has been the direct cause of a host of ecological problems including deforestation, endangered wildlife species, habitat destruction and fragmentation, soil, air and water pollution and toxic chemical contamination.  Last, but certainly not least, social conflict and displacement of local communities.”  In 2005 the Indonesian government planned to convert the world famous Tanjung Puting National Park (protected area for orangutans) into an oil palm plantation!

Consider this- three subspecies of tiger have become extinct and the Sumatran is the last of five remaining tiger subspecies.  There are 250 Sumatran tigers left in the wild.  There are two species of orangutan in the entire world- the Sumatran and the Bornean.  They are the only great apes that exist outside of Africa.  Almost 90% of the orangutans’ habitat has been destroyed.  Some experts estimate that 5,000 orangutans die as a result every year.  Sumatran rhinos are the smallest living species of rhino and the only two-horned Asian species.  There are fewer than 400 left.  Asian elephant numbers are down to 2,800 on Sumatra, 800 in peninsular Malaysia, and 800 in Borneo.

Once again I find that a small choice a US citizen makes can have major consequences across the world. As you find food products that declare themselves trans-fat free, check the label for palm or palm kernel oil.  If such oil is listed on the label - write the manufacturer and find out where the oil came from. A few have taken up sustainable farming. If it’s from the rainforest and grown in an unsustainable way, tell them why you are boycotting their product.  Ask them to use heart-healthy and wildlife-friendly oils such as organic soy, canola, corn, or olive oil. Take a step and save an orangutan!

For more information search the following sites www.ran.org (Rainforest action Network); www.ens-newswire.com (Environment news service); www.cspinet.org (Center for Science in the Public Interest); http://www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/biodiversity/case_studies/palmoil_index.html (Friends of the Earth) http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/news/greenpeace-report-links-nestle-to-rainforest-destruction031710;  and www.wikipedia.com.


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