Today is World Orangutan Day and the perfect time to reflect on our connection to the tropical rain forests of Indonesia and Malaysia.
This connection is as close as the local grocery store, where there is a good chance many of the products offered for sale contain palm oil.
What is palm oil?
Listed in over 200 different ways (including palm oil, palmitate, sodium lauryl, palm stearic and vegetable oil), palm oil is commonly used in food products, soaps, shampoos and cosmetics.
Produced from the fruit of the oil palm, the origin of use for this resource is routed back to the indigenous peoples of West Africa (some records even indicate that the ancient Egyptians used palm oil).
The oil palm was first introduced to Southeast Asia in 1848. Now, most is produced in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Impact on orangutans?
Because of its versatility, the worldwide demand for palm oil has become insatiable. It is estimated that rain forests are being cleared at a rate of 300 football fields per hour to make way for oil palm plantations.
This swift destruction of rain forest habitat in Southeast Asia has had a devastating impact on orangutans. From 2004 to 2008, the Sumatran orangutan population fell by 14 percent to 6,600, largely due to loss of habitat for palm oil expansion. There is a real threat that orangutans face extinction within the next 10 years because of these actions.
While achievable (and encouraged), only a small percentage of palm oil is currently grown in a sustainable manner that does not involve the clearing of rain forests.
What you can do:
- The issues (both political and economic) concerning palm oil production are complex.
- Read labels carefully and avoid products containing palm oil.
- Ask manufacturers to use only sustainable palm oil in their products.
Help us spread the word about World Orangutan Day and the palm oil crisis using #WorldOrangutanDay!