Conscious consumers now have yet another reason to question the palm oil industry. In addition to their deleterious impact on orangutans, tigers, indigenous communities, and forests, palm oil plantations are now suspected in the deaths of seven Sumatran elephants.
Officials first discovered the deceased elephants just outside Tesso Nilo National Park in Riau, Sumatra, on February 21. As Eyes on the Forest reports, the elephants’ bodies were found close to each other, often a sign of poisoning. Although the six male elephants’ tusks had been cut off, officials do not suspect ivory poaching as the primary motivation behind these deaths. They instead believe that illegal palm oil plantations sought revenge on the elephants for disturbing their land.
These illegal plantations, which have replaced the elephants’ native forests within the park, are seen as enticing food by the elephant population. Angry plantation owners often retaliate by injecting toxic substances into fruits or spreading it on leaves. These poisons are not difficult to obtain—palm growers can purchase them in over 30 shops around the park.
The murder of elephants in and around Tesso Nilo National Park has increased dramatically in recent years. The WWF-Indonesia database indicates that more than 100 Sumatran elephants have died in Riau province since 2004, including 15 deaths in 2012 alone. These deaths are especially devastating as the IUCN Red List lists Sumatran elephants as Critically Endangered.
“If forest loss and elephant killings do not slow down, Tesso Nilo’s elephant population might go extinct in less than 10 years,” warns the Eyes on the Forest report. EoF has called on palm oil companies to stop purchasing illegally grown fruit, while the WWF has asked the Indonesian government to identify and prosecute the elephants’ killers.
“Every finding of unnatural death of protected animal should be responded immediately action by the authority such as thorough investigations and when applicable prosecution,” said Sunarto, a WWF-Indonesia species expert. “The unnatural death of every individual of key species like Sumatran elephant should be considered as the loss of state’s assets, especially the Sumatran elephant that is already in its critical condition due to human pressures and neglect.”
As indictments against the palm oil industry continue to mount, many consumers are voicing their concerns by refusing to purchase palm oil that negatively impacts the welfare of animals, humans, and the environment. Vote with your wallet by consulting our guide that rates companies’ use of palm oil.
Image source: Grey Willis / Wikipedia Commons