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The orangutan is one species that we are set to lose within our lifetime if we do not change our consumption habits. Now you may be thinking: how are my consumption habits impacting this mammal that lives on the other side of the planet? Well, the answer is rather simple, actually. If you purchased, used  or consumed a product that contains palm oil – then you have indirectly contributed to the rapid extinction of the orangutan.

Okay, we get that this sounds extreme, but we really can’t emphasize enough how much of a problem this devious oil is for the struggling orangutan population. Palm oil can be found in about 50 percent of all consumer goods – we’re talking everything from laundry detergent, to lipstick, and snacks. While there are arguably many problems with palm oil, the most pressing concern we have about this injurious vegetable oil is the role it plays in the disappearance of the orangutan population.

You see, the problem with palm oil is that its production is a driving cause of deforestation on the Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Palm oil is a $44 million dollar industry, meaning the drive to produce this good is incredibly high. The palm plant thrives in a tropical forest environment – such as that found in Borneo and Sumatra – consequently, nearly 300 football fields of forest are cut down every hour to make way for palm plantations.

Incidentally, these two island nations are also the orangutan’s native habitat. As the orangutan’s habitat disappears, so does their very means of survival. The orangutan spends most of its life in the high trees of these rainforests, and when they are clear-cut and burned to create palm plantations, many orangutans lose their lives. In the past decade alone, 20,000 orangutans have been killed at the hand of the palm industry.

To fully understand the extent of the damage that is being done to the orangutan, let’s take a look at what is happening to their environment.

The orangutan has lost 90 percent of their habitat in the past 20 years.

Where Are the World's Orangutans? Rhett Butler/Monagobay

 The orangutan population once roamed across the rainforests of Southeast Asia – today they can only be found in Borneo and Sumatra.

Where Are the World's Orangutans? Rhett Butler/Monagobay

Indonesia is home to three percent of the world’s forests, yet the rampant deforestation in this region accounts for 1/3 of global carbon emissions.

Where Are the World's Orangutans? Rhett Butler/Monagobay

Palm production has even encroached into protected forests in Indonesia. 

Where Are the World's Orangutans? Rhett Butler/Monagobay

When lush forest is cut down and converted to palm plantations, orangutans have no choice but to nest in palm fields.

Where Are the World's Orangutans?

Sadly, most palm producers consider the orangutan a “pest,” and if they find these innocent creatures in their fields, they either kill them, or sell them into the exotic animal trade.

Where Are the World's Orangutans?


What You Can do to Help the Orangutan

The most direct route you can take to help the orangutan species is to stop funding deforestation by changing the decisions you make when you shop. Rather than choosing items that contain palm oil, opt for an alternative. Check out these resources for more information on palm oil and how to cut palm oil out of your life.