It’s not just the pigs in our sausages and the chickens in our sandwiches that have suffered to reach our weekly shopping carts. Other daily groceries including so called “cruelty free” and vegan items like bread, cookies, haribo and margarine are causing suffering to the orangutan too. Even the most innocuous of items that unsuspectingly contain palm oil are responsible for destroying rainforests driving orangutans, whose survival already teeters on the brink, even closer to extinction.
What’s the Problem?
As you are reading this, rainforests are being cleared at a rate of six football fields per minute (Palm Oil Fact Sheet, Red Apes), to produce cheap palm oil. But this comes at a deadly cost. The Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra are the only remaining habitats on this earth where orangutans live but they account for nearly 50% of all palm oil plantations (World Wildlife Fund). As more rainforest continues to be lost to palm oil plantations the orangutans are dying out with them. When man’s closest living relative who shares 97% of our DNA is gone, something of us will be lost forever too.
How Urgent is the Situation?
Today, it is estimated that less than 7,000 Sumatran and 55,000 (The Great Ape Project) Borneo orangutans remain in the wild and the species are classified as critically endangered and endangered respectively (International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s red list). In the past two decades alone the species suffered a further disastrous loss of 80% of their habitat (Orangutan Conservancy), resulting in wild populations dwindling by a further 50%. It couldn’t be more urgent to reverse this decline, but instead the demand for palm oil continues to rocket. Demand is predicted to more than double by 2030 and to triple by 2050 compared to 2000 figures (Greenpeace). Together with an immense increase in the area planted with palm oil in Indonesia of over 30 times since the 1970s (Centre for Science in the Public Interest) the situation couldn’t be more dire for orangutans. If they continue to lose their rainforest homes to palm oil plantations at such a massive scale and at this rate then it is predicted that new oil plantations will kill off the remaining orangutans in as little as 25 years time.
Why Should You Care?
Orangutans are peaceful, highly intelligent and feeling creatures but the palm oil industry is killing them in a brutal and reckless way. The production of palm oil, involves striping away the rainforests and burning it. This emits vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at great cost to the environment. Deforestation fragments the area and leaves orangutans more exposed to hunting and poaching. Adult orangutans are typically shot on sight or else, unable to escape the flames- these gentle, sentient beings are often burnt alive. Sometimes, they are captured for bushmeat, or, if they manage to survive the fires, they are left wondering homeless at the mercy of farmers who usually kill the shy, slow moving hirsute creatures to protect their crops. Babies may be torn off the backs of their dying mothers or fall from great heights as their mothers are shot high up in the canopies. They are sold as pets to wealthy families as status symbols, further fueling the pet trade industry that, although illegal, continues to thrive. When their owners quickly tire of them they are once again discarded into a perilous situation. Many orphaned orangutans die as a direct result of the trauma and stress of such early maternal separation or from untreated injuries sustained when they are captured. All of them are left psychologically scarred for the rest of their lives.
What Can You Do About it?
As long as there is demand for palm oil, this process will continue and their rainforest homes will vanish until orangutans become extinct. By that time it will be too late to do anything. However, it is still just possible to stop these beautiful creatures disappearing from our earth forever and it lies within each of us to prevent this tragedy becoming reality. We can all read, so we can resist this ecocide by checking product labels and avoiding all household products and packaged food that contain palm oil. Get to know companies that refuse to taint their products, like Dorset cereals, Redwood’s sausages, Sammy’s couscous and Lush toiletries. They may not be our familiar brands but a replica in different packaging nonetheless and it doesn’t cost anything to make the swap. But it saves lives. Check here for One Green Planet’s list of more brands that are palm oil free.
We can call on those corporations that do insist to use the product of deforestation to change to other forms of oil. You may wish to politely tell them why you will stop buying their products until they do. This gives out a powerful message that their consumers care about the effects of palm oil on orangutans and if enough people tell them they are more likely to respond.
So next time you’re doing your weekly shop, check you’re not pushing a slice of rainforest in your cart and there isn’t a monkey hidden among your shopping list. Leave the rainforest for the orangutans, where it belongs, rather than in your shopping cart.