If you walked into the grocery store and saw “palm oil” on the ingredient list of your favorite cookies, what would you think? Probably nothing much, considering most processed foods contain this oil or another vegetable oil variety. Given the fact that palm oil shows up in around 50 percent of consumer goods, this oil has been able to fly under most consumers’ radar as a standard, harmless ingredient. However, this is hardly the case.

Due to the high demand for palm oil, the areas where this commodity crop is grown are subjected to mass deforestation to make way for palm plantations. Palm oil thrives in a warm, tropical climates, which incidentally also happen to be home to vital rainforests. The bulk of palm oil production occurs in Indonesia and Malaysia where around 300 football fields of forest are cleared every HOUR to make room for palm oil plantations.

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Completely decimating the native rainforest, palm oil has played a driving role in the endangerment of countless animal species, most notably the orangutan. Around 90 percent of the orangutan’s natural habitat has been destroyed by palm oil production and the population of these tree-dwelling primates has declined by over 50 percent in the past 10 years.

While the plight of the orangutan has been an ongoing struggle, it appears that the impact of palm production is hardly limited to this species of primate.

Although the bulk of palm oil production occurs in Malaysia and Indonesia, production is expanding into Africa as well. A recent report from Greenpeace Africa found that great apes in central Africa are quickly losing their habitat to the growing palm oil industry. After obtaining satellite images of the Dja Faunal Reserve in Southern Cameroon, a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to the western lowland gorilla, chimpanzees and mandrills, Greenpeace found that 3,000 hectares of rainforest bordering this vital habitat had been destroyed.

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UNESCO has requested that a formal assessment be done to find if any damage has been done to the reserve itself. However, this is hardly the only invasive palm operation in the country. More evidence has mounted that palm companies are also scaling up another area of vital forest habitat in Cameroon’s Littoral region (also adjacent to a national park reserve), looking to set up palm plantations.

Creating plantations adjacent to nature reserves increases the risk of human-primate conflict. When primates wander onto plantations, they are regarded as pests (as is the case with orangutans) and will often be killed on the spot. The Nigerian-Cameroon chimpanzee is one of the most endangered primates in the world and is already greatly threatened by poaching, the bush meat trade. Additionally, the drill is a rare ape and 80 percent of the world’s remaining population is in Cameroon and as palm oil plantation expands, the threat of habitat loss that has lead to the decline of this species is only expected to rise.

Greenpeace is working with local communities and government to try and mitigate the damage that is set to be done to these integral forests. While this action might be a long time in the making, we can all help to protect the primates of African and Indonesia by removing palm oil from our diet. Be sure to check all your consumer goods for this sneaky ingredient and avoid it whenever possible.

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There is no reason that any animal should be threatened with extinction for the sake of our snack foods and laundry detergent. Learn more about how you can ditch palm oil today!

Image source: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr