The ivory trade is often what we associate with elephants’ endangered status, but there are other equally destructive culprits. For Sumatran elephants, a species found in the forests of Southeast Asia, that offender may be resting a little closer to home in our kitchen cabinets. That’s because this species of elephant is subject to persecution and habitat destruction in connection with the palm oil industry.

Palm oil has quickly become the go-to ingredient in as much as half of all consumer goods we buy – from pie crusts and peanut butter to toothpaste and household cleaners. And as its usage expands, more and more land is required to grow the fruit from which this oil derives. As a result, it’s estimated that an area the size of 300 football fields is cleared in the Sumatran rainforests every hour in order for new palm oil plantations to take root.

These forests are the primary habitat for a number of endangered species, who, in addition to becoming homeless, are losing their sources of food and water and, ultimately, their means to survive. But as if that wasn’t torturous enough, they are also forced to deal with the heavy-handedness of profit-chasing palm plantation workers, who consider these animals pests.

For Sumatran elephants, wandering anywhere near a palm plantation in search of food or a secure resting place often results in physical harm or death, whether through poisoning or physical weaponry. Babies regularly become orphaned when their mothers are attacked, but industry workers take no issue in violating the youngsters themselves.

Skinny and starving, this baby elephant was recently rescued in Aceh,  Indonesia thanks to the efforts of BKSDA. The little one had been shot in the side, and while it is unknown who did this – this sort of action is not uncommon in the palm oil industry. 

emaciated elephant

Luckily, the small elephant is now getting the care she needs to recover.

emaciated elephant

It’s unclear whether she will be able to return to the wild, but with a lot of care and time, we can only hope this will be the case.

emaciated elephant


Unfortunately, not all victims are as fortunate. Only around 1,300 Sumatran elephants remain in the wild, and their future becomes less and less secure as new palm plantations are planted each day. Organizations like BKSDA are doing everything they can, but the real key to stopping these wildlife crimes lies in our own palms.

We consumers have the power and choice to make the biggest difference for Sumatran elephants and their fellow endangered species because the existence of these palm oil plantations is at the mercy of our own purchasing decisions. Only when we consciously choose to purchase palm oil-free products will skyrocketing demand for this ingredient subside and the lives of Sumatran wildlife improve.

All image source: HAkA/Facebook