Palm oil is often used in soaps, candles, as well
as a variety of many other products. It seems
that it should be a likely natural ingredient most
people would want to use, but there is more to
this than at first meets the eye. There is something
going on in order to obtain palm oil that is actually
going against nature ... that is what this article
is briefly going to cover. The construction of
palm plantations is destroying the forests that
teem with life.
In the past, we heard news of horrible peat fires in
this area of the world, but we learned more about
this terrible situation by reading an article about
Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas, someone who has
extensively studied orangutans in Borneo and has
become an advocate for their survival.
She joins many people far and wide who have
realized the plight of this wondrous place,
and, she has inspired us to focus on either
minimizing (to a great degree) and completely
avoiding palm oil in our products and urging
suppliers to seek out sustainable sources
or substitute products. When we read that
she awakens in the middle of the night due
to concern about this situation, which she described
in one article as "catastrophic," we
decided to do something ... anything ... we
could to help, so we will now share some of
what we have learned about Borneo, orangutans,
and palm oil plantations.
The rain forest of Borneo is considered one of the most
biologically diverse places on Earth ... home to many
beautiful flowers; 1500 species of plants; butterflies;
birds; insects; amphibians; mammals such as two
species of gibbons; eight species of monkeys, including
proboscis monkeys and silvered leaf; Borneo pygmy elephant;
crested serpent-eagle; sun bear; clouded leopard;
and many others. However, what we will be discussing
here is the orangutan, which has found itself caught up
in a disastrous situation due to loss of habitat in
Sumatra and Borneo. A gentle, rather secretive creature
of the rain forest, orangutans are being displaced,
orphaned, injured, and killed as their rain forest
home is being destroyed.
Slightly larger than the state of Texas, Borneo,
with an unsurpassed biodiversity, is the third largest
island in the world. Some of it belongs to Indonesia,
with most of the rest of it (some making up Brunei),
belonging to Malaysia. Lying between the South China and
Java Seas, Borneo was once primarily covered with rain forest,
home to 2500-plus species of orchids, many of which are
rare and indigenous and "highly valued for their
exotic aromas and aesthetic beauty." Yet, the orchids,
as well as other plants and insects, are threatened with
extinction, some of which may not have been discovered yet.
Borneo's rain forests, as well as southeast Asia’s lowland forests,
are composed of the tallest tropical trees in the world,
and the rain forest can have as many as 240 species of
trees in a area of four acres. The worlds’ largest flower;
largest orchid; largest carnivorous plants; largest moth;
largest collection of gliding animals, including flying squirrels,
lizards, frogs (and even snakes!) reside in Borneo, with the
orangutan being the largest primarily tree-dwelling mammal.
This is some of what we have read and learned about the
Bornean Orangutan, "Pongo pygmaeus."
Orangutans are considered to be "strictly or exclusively"
an arboreal ape (living in trees), although Dr. Galdikas
says that they spend as much as half of their day on the ground.
She has also documented about 400 types of fruit, flowers, bark,
leaves and insects that they eat, and amongst other discoveries,
she has published her findings in books and publications.
Their taste for fruit plays some role in seed dispersal
in their environment. They are not known to swim.
Their sleeping quarters are platform nests high in the trees.
For their life in trees, they spend it in the rain forest canopy at
various levels, being the largest mammal on the planet to do this.
They walk, jump and swing through the trees from branches ... this is referred to
as arboreal locomotion, also known as quadrumanous scrambling.
They are active during the day (diurnal). The word Orangutan means
"person of the forest," as some of their behavior is very humanlike.
They have demonstrated to learn some sign language,
and often use tools in their daily activities, for instance,
using branches to test water depth, and they have the capacity
to reason and solve some problems.
Orangutan babies cling to their mothers by gripping her fur
for their first year of life ... then, they
begin to ride upon her back until they are "toddlers"
and they are not weaned until after the age of three.
When separated from their mothers, they scream, as the young
are very dependent and the parent-offspring bond is great.
While moving through the trees, a mother will stretch her
body between two trees, creating a bridge so baby can move across
crawling over her back.
Baby orangutans cry, whimper, and smile at their mothers,
staying close to them. Their moms teach them everything
about survival in the forest in a very tight relationship.
The heartbreak of realizing how many baby orangutans
are orphaned due to their mothers being killed is
tremendous. There is actually a name for them,
"oil palm orphans." Some animals take refuge in rehabilitation
centers, but the orphan situation has escalated.
It has been documented that "as recently as 1900,
more than 300,000 orangutans roamed freely across the jungles of
southeast Asia and southern China, with today's populations
estimated at 6500 in Sumatra and 48,000 in Borneo"
... today, roaming freely is not a safe option,
as the palm plantations have created dangerous
boundaries as orangutans are viewed as pests
when they venture onto palm plantations. They
are often killed, with some leaving behind orphans.
"According to the Nature Conservancy, forest loss in
Indonesia has contributed to the death of some 3,000
orangutans a year over the past three decades."
Palm Oil Plantations - What’s Going On
Much of Borneo’s natural resources have been exploited or
plundered throughout history, and now, this island is considered
by many to be the "most critical conservation issue on our planet."
With forest lands being depleted for the planting of palm trees
that stretch for miles, creating monoculture palm plantations in place
of the native biodiversity, this environment, with all of its
true beauty, is being lost. Parts of this region has been referred
to as a "biological desert" ... nothing but palm trees.
The vast biodiversity of Borneo is being obliterated ...
in other words, completely blotted out from the
face of the earth.
Over 80% of the world's palm oil production is grown in
Indonesia and Malaysia. According to one source, Indonesia has
15 million acres under cultivation for palms, with plans for more.
Palm oil plantations are replacing the virgin forests where
orangutans live. Some of the palm oil is
being grown for the biofuel industry, and it is also commonly used
in many snack foods and candies, but our personal concern has to
do with the palm oil ingredient in cosmetics, skin care products,
as well as candles. The demand is great for versatile palm oil,
derived from the fruit of the palm tree (Elaesis guineensis),
sometimes referred to as "green gold" due to its
In Borneo, where there is peat swamp forest, a specialized
ecosystem, forests grow on soil nurtured over
the centuries with plant material. This plant matter stores
carbon. If it is deforested and drained, the peat decays
and releases its carbon. To make matters worse, there
have been massive peat fires which have gone out of control.
These fires are responsible for the release of a tremendous
amount of carbon dioxide, contributing to Indonesia’s placement
as "the world’s third-largest CO2 emitter."
Beyond the pollution, orangutans are caught up in the flames
and the habitat loss. Indonesia’s forests have seen a
heightened destruction since the 1950’s, with approximately
40% of it wiped out due to logging and other interests.
This has placed the Sumatra orangutan at a critically endangered
stage, as their populations have fallen by over 80% in only a
hundred years. Borneo’s forest habitat has a rich history of
exploitation due to its beautiful and aromatic hardwoods.
Although the orangutans of Borneo are at less risk of immediate
extinction, with current trends, the reality is that they too
are risk of being annihilated. Their behavior is considered
"flexible" ... with an ability to adjust to various
situations, but their decline persists.
What You Can Do
First, we would like to offer you some information (links below) so you
too can learn more about these wonderful creatures and the special
place they are desperately trying to call "their rain forest home."
Then, we'd like to ask you to
become an involved consumer and see if you can also avoid
the use of palm oil, or to inquire to see if it has been
derived from sustainable resources. However, even if it is
from such sources, we must remember that it's still being
harvested from a monoculture that used to be wild rain forest.
Finally, you may wish to air your views with others about what
is happening, contribute money for habitat
conservation or other needed aid, be a voice and spread
the word, or simply take a stance. The beauty of Borneo
belongs to future generations who are unable to speak for
its protection, so it's up to us.
Borneo Orchids Expedition -
Assorted Resources and Articles -
Their Rain Forest Home
Orangutan Protection Foundation
This page may also link to Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation,
which aids in orangutan rehabilitation in Sepilok, Tanjung
Puting National Parks and Nyaru Menteng Centre.
About Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas
Mary Galdikas’ Blog
"Words cannot describe what palm oil companies have done to drive orangutans and
other wildlife to near-extinction. It's simply horrific." - Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas
Smithsonian Magazine, December, 2010, Article by Bill Brubaker
About Camp Leakey
National Geographic - Borneo
"Considering the island's unsurpassed biodiversity-from orangutans and rhinoceroses to
tiny mosses and beetles not yet discovered-and the rate at which its forests are being
lost, Borneo's future may well be the most critical conservation issue on our planet."
Rain Forest Rescue - Orangutans versus Palm Oil
Orangutan.org - About Palm Oil
Panda.org - Deforestation Article
"The storybook forest of his youth, the great green riot of reeds
and vines, the cathedral-like thickets of fruit and hardwood trees - all of it is gone. "
Interview - Orangutan Threats
Article on Sustainable Palm Oil
redapes.org - Home Page
redapes.org - Article: Orangutan Threats
(note: includes some graphic images)
Pongo pygmaeus - by Deborah Ciszek and Maija K. Schommer
BBC - U.K. - Bornean Orangutans
Arkive.org - About Bornean Orangtans
National Zoo - Orangtan Fact Sheet
National Geographic - Orangutans
Smithsonian - Orangutans
Photo Gallery - Orangtans
"Among the Great Apes with Michelle Yeoh"
(National Geographic Documentary Film Photo Gallery)
World Land Trust - Malaysia
One of Sir David Attenborough's Patron's Messages at World Land Trust ...
"In human nature there is good and evil, and often it is
within man's capacity to destroy the very things we value most.
For millions of years we have been exploiting our planet and
its natural resources but it is only with modern technology
that we have tipped the scales to an alarming degree.
We are at risk of destroying the very bedrock on which
our existence was built."
Read more ...
Australian Orangutan Project
The Orangutan Foundation UK
Orangutan Appeal UK
Sumatran Orangutan Society
The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme
Orang Utan Republik Foundation (OURF)
Palm Oil Free Alternatives
Shopping guide for more information on
products to avoid that contain palm oil ...
Palm Oil Action Group