What do orangutans and pizza have in common?
In 2018, heartbreaking footage of an orangutan attacking a bulldozer that was tearing trees down in Borneo’s rainforest went viral. The video, originally released by International Animal Rescue, showed the orangutan fall helplessly to the ground, as it proved no match for the powerful machine.
Two years later, on International Orangutan Day, the lovable red-haired apes are still in grave danger of losing their habitat to human interference. Native to the tropical rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo in Southeast Asia, orangutans are the world’s largest tree-dwelling mammals. They swing from branch to branch with their powerful arms and legs, rest in nests made of leaves and sticks and munch on fruit from the treetops. In fact, they spend up to 90% of their life in the trees.
But every year, thousands of hectares of forest land in Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo are destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations, steadily encroaching on the orangutan’s habitat.
The debate about palm oil and its exploitative practices is no secret. In the nature documentary, Our Planet (currently streaming on Netflix), David Attenborough takes us through the jungles of Sumatra to show us the effects of deforestation on the orangutan population. “We have now replaced upto 27 million hectare of virgin jungle with a single species of tree,” Attenborough narrates, as he tells us how in the last four decades, the lowland jungles that orangutans depend on has declined by a staggering 75%.
A study published in the journal Current Biology, estimated that more than 100,000 orangutans were killed in 20 years, between 1995 and 2015, largely due to loss of habitat. The orangutans are losing their natural habitat and their numbers are dwindling. All to cater to our appetite for palm oil, known to be the world’s most versatile vegetable oil. It is used in everything from instant noodles, chocolate spreads and pizza dough to lipsticks, lotions and detergents.
The tricky thing is, very often you won’t even know you’re consuming palm oil. Palm oil is said to be found in 50% of supermarket products. But there are also 436 different names for it including emulsifying wax, glycerin, lauric acid, palmate, SLS and most commonly, vegetable oil.
“It is now estimated that we lose ten orangutans every week from human activity,” Attenborough says. Time is running out for these furry creatures, who happen to be our closest ancestors. For the love of orangutans, it’s up to us to make better choices to keep them swinging from tree to tree.
The good news is that many companies around the world have committed to sourcing only sustainably sourced palm oil. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established to find ways to address the environmental and social problems caused by unsustainable oil palm cultivation. (Read up more on the RSPO here). To make a donation to help the orangutans, click here.
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