Orangutans Victims In Palm Oil Crisis

In roughly 10% of products in United States grocery stores, palm oil can be found in the ingredients. Indonesia and Malaysia produce 85% of the 40 million tons each year, and it has subsequently become a big part of their economy. However, there are unlikely victims of this mass-production. Monkeys. Or, to be more specific, orangutans.

Palm oil is a vegetable oil, which is a derivative of the mesocarp, the reddish pulp of the fruit of the oil palms. It can be used to create a texture that holds things together and it’s used in a range of products – lipstick, shampoo, pizza dough, instant noodles, packaged bread, and many others. The palm oil, which has accounted for 11% of Indonesia’s export earnings, is now being cultivated in areas not native to the plant.

On the island of Sumatra, commercial plantations are being built to increase the cultivation of palm oil. This mass production effort, however, has killed many of the indigenous orangutan monkeys, injured some, and displaced the small amount that are now struggling onto hope for the survival of their species.

The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program has two central missions: one, to stop the illegal forestation of palm oil in the area, and two, to rehabilitate the injured and traumatized primates. One man, Ian Singleton, has dedicated his life to this cause and treats and thinks of the orangutans as refugees. He explained to NPR how he isolates them upon arrival for 30 days to evaluate their health status, and then slowly reintroduces them to socialized encounters with other orangutans.

Other environmental and animal rights concerns have arisen over the years since palm oil production has been destroying rainforests. There has been a projected 8 million hectares of deforested land in Indonesia, posing threats to species of elephants, tigers, rhinoceroses, and now, monkeys. And to top it all off, a lot of the people creating plantations and the farmers working them, are operating illegally, without permits.

Orangutans spend the majority of their time in trees. They’ve been called “opportunistic foragers” as their caloric intake and diet staples may vary greatly throughout the year. They eat a variety of plants, and sometimes bird eggs, but the main staple of their diet is fruit. They may eat up to 11,000 calories of day in the high fruit season, which is also the mating season. The deforestation in this area of the world is not only physically forcing them off of their land, but also taking away the resources they use to sustain their lifestyle.

Without serious government intervention, the orangutan and other endangered species of the area will lose the ability to be relocated somewhere else. Although the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program is doing all they can to rehabilitate and save the current population, they have limited power and resources compared to the massively funded plantations that yield enormous products for the country.