Palm Oil Plantations Effect on Orangutans

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Palm Oil[edit | edit source]

The obvious reason for the up rise in palm oil plantations is profit. Palm oil is used in a wide variety of food products ranging from margarine to baked goods, and is generally labeled as "vegetable oil". [1] The government of Indonesia (as well as other goverments where these plantations exist) sell the land to palm oil companies who then begin their destructive path. The forests are logged of the more valuable timber, and the remaining shrubbery is set ablaze. One of the most shocking aspects of the whole process is the fact that the plantations are highly unsustainable; meaning that they will only last for twenty to fifty years. After that, the soil is unusable because it looses its vital nutrients and the palm trees no longer producer fruit. This means that more and more areas will have to be destroyed for the plantations because palm oil is such a short-term commodity. [2]

Orangutans[edit | edit source]

Orangutans are a close relative of the human, as they share around 97% of their DNA with our species. They are a “great ape” and like other great apes, are highly intelligent beings. Many experts would even go as far as saying that they are the most intelligent species besides our own. [2] They inhabit the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra, and are actually the only great apes that live in Asia. They are categorized into two different “species”- the Sumantran Orangutan and the Boreno Orangutan; both of which have experienced sharp population declines during the past few decades because of deforestation. [2]

Sumatra and Borneo[edit | edit source]

The Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo are full of lush rainforests and are home to a variety of species. As common of many of Earth's pristine forest lands, they are highly susceptible to deforestation which threatens all life in those areas. One of the major problems of Indonesia specifically is the practice of using land to create palm oil plantations. “Of approximately 11 million hectares of oil palm plantations globally, about 6 million hectares are found in Indonesia” [3] (1 Hectare = approx. 2.5 acres). [4]

Threat to Orangutans[edit | edit source]

Orangutans are at an especially high risk because of the specific areas they like to inhabit within these ecosystems. They favor lowland areas next to rivers with fertile soils, which is exactly what the oil palm companies are looking for. [5] This causes the plantation owners to have a very negative view of the orangutans and they see them as pests. They are often run over by logging trucks and killed in horrific ways such as being set aflame or beaten to death. They are seen as pests because of the potential "threat" they pose to the plantations. The orangutans have been known to damage the oil palm crops and cause other problems. An estimate states that around ten orangutans are killed every single day because of the quest for palm oil. They often wander onto the plantations in search for food and meet their demise at the hands of ruthless oil workers, or are kept as pets and sold into an illegal pet trade. They are kept in horrible conditions and do not often survive that process. [2]

Threat to Environment[edit | edit source]

The development of the plantations also causes forest fragmentation. This chops up the natural habitat of the orangutans, which only furthers the problem. Data has shown that around 50,000 have died because of deforestation in the past few decades, and if this path continues they will be extinct within the next 3 to 12 years. If they go extinct, it will be horrible for the ecosystems the live in which are already in a shaky state. Orangutans spread tree seeds which is a job specific to the orangutan; many of them can't germinate until they have passed through the orangutans stomach. Without them, many species of plants will suffer which trickles down to all aspects of these areas. [2] Palm oil plays a major role in agribusinesses yet it is destroying the world that we live in day by day. [6] The destruction of forests as well as extinction to animals is not benefiting anyone.These plantations are taking over the dense jungles we live in today and the only solution is to cut down. It is true that palm oil products surround our grocery stores and are becoming relevant in all of our lives but that does not mean major companies need to destroy bio-diverse ecosystems to do so. A proposed solution is to reach out to anyone and everyone to understand that this is not right, and to use new technologies and tactics to produce palm oil and any other materials that are destroying jungles. This can be a fixed solution; orangutans need homes and nature needs to take course. Deforestation and slash and burn tactics are not just affecting humans and the world, but the orangutans that are just about extinct. [6]

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