26 September 2005

Palm oil demand driving orangutans to extinction

2005-09-24 - Indonesia
Source: Yahoo news
Demand for palm oil, which is widely used in processed foods, is driving the orangutan towards extinction by speeding the destruction of their forest habitat, Friends of the Earth said. The environmental campaigners said Asia's only great ape could be wiped out within 12 years unless there was urgent intervention in the palm oil trade, which it said was also linked with human rights abuses.
"Almost 90 percent of the orangutan's habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia has now been destroyed. Some experts estimate that 5,000 orangutan perish as a result every year," it said in a statement from London.
In a report it dubbed the "Oil for Ape Scandal," the group said wildlife centres in Indonesia were over-run with orphaned baby orangutans that had been rescued from forests being cleared to make way for new plantations.
"Oil-palm plantations have now become the primary cause of the orangutans' decline, wiping out its rainforest home in Borneo and Sumatra," it said.
Friends of the Earth said that palm oil is found in one in 10 products on supermarket shelves, including bread, crisps and cereals as well as lipstick and soap, and that many manufacturers did not know where their oil was coming from.
Palm oil plantations have also been blamed for the annual haze crisis which hit Malaysia and Thailand last month, as clouds of smoke and dust from "slash and burn" operations drifted over from Indonesia's Sumatra island.
"Research by Friends of the Earth shows that the forest fires which ravaged the island of Sumatra in August, and continue to burn today, were mostly set by palm oil companies clearing land to set up their plantations," it said.
"It is estimated that one third of the orangutan population on Borneo was killed by the forest fires of 1998," it said, referring to the disastrous haze crisis that year which crippled business and tourism in parts of Southeast Asia.
Global conservation group WWF has also sounded the alarm over plans to create a huge new oil palm plantation in Indonesian Borneo, saying it would have a devastating impact on the wildlife and indigenous peoples,
The proposed plantation, funded by China, is expected to cover 1.8 million hectares along the mountainous border with Malaysian Sarawak, equivalent to about half the size of the Netherlands, WWF said in August.
However, WWF in Malaysia has downplayed fears that orangutans could be extinct within the next few decades due to habitat destruction, describing those claims last year as "rather alarmist and not realistic".
The red-haired apes, close kin to humans, are found only on Borneo, which is shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, and on the neighbouring Indonesian island of Sumatra.
Their numbers have dwindled to less than 60,000 from a population that once spanned Southeast Asia.
As well as forest clearing, they are threatened by commercial logging, hunting and poaching for the bush meat and pet trades and forest fires.

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