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Orangutans IN THE PALM OF YOUR HANDS Author: Katherine Pretorius The word Orangutan – Is originally derived from Malay and means "person of the forest." The Orangutans are native to the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia. They once ranged throughout Southeast Asia and South China but are now only found in parts of Borneo and Sumatra. There are three species of Orangutan, Bornean, Tapanuli and Sumatran. The Bornean Orangutan can live up to 45 years, and the females produce one offspring at a time for over 6 to 7 years. They spend nearly all their lives in trees, swinging among the treetops and building nests in which they sleep. They are highly intelligent beings, and they share 96.4% of our genes and are among our closest relatives, which means killing them is tantamount to murdering a human. So why is it that despite the efforts of several conservation and rehabilitation organisations, all three Orangutan species are now critically endangered?
Financial gain at the expense of the planet is the root cause.
The palm oil tree grows in tropical climates. It contains the world's most versatile and most used vegetable oil and is home to an estimated 107.500 Orangutans. It is used in packaged baked goods, blends well with other oils and doesn't spoil when used for cooking.
Over the years, there has been a drastic decline in Orangutan populations and ranges due to human activities. The rainforests in which they live are being destroyed at an alarming rate, primarily in Borneo and Sumatra. In addition to habitat destruction, deforestation for logging, the cultivation of palm oil, and the illegal pet trade are among the biggest threats to wild Orangutan populations. Eleven per cent of Sumatra, the world's sixth-largest island, is now covered with Palm oil plantations. In 2016, Indonesia exported over 25 million tons of palm oil, and it is estimated that palm oil plantations will cover 13 million hectares by 2020. Many countries throughout Latin America have come under fire for their shameless environmental practices. Bribery of officials and the reliance on local communities for jobs has meant native communities and local conservationists alike are at risk of their homes and lives should they complain. Palm oil producers can violate environmental safeguards with impunity, and the lack of concise records makes it increasingly difficult for external parties to intervene.
What would happen if orangutans went extinct? The loss of orangutans would be catastrophic to the rainforests. Several tree species would become extinct, and other species that call the tropical rainforests home, like tigers, elephants, and rhinoceroses, will also see a decline in their populations since they live, hunt or eat in and among these trees. Carbon sequestration is restricted due to the loss of rainforest, and as a result, biodiverse habitats are destroyed.
What can we do to help? Despite claims of being eco-friendly, many companies still prefer to use Palm oil due to its price, versatility and ease of application. It is used as the foaming agent in most shampoos, liquid soaps and detergents, and it is a favourite among cosmetics companies. It is even used in the production of Biofuels. Our choices play a defining role in saving the Orangutans. Read the product labels and only buy products that do not contain Palm oil or choose products with sustainably produced Palm oil. Education is vital; keep informed about Palm oil farming practices and the laws governing them. Spread the word and be heard. Many organisations are dedicated to saving the Orangutans, and they could all use our help, volunteer or donate.
The banning of palm oils is simply not enough. According to an official statement by the WWF: "Boycotting palm oil will neither protect nor restore the rainforests, whereas companies undertaking actions for a more sustainable palm oil industry are contributing to a long-lasting and transparent solution." When produced correctly, palm oil is more efficient and environmentally friendly to make than alternative vegetable oils. The true cost of Palm oil farming can be seen from the scorched ground as the forests are burnt down to make way for the Palm plantations destroying habitats and animals along the way. We need to ask ourselves, is the low cost of Palm oil worth the cost of the destruction left in its wake? Is it worth compromising the future of our planet and all who live here, animals and humans alike? No matter how small, every effort can go a long way to ensuring the protection of Orangutans and their homes, but we must act now. "Earth provides enough for everyone's needs but not everyone's greed" – Mahatma Gandhi.
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Xtinct Magazine is a global collaboration of people dedicating their lives to saving the planet from extinction.