Friday, November 23, 2007

Murdering Our Closest Relative

An article in yesterday's edition of the Guardian Unlimited reminded me of an earlier shocking Guardian article about the same subject. I first read about the horrible situation the Palm Oil industry has created in a Guardian article from March 25, 2007entitled "Five Years to Save the Orang Utan." The palm oil industry is rapidly on the rise as an alternative to trans fats, and it is found in one of every ten grocery products. The demand for palm oil as a biofuel, especially in the European Union, is also a key player in the Orang Utan crisis. Compared to 1995, Britain now imports twice as much palm oil amounting to one million tonnes per year. Indonesia and Malaysia produce 83% of the world's plam oil. Unfortunately, these two countries are also home to the natural rainforest habitat of man's closest relative. Orang Utans share 96.4% of our human DNA.

According to the March 25 article, "A United Nations report has found that illegal logging and fires have been overtaken as the primary cause of deforestation by a huge expansion of oil palm plantations, which are racing to meet soaring demand from Western food manufacturers and the European Union's zeal for biofuels." The Borneo Orang Utan Survival Foundation UK warns that by 2012, orangutans in the wild could be close to extinction.

More from "Five Years to Save the Orang Utan" follows:

"But the new UN report warns: 'Today, the rapid increase in [oil palm] plantation acreage is one of the greatest threats to orang utans and the forests on which they depend. In Malaysia and Indonesia, it is now the primary cause of permanent rainforest loss. The huge demand for this versatile product makes it very difficult to curb the spread of plantations.'

Displaced from their rainforest habitat, the orang utans struggle to survive in the oil palm plantations and are regarded as an agricultural pest. Mindful of the potential loss in profits, farmers have carried out a vicious extermination programme.

Michelle Desilets, director of the Borneo Orang Utan Survival Foundation UK, said: 'They are left hungry so they go in search of food in the plantations and destroy the plants. They become easy targets. Some plantation owners put a bounty of $10 or $20 on the head of orangutans, which is worth a few weeks' salary for the workers.

'Workers don't usually have guns: the orang utans that get shot are the lucky ones. We've seen them beaten to death with wood sticks or iron bars, doused in petrol and set on fire, trussed up in nets or tied up with wire which cuts through their flesh. Often a mother is killed and eaten while its baby is sold on or kept as a pet. In the local plantations where we're working, the managers have now agreed not to offer the bonus. But there's still a macho thing about bringing down an adult male.' "


We can not allow our closest relative to become extinct, especially not by an industry deemed "environmentally friendly." I felt only some relief by the article in yesterday's Guardian entitled Palm Oil Industry Signs Up To Green Labelling Scheme. Yesterday, "a certification process designed to allow palm oil producers that meet environmental standards to label their products as eco-friendly was launched." The Round table meeting that decided the criteria was attended by producers (Proctor Gamble, Unilever) and environmental groups (WWF, Friends of the Environment).

After reading the following from the article, I worry about the enforcement of this certification process:

"Launching the certification process, Malaysian commodities minister, Peter Chin, accused environmental groups of harming palm oil's image, particularly in the UK – where it is estimated that one in 10 of all products sold contains palm oil. 'Using these [emotive] arguments, they often manage to pressure the rest of the supply chain towards giving support through the adoption of negative policies, as being the case with some major retailers in the UK,' said Mr Chin."


Facing the environmental crisis we have created is not an easy path. Mistakes are being made along the way; palm oil and nuclear energy are examples of those mistakes.


An Apple Per Day... said...

It is certainly appalling that this massive deforestation is causing horrendous cruelty toward the Orang Utan; however, I could not care less that it is the closest relative of humans. Deforestation is obliterating hundreds of species of plants, insects and birds that in my opinion we should be equally concerned about. Some biologists claim that currently, the rate of species extinctions is 100 to 1000 times greater than the historic background rate, and that we are on the verge of the 6th mass extinction in the history of our planet - all because of human activities such as deforestation, pollution, and over-intensive agricultural practices.

Michelle said...

Thank you for helping to get the word out about the palm oil industry's effect on the orangutan. The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation is the only organisation in the world actively rescuing wild orangutans from certain death in the palm oil plantations. This week our team rescued 5 orangutans, but found others already dead, as well as sun bears and gibbons.
You can find out more about the threat to orangutans at our website We hope that some of you will help, whether it be by writing a letter to the editor of your paper or a representative in your government, or by supporting efforts on the ground to save orangutans.
Michelle Desilets
Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation UK

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