Orangutans and oil palm plantations
Hanging on - but just barely
For example, there are nearly 80 mammal species in Malaysia's primary forests, just over 30 in disturbed forests, and only 11 or 12 in oil palm plantations.2 A similar loss in diversity occurs for insects, birds, reptiles, and most important of all, for soil microorganisms.
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About orangutansOrangutans live on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo as 2 distinct species:
The palm oil industry, which is causing clear-cutting of forests, forest fires, and also facilitates greater access for hunters and traders, is one of the most important factors for the dramatic reduction of orangutan populations.
What is the connection between orangutans and oil palm?
- Orangutans live in areas that are favoured for establishing oil palm plantations: fertile lowland soils close to rivers.
- The orangutans’ forest home is being converted into oil palm plantations at a massive scale. This conversion is being driven by growing global demand for palm oil, which is pushing up prices and hence encouraging the development of more plantations.
Impacts of oil palm development on orangutans
- The development of oil palm plantations causes the fragmentation of forests, which reduces the natural habitat of orangutans. There are about 25,000 km2 of oil palm plantations in Borneo, and the area is ever increasing.
- Where forests are being converted for oil palm plantations, poaching of orangutans for the illegal pet trade is more prevalent. This corresponds with reports from WWF and TRAFFIC that show an increase in the trade in baby orangutans over the past decade.
- Forest fires are set deliberately to clear land for plantations. Not only do fires destroy vast areas of orangutan habitat, but thousands of these slow-moving apes are thought to have burned to death, unable to escape the flames.
- In some areas of Borneo and Sumatra, orangutans are shot as pests by plantation owners or farmers.
2 Wakker, E. 1998. Lipsticks from the rainforest: Palm oil, crisis and forest loss in Indonesia: the role of Germany. WWF report.