Palm oil & biodiversity loss

Of all WWF's priority agricultural commodities, palm oil poses the most significant threat to the widest range of endangered megafauna – including tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans.
 / ©: Alain Compost
Large-scale conversion of tropical forests to oil palm plantations has a devastating impact on a huge number of plant and animal species.

Specific problems include:

  • The destruction of habitats containing rare and endangered species.
  • The elimination of wildlife corridors between areas of genetic diversity.
  • An increase in human-wildlife conflict as populations of large animals – such as tigers, elephants and orangutans – are squeezed into increasingly isolated fragments of natural habitat.
  • Reduced biodiversity in plantations. For example, nearly 80 mammal species are found in Malaysia's primary forests. In contrast, disturbed forests have just over 30 mammal species, while oil palm plantations have only 11 or 12 (Wakker 1998, in Clay (2004) "World Agriculture & Environment"). Similar species reductions occur for insects, birds, reptiles and soil microorganisms.
  • Increased harvesting of animal species for food, the pet trade or other reasons by people lured to plantations as workers.
  • The indiscriminate use of poisons to eliminate rats within oil palm plantations, which also poison other animals attempting to recolonize plantations.

Priority species impacted by oil palm plantations

Rat problems

  • Rats are the most common mammals found within oil palm plantations.

    They are attracted to plantations to feed on oil palm seeds, and flourish  because all their natural predators are removed during the initial forest clearing.

    Snakes and other potential predators are traditionally systematically eliminated if they make any attempt to recolonize oil palm plantations.

    Once established, rats are very difficult to remove from plantations.

    In the past oil palm plantation managers used poisons indiscriminately to eliminate them. This indiscriminate use also poisoned other animals that were attempting to recolonise the plantations.

    Today, more enlightened companies raise and release owls and other predators to control rats on plantations.

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