Rainforest destruction in East Asia is showing no signs of slowing down and the main culprit responsible for the destruction is the demand for palm oil. This year Indonesia in expecting palm oil production to reach 42 million tonnes. Indonesia is...
Rainforest destruction in East Asia is showing no signs of slowing down and the main culprit responsible for the destruction is the demand for palm oil. This year Indonesia in expecting palm oil production to reach 42 million tonnes. Indonesia is the world's largest producer of palm oil and currently has more than 10 million hectares of oil palm plantations. Palm oil has an ever growing demand and it is cheap to produce, it is the most profitable crop that you can grow in the tropics of East Asia. In fact around half of all products on super market shelves contain palm oil so it is really hard to avoid using palm oil. This leads to often illegal deforestation by chopping huge areas of rainforest and setting them alight, the burning of forest leads to out of control forest fires that often spill into reserves and protected forests and create the infamous smog that is often experienced in East Asia. The smog problem is so bad that countries in East Asia have had to declare multiple national emergencies over the last few years and smog severity is actually included in their daily weather forecasts. The type of rainforest cut down for palm oil production cannot simply be replanted at a later date, the rainforest destroyed tends to be made up of trees that are hundreds and sometimes thousands of years old.
It would be impossible to write about animals endangered from palm oil production and not mention the poster child of anti palm oil campaigns, the orangutan. The orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) is one of mankind's closest relatives, observing them you cannot help but relate to these animals, they are full of character and it would be a huge shame to lose them. Unfortunately the charisma of the orangutan does not seem enough to save the species from extinction, they have been listed as endangered since 1986 by the IUCN and they endanger status is showing no signs of improvement. There are three species of orangutan, the Bornean Orangutan, the Sumatran Orangutan and the Tapanuli Orangutan, all of these are listed as critically endangered.
Current estimates predict that there are less than 50,000 orangutans remaining in the wild and of those that remain they are left isolated in small groups with the rainforest that once connected them transforming into monoculture palm oil plantation. 30 years ago it was believed that there was around 315,000 orangutans in the wild, this highlights a rapid decline correlating directly with the destruction of rainforest and creation of palm oil plantations. It is no mystery why oranagutans are endangered, the evidence is pretty clear. On the islands of Borneo and Sumatra alone, over 50,000 orangutan deaths have been directly linked to palm oil production. Habitat destruction is the main reason for the harsh decline in orangutan numbers, the monoculture of the oil palm plantation replacing natural rainforest just cannot sustain populations of orangutan long-term. Orangutans can sustain themselves for a short time by eating young oil palm plants, but this does not provide them with a healthy varied and balanced diet, also they damage the crop of the plantation and come into conflict with workers who see the animals as pests so they are either killed or captured. It is estimated that at the current rate of extinction, with no intervention, that the orangutan will be extinct in Borneo in less than 25 years.
The Sumatran Tiger (Panthera Tigris Sumatrae), is a critically endangered tiger species that is specific to the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. It has been listed on the IUCN red list as critically endangered since 2008. It one of the smallest of the tigers weighing around 200 pounds when fully matured, it has a distinctive mane unique to the Sumatran Tiger and its stripes are closer together with the remaining fur being a darker orange when compared to other tigers. Habitat loss is the main reason for the decline in Sumatran Tiger numbers and this is because of the destruction of rainforest to create and expand palm oil plantations. Between the years 2000 and 2012 20% of the Sumatran Tiger's habitat was destroyed purely for palm oil. Sumatran Tigers need large areas of rainforest to travel through in the search of prey and to own large territories as not to come into conflict with other tigers for precious resources and potential mates. Poaching is also a factor that puts remaining Sumatran Tiger populations at risk and poaching still unfortunately happens in protected areas of forest. Tiger bones are prizes as the primary ingredient in tiger bone wine which is in demand among the wealthy in China who believe it will pass on the characteristics of a tiger onto the drinker. Tiger teeth are used to make jewellery such as necklaces and tiger hide is used to make furnishings and furniture as some see owning tiger products as a status symbol, more so in parts of Asia.
The Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus Sumatrensis) is also sometimes called the Asian Two-Horned Rhinoceros and the Hairy Rhinoceros is classified as the most endangered rhino species along with the Javan Rhino and both are listed as critically endangered. There are not thought to be less than a hundred Sumatran Rhinos left in the wild. There are only five rhino species left in the wild and the Sumatran is the smallest of the five species with the tallest standing just 3 and a half foot tall. This species of rhino has characteristic patches of short, dark hair that is reddish-brown in colouration. This unique adaptation helps keep the skin cool and protect the rhino from parasites and other insects. The horns of the Sumatran rhino are considerably smaller than those of their African counterparts which is hardly surprising as the Sumatran Rhino species on a whole are smaller.
The original cause for the endangerment of the Sumatran Rhino was poaching for its horn. The front horn has a maximum length of 31 inches but on average they tend to be much smaller and the second horn that is located just behind the main horn has a maximum length of 3 inches but normally tends to be no much more than a hump. Though the Sumatran Rhino has a small horn it does not deter poachers from killing them for their horns. The demand for rhino horn continues to grow and pushes up the price, most of this demand comes from China and Vietnam who use Rhino horn for medicine and as a precious material to show wealth and status often with ivory being carved into ornaments or included a trimming on little trinkets and furnishings. Though poaching is still a threat to the remaining Sumatran Rhino population it is wide spread habitat loss due to palm oil plantations that makes it highly unlikely that populations will ever recover from poaching. The only remaining populations live in isolated pockets of forest mainly on the island of Sumatra, they rely on a varied diet of fruit, twigs and leaves with their favourite food sources being mangoes, bamboo and figs.
The Bornean Pygmy Elephant (Elephas Maximus Borneensis) also known simply as the Borneo Elephant is an endangered subspecies of Asian Elephant that lives in the rainforests of Northeastern Borneo. There are thought to be around 1500 left in the wild and they were listed as endangered on the IUCN red list back in 1986 they were listed after a 50% population decrease over 60-75 years. This subspecies is the smallest size variety of Asian Elephant they are gentle natured when compared to other elephants and they have a round baby faced appearance with seemingly oversized ears, plump bellies and long tails. It was once believed that these elephants are descendants of a domesticated herd of elephants owned by the Sultan of Sulu in the 17th century, though this is a romantic origin story the truth is that when the DNA of these elephants was tested the evidence proved that this particular subspecies of elephant had been isolated for around 300,000 years which completely disproves the Sultan of Sulu origin story. The endangered classification of the Borneo Pygmy Elephant arises from three main threats, habitat loss, habitat degradation and habitat fragmentation. The wide scale habitat loss is primarily caused by the increased deforestation by palm oil plantations.
The Sumatran Elephant (Elephas Maximus Seumatranus), are a critically endangered species of elephant that share a habitat with many other endangered species of animal. A healthy Sumatran Elephant population means a healthier habitat as they play an important role in the ecosystem by feeding on a variety of plants and depositing seeds as they traverse the forest, as the elephants travel through the forest they will destroy dead and dying trees as they chart a path through the forest clearing the way for new natural growth. It is thought that around 2500 Sumatran Elephants remain, if you are thinking that this is a large population for a critically endangered species you are right, the elephant was declared critically endangered in 2012 after half of its population was lost in just one generation. This sharp decline has been linked to habitat destruction for palm oil in fact more than 69% of the Sumatran Elephant's habitat has been destroyed in under one generations lifetime. The habitat loss has also lead to a sharp increase in human-elephant conflict as the elephants are driven out towards the edges of the forest and closer to human settlements. In less than 25 years Sumatran Elephant populations have declined by 80% in the Sumatra Riau province as oil palm and paper demand has decimated the rainforest. The people of Sumatra who experience elephant raids in their home villages often have their homes and crops trampled and sometimes even their friends and family member will die in conflicts, this has lead to elephants residing near settlements being hunted down and killed in retaliation.
In 2014 the EU passed a directive where food products containing palm oil have to clearly label palm oil on their ingredients list instead of describing palm oil as vegetable oil. Though this was a huge step in the right direction there has been no laws or regulations brought in to clearly label palm oil as an ingredient on non food items such as soap, shampoo and cosmetics. These days it is safe to assume that unless a product that contains vegetable fat/oil does not clearly state it is palm oil free then it probably contains palm oil, with people becoming more and more aware to the destruction caused by palm oil, if a product does not contain palm oil it is normally easily visible on the packaging as a selling point.
The supermarket Iceland made a great decision to remove palm oil from all of its own brand products, it did this because of the catastrophic failure to slow down deforestation and regulate the palm oil industry. They realised a powerful advertisement around Christmas time highlighting the issue of dirty palm oil and the suffering of orangutans.
In 2010 many huge multinational companies were asked to take responsibility and source their ingredients ethically and sustainably. Members of the Consumer Goods Forum agreed to take responsibility and no longer buy palm oil from any company that decreased the net amount of rainforest by 2020. However we are half way through 2020 and that agreement was never honoured, many members of the Consumer Goods Forum refuse to publish which palm oil traders they do business with and those that did were still buying dirty palm oil.