When pondering the harmful effects the palm oil industry has on the planet, it’s easy to initially think only about the damage done to the land and environment. However, at best, the wildlife that previously called those lands their home are left without their original habitats essential for their survival. And the worst-case scenario — death — unfortunately happens to them all too often.
Because the palm oil tree grows only in tropical equatorial regions around the globe, rainforests in these regions (particularly in Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia) are being rapidly deforested to make way for palm oil tree plantations. Of course, all living creatures that reside in this diverse ecosystem are negatively impacted by the loss of their habitats, but several threatened or endangered species are facing extinction due to this industry.
The following is a list of just some of the species that are most impacted by the proliferation of palm oil plantations and the accompanying loss of vital habitat:
1. Sumatran Tiger
The clearing of their rainforest habitat has caused a plummet in population numbers; experts estimate fewer than 400 of these animals now exist in the wild. In just a few years, from 2009 – 2011,approximately two thirds of its habitat has been destroyed and converted to palm plantations.
With less natural habitat for them to roam, contact with humans is inevitable. As the territories of both species overlap, conflicts occur. When villagers or their livestock are attacked, retaliation against the tiger is sought and it will likely be killed.
2. Sumatran and Bornean Orangutan
These gentle apes, whom we share 96.4 percent of our genes with, are in a dire situation. Because one of the easiest and most common methods of clearing land is “slash and burn,” the forests are essentially cut and/or set on fire to make way for the planting of oil palms.
Being arboreal, orangutans spend the majority of their lives in the treetops in relative safety. However, due to the destructive practice of slash and burn, the treetops become a death trap. Confused and frightened, they either remain in their perches amongst the fires surrounding them, or descend in an attempt to escape. In both instances, the animals are then often burned alive.
Over 80 percent of orangutan habitat has been lost in just the last 20 years, and it is estimated the species could be extinct in as few as 25 years.
3. Bornean Pygmy Elephant
Like so many other species, the pygmy elephant has plummeted due to habitat loss and deforestation related to the palm oil industry. The smallest and gentlest of all elephants, the pygmy unfortunately has found a deadly alternative while trying to survive.
These intelligent animals have learned that the fruit of the palm oil tree is an easy to obtain and tasty alternative to its typical diet of grasses, leaves, seeds, and nuts. As they can easily eat over 300 pounds of vegetation per day, plantation owners and workers see them as huge nuisances and profit stealers. As such, elephants are often killed by horrific means to end their raiding of plantations.
Current estimates put the pygmy elephant’s population at only 1,500 in the wild.
4. Sumatran Rhinoceros
Also known as the pygmy rhinoceros, this species is yet another victim of the palm oil industry. Habitat loss due to deforestation for palm plantations has these animals truly at the brink of extinction.
As their habitat has been destroyed and fragmented and then converted to palm plantations, roads have also been constructed throughout the region. This provides poachers with easy access to the animals that they would not otherwise have, making them much easier targets to hunt.
An estimate made as recently as the 1980s put their population numbers between 800 to 1,000. Today, it is approximated that only 100 Sumatran rhinos remain in the wild.
5. Malayan Sun Bear
Deforestation for palm plantations has greatly impacted the world’s smallest bear species. Sun bears are proficient climbers and spend much of their time in the trees, searching for honey and insects to consume.
As forests are cleared, the bears must go in search of a new habitat. This inevitably brings them into contact with humans, often on palm plantations where they dig around the base of trees, searching for insects to eat. This destroys the root system and kills the tree. Because of this, bears are often killed if caught on plantation land.
Due to rapid deforestation, it is estimated that the population has been reduced by 75 percent. However, because very few studies have been conducted on the sun bear, even an approximate number of them remaining in the wild is currently unknown.
Although these species are doomed for extinction if the current trends hold, this fate can be avoided. Remember that if there were no demand for palm oil, there would be no habitat destruction to make way for palm plantations!
Try to avoid products containing palm oil and be on the lookout for palm oil in disguise — it is often listed in ingredients as:
- Palm kernel oil
- Palmitate or palmate
- Elaeis gunieensis
- Hydrated palm glycerides hexadecanoic
Ingredients likely to have palm oil in them are listed as:
- Anything containing stearate, stearyl, cetyl, or cetearyl
- Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate, or Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate
- (SDS or NaDS) Sodium
- Calcium Stearoyl Lactylate Steareth -2
- Steareth -20 Emulsifier 422, 430-36, 465-67, 470-8, or 481-483
Don’t support the palm oil industry and you will be helping to save endangered species and their remaining precious habitats!
By: Jessica Tucker