Last night saw the beginning of the BBC’s Orangutan Diary, a week in the life of orangutans at the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Project in Borneo. The programme highlighted the enormous problems being faced by orangutans – from being kept as pets through to devastating habitat loss. During the capture of an adult orangutan from a soon to be felled forest area, Steve Leonard said that as palm oil plantations have doubled the orangutan populations have halved.

I first came across the link between the decline in orangutans and oil palm conversion in a paper published in Oryx in 2001:

Causal factors underlying the dramatic decline of the Sumatran orang-utan
by J. M. Y. Robertson and C. P. van Schaik.
Oryx  , 2001  , 35  , 1  , 26-38  , Many ref.
The major threats to the survival of the orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus) in the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, are identified as habitat loss (mainly from conversion to oil palm plantations), habitat degradation and habitat fragmentation. The immediate causes of this are seen as weak compliance with regulations and laws, weak law enforcement, and the weak legal environment. Corruption is identified as the ultimate factor underlying all of these. Several political actions are recommended to improve the effectiveness of habitat conservation. The most crucial problem to overcome is seen as the lack of regular funds for enforcement operations and establishment of a new enforcement system that is effective. Habitat corridors between important forest tracts need to be re-established.

Although the demand for palm oil is high (we use it from the moment we wake up in morning  – it’s in our shampoo and shower gel and our toast and the margarine we spread on it) it can be used sustainably and there is hope with initiatives such at the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) which promotes the growth and use of sustainable palm oil.

More information on our uses of palm oil can be found in CAB Abstracts (with 3461 records including information on biofuels), there are also 168 records on orang-utans including papers on reintroduction of rejected infants to mothers.

Previous blogs on this subject from Tim, Dave and Vicki.

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