We all remember the science fiction book, the television series and more recently the movie, “Planet of the Apes”. The success began in 1963 with the French author Pierre Boulle‘s novel “La Planète des Singes“.  I have to admit that when I was a little girl, I was a fan of the TV series. Now I finally understand why the apes fought so hard for a place on this planet.

Even though, at the time when Pierre Boulle wrote his book “1963”, we still far from today’s situation. Some apes species as “the orangutans” are critically endangered because of its habitat being lost in the last years. Their existence is threatened due to human abuse of their habitat, principally deforestation and palm oil plantations.

In the last 20 years of deforestation orangutans have lost 80% of their habitat. One third during the fires of 1997 and 1998, this means that one tier disappear in just one year.

Over thousands of orangutans lived once across the rainforest of Southeast Asia. Today they survive only on the island of Borneo and Sumatra. But even there, their home is threatened.

Many experts believe orangutans could be extinct in the wild in less than 10 years. In 2016 there are only about 40 000 orangutans remaining in Borneo and Sumatra according to “The Orangutan Conservancy.

The wonders of the “great red ape”

Did you know that orangutans are born with an ability to reason and think?

This red ape is one of our closest relative, sharing nearly 97% of the same human DNA. Ethnic groups who descended from the original inhabitants of Indonesia and Malaysia call this ape “orang hutan“. That means “person of the forest”. In the past orangutans were not killed. Because they believe that the orangutan was a person hiding in the trees, trying to avoid having to work or become slave. How smart is that, right?

Orangutans are among the most intelligent primates. They use a variety of sophisticated tools and construct elaborate sleeping nests each night from branches and foliage. They spend most of their time in trees. Fruit is the most important component of an orangutan’s diet and they can live over 30-40 years in both the wild and captivity.

In a wild a baby orangutan will stay with its mother for about 6 years. The babies nurse until they are about six years of age. His mother will take care of him 24/7, allowing him to learn all necessary skills to survive in the rainforest.

Orangutan females only give birth about once every 8 years. This results in only 4 to 5 babies in her lifetime. Other reason, why they are very slow to recover for the challenges they are facing to survive.

So, why our closest relatives are an endangered species?

Palm oil is vegetable oil that is derived from the palm fruit. Today, palm oil is grown throughout Africa, Asia, North America, and South America, with 85% of all palm oil globally produced and exported from Indonesia and Malaysia; but most of the time not using sustainable measures.

Tens of millions of tons of palm oil is produced annually, accounting for over 30% of the world’s vegetable oil production. This single vegetable oil is found in approximately 50% of household products. In other words, half of the packaged food product found in supermarkets shelves contain palm oil. Some examples are baked goods as cookies, bread, and potato chips as well as in chocolate and milk. Extensively used also in cosmetics and other products as soaps, shampoos, detergents and toothpaste.

Palms oil industry is huge and for Indonesia is the most valuable agricultural export. In Sumatra at least 10.8 million hectares have been opened up for palm oil plantations. The situation in Borneo is similar.  Large scale conversion of tropical rain forests has had a devastating impact on biodiversity. This is also damaging the world’s climate. It has led to Indonesia being the third largest contributor of carbon to the world’s atmosphere after China and the United States.

This industry is linked to major issues such as deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses in the countries where it is produced, as the land and forests must be cleared for the development of the oil palm plantations.

It is very sad to see today kilometers and kilometers of just palm oil plantations, when before nature, fruits, animals and other multiples species enjoyed the wonders of the rainforest.

According to the WWF – World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production. This deforestation is pushing many species to extinction. If nothing changes species like the orangutan could become extinct in the wild within the next 5-10 years.

What can we do?

Orangutans are gentle and intelligent animals. Yet they could become extinct in our lifetime, with only 45 000 left. Today one of the most critically endangered of the great apes. But there is hope!

The WWF- World Wildlife Fund  has been working on orangutan conservation since 1970s, with governments and plantation owners to promote sustainable palm oil production. Other programs include conserving their habit and secure well managed protected areas.

For Indonesia palm oil is a source of their economy so hard to be critical to a country that need to feed more that 250 million people, but there are programs to make this a sustainable evolution.

There are also several organizations working for the rehabilitation of the orangutan

What about us “consumers”? 

What’s worth more, an orangutan or a box of cookies? Of course we can’t live without chocolate cookies. I am serious about it, my kids would be the first ones to strongly protest on this measure.  But you can spend some extra time at the grocery store. There are some very good products that doesn’t contain palm oil or that are using palm oil from sustainable plantations that respect the habits or orangutan. As a consumer, we can help to reduce our contribution to deforestation in Borneo and Sumatra through making some simple lifestyle changes. Maybe time to look for a homemade chocolate cookies recipe?

Rainforest Action Network are collecting 60,600 names to send to 20 snack food companies using conflict-palm oil in their products, one for every known wild orangutan remaining.  For a list of this companies or to sing the petition click here .

Yes, there is hope. We can contribute to change the future and ensure that our children or grandchildren will have the opportunity to see a real orangutan. Not just in a book picture or in a museum. They will be proud to know that we acknowledge respect towards our Mother Nature …Let’s change the future!

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