Palm oil grows in rainforests with warm temperatures throughout the equatorial regions of our planet. Indonesia and Malaysia are known for their large palm oil growing plantations, while Africa and Latin American countries have become more prominent growers in the last 30 years. Tragically, the methods of growing palm oil often involve deforestation and burning techniques to clear the land. Meaning that some of the most biodiverse regions in the world are threatened and driving species like orangutans, Sumatran rhinos, and sun bears towards extinction. As consumers, we can stop this destruction by choosing products with sustainable palm oil that is deforestation-free or choosing alternative ingredients in our products.
Palm oil is in just about every type of consumer product and is the most widely produced edible oil. You can find palm oil in 50% of all packaged goods sold in the U.S. and European grocery stores. Palm oil and its derivatives are used in a remarkable array of products, such as soaps, hair products, lipstick, ice cream, cookies, crackers, chocolate products, cereals, breakfast bars, cake mixes, doughnuts, potato chips, instant noodles, frozen sweets and meals, baby formula, margarine, canned soups and much more.
The rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra are the last stand for one of humankind’s closest relatives, the orangutan. Orangutans face an extreme risk of extinction within our lifetime, as about 2,500 orangutans die annually due to poaching, fire, and conflicts with loggers and plantation owners. Borneo Orangutans’ populations have fallen to 104,700 (Endangered) and the Sumatran Orangutans to 7,500 (Critically Endangered). The Sumatran tiger, Sumatran rhinoceros, Borneo Pygmy Elephant, Sun Bear, gibbon, and other wildlife are also urgently threatened by palm oil expansion.
Local native people often lose their land and livelihoods to large palm-oil companies, as well, and profits from non-sustainably produced palm oil does not trickle down to local people. Many industrial palm oil plantations also rely on the use of forced labor of both adults and children.
The rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra are the last stand for one of humankind’s closest relatives, the orangutan. Orangutans face an extreme risk of extinction within our lifetime. Between 2004-08, the Sumatran orangutan population fell by 14% to 6,600, largely due to loss of habitat for palm oil expansion. The Sumatran tiger, Sumatran rhinoceros, Asian Elephant, Sun Bear, gibbons and other wildlife are also urgently threatened by palm oil expansion.
Impacts on Local People Native people often lose their land and livelihoods to large palm-oil companies. Most of the money from non-sustainably produced palm oil does not trickle down to local people. Many industrial palm oil plantations also rely on the use of forced and child labor. In Malaysia and Indonesia, child labor has been documented and allegations of modern-day slavery on plantations across Malaysia are common.
Palm oil might be listed under 400 different names, with the most common being “vegetable oil.” Use the free Cheyenne Mountain Zoo app to make purchasing choices easy.
Through our hosted eco-trips to Borneo and by using our public platform available to us as Oakland Zoo, we help get the word out about the plight of wildlife impacted by the unregulated palm oil practices and educate people on how to avoid supporting unsustainable palm oil in their everyday lives.
Oakland Zoo partners with non-profit conservation organizations in Southeast Asia, such as the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre that cares for and rehabilitates Sun Bears displaced by the deforestation of unsustainable palm oil plantations.
Oakland Zoo’s staff has traveled to Malaysia to provide hands-on assistance in moving and providing medical care to the sun Bears currently affected by the palm oil crisis at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. Oakland Zoo’s Conservation Expeditions to Borneo include four days of skilled volunteering in whatever capacity is needed by the BSBCC at that time.
Roundtable on Sustainable PalmOil
Rainforest Action Networks View of the Issue