These animals are rare. Myers, 1870
Found only in Sumatra and Borneo, orang-utan (Pongo pigmaeus) means ‘person of the forest’ in the Malay language. Rusty colored, powerful, and shaggy, endangered orang-utans are large, gentle, quiet, often solitary primates, standing between 4’ - 5’ tall, weighing an average of 100 to over 200 pounds. The long-armed orang-utan spends 90% of its time up in the trees, skillfully building an arboreal nest of sticks and twigs to sleep in each night.
An adult male can stretch his arms about 7’ from fingertip to fingertip. Adult orang-utans are generally solitary, except during mating. Not territorial, males have a range that extends across several female’s areas. A female gives birth to baby about once every six years, and mothers and their young share a strong bond, often staying together for six or seven years.
Orang-utan live in tropical rain forests, biodiverse peat swamp forests, and low mountain tropical forests (rarely above 1,600 feet) where they eat mostly fruit, leaves, insects, and bark, using a rather sophisticated array of tools. Researchers Van Shaik and Dopyera observed one orang-utan using 54 different handcrafted custom tools for gathering insects, and 20 tools for gathering their fruit (1997). Amazing! Orang-utan rely on healthy, biodiverse forests that produce plenty of fleshy fruits.
The highly intelligent orang-utans once were plentiful in Indo-China, Malaysia and north to China and have declined dramatically since then due to the advent of farming and deforestation. In last few hundred years, orang-utans have only been known to live in the rainforests of the Malaysian islands, Sumatra and Borneo.
The people too live in the forests. Over 45 million people live in forests in Indonesia alone, totally relying upon the health and biodiversity of the forest for their sustenance and livelihood.
THREATS: Because orang-utans spend so much of their time in trees, they are particularly susceptible to logging. Their major threats include habitat loss, especially due to forest destruction for logging and conversion to oil palm plantation, fire clearing, capture of their young and, in the past, killing of the mother to capture young, for the pet and zoo trades. According to the UN, the entire population of orang-utans outside protected areas is at risk.
Indonesia’s rainforests and peat lands are among most species-rich ecosystems on Earth, storing vast quantities of carbon. According to Rain Forest Rescue, new estimates suggest that 98% of the forest may be destroyed by 2022, and the lowland forest much sooner. Tragically, rainforests are being destroyed at the rate of 300 soccer fields per hour, giving rise to insurmountable challenges to local people and life, and massive greenhouse gas emissions.
90% of the world’s palm oil is currently being produced in Malaysia and Indonesia. Palm oil plantations are the leading cause of rainforest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia. Oil palms need a rainforest climate with consistently high humidity and temperatures, and a lot of land.
Palm oil, which is extremely high in saturated fat, is pervasive, in literally thousands of products as diverse as soap, detergent, chips, cereal, cookies, instant noodles, canned soups and much more. It is the most widely produced vegetable oil in the world. Demand for palm oil is soaring, with current worldwide worth estimated at $50 billion. Palm oil plantation development has been linked to deforestation, carbon emissions, child labor, land grabs, violating the rights of indigenous peoples, and the destruction of forest ecosystems, and threats to endangered species, including the orang-utan. This alone is inspiration enough to avoid buying food, candles, detergents, or cosmetics containing palm oil from an unknown, unreliable, unsustainable source.
THE REALLY GOOD NEWS! There are breakthroughs in the ongoing fight to engage corporations’ commitment to sustainable, responsible palm oil production. At the UN Climate Summit, September 13, 2013, 130 governments and 40 major food corporations supported the NEW YORK DECLARATION ON FORESTS, committing to end global deforestation by 2030. Given the current rate of rainforest destruction, this is an all too generous timeline. Nonetheless, environmental groups are guardedly hopeful about the growing awareness, transparency, activism, and corporate commitment.
It is essential and effective to use our dollars as voting rights. Consumers are getting savvy. Here’s a short list of corporations that, while using massive quantities of palm oil, are strongly committing to sustainable forestry and the NY DECLARATION ON FORESTS: Bravo to General Mills, Kellogg’s, Modelez, Nestle, Unilever, Kao Group, and L’Oreal.
ww.ETHICALCONSUMER.org has a list of palm oil free products.
BRANDS TO AVOID: These corporations have not signed the Declaration, and/or not demonstrated a strong commitment level: Campbell’s Soup, Con-Agra, Heinz, Hershey, Hillshire, Hormel, Smucker, Kraft, Nissin Foods, PepsiCo, Avon, Clorox, Colgate-Palmolive, Estee Lauder.
Here’s the key tip: If the product contains saturated fats, it’s most likely palm oil. Buy a baked product or organic product instead. Do not buy products containing stearate, stearyl, cetyl, cetearyl, sodium lauryl sulfate, palmitic acid.
CREDITS: Susan Domreis, Oregon Zoo volunteer, and amateur wildlife photographer extraordinaire, took the reference photograph. The giclee is available and was printed by giclee master and wildlife photographer Paul McCormick in Hawai’i, and inspected, signed and numbered by Calley O’Neill.