Apes, elephants, rhinos and tigers at dire risk if unsustainable palm oil plantations allowed in Sumatran reserve
|A critically endangered orangutan in the Jambi rainforest in Sumatra. Photograph: Karen Michelmore/AAP|
August 22, 2014
One of the world’s leading orangutan experts has called on Australian food manufacturers to speed up efforts to ditch unsustainable palm oil, warning that the situation “has never been so desperate” for the threatened primates.
Dr Ian Singleton, head of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, said the apes, with the Sumatran elephant, rhino and tiger, were facing a “major extinction event” due to plans to open up a critical reserve for logging and construction.
The vast Leuser ecosystem in northern Sumatra is the only place on Earth where orangutans, elephants, rhinos and tigers co-exist.
Despite this, the regional Aceh government has approved a plan to allow roads, palm oil plantations, logging and mining in the ecosystem. Construction work has started, despite objections put forward by the central Indonesian government.
Singleton warned the situation was “dire” for the threatened species, warning that the development plan would completely wipe out the Sumatran rhino, and leave just a few hundred orangutans.
There are an estimated 6,700 Sumatran orangutans, primarily in the dense rainforests on the north of the island. But their numbers have been severely depleted by forest clearing, largely for palm oil plantations. This has led to apes wandering on to newly established farms, where they are regularly beaten, tortured and killed.
Singleton, with Zoos Victoria, is urging companies based in Australia to commit to certified sustainable palm oil, which is not sourced via the destruction of orangutan habitat. Palm oil is used in many products, from food to toothpaste.