Palm oil is often associated with biodiversity loss. We all know those pictures where orangutans are rescued from destroyed areas and brought to sanctuaries or translocated elsewhere. It is very important that oil palm plantations do not destroy rainforest but contribute to the conservation of nature. The single-most important thing we can all do to save orangutans is demand sustainable palm oil.
Orangutans live only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia and Malaysia. The conditions which make the habitat ideal for orangutans are the same conditions which make the region ideal for the cultivation of oil palm: a tropical climate with plenty of rain. And it just so happens that these two countries account for more than 85% of the global production of palm oil. As a result, outside of protected areas, orangutan habitat has been hugely fragmented by the expansion of oil palm.
How are we to save the orangutan given these circumstances? To address complex issues successfully, it is important that research and science play a part. Understanding precisely where orangutans and oil palm overlap and how orangutans behave and adapt to these fragmented landscapes is critical to developing sustainable and impactful solutions. Research shows that large terrestrial species like orangutans and elephants that find themselves in selectively logged, secondary forests need 3 things to survive: sufficient food resources, space to move and find mates, and to not be killed.
Where does sustainable palm oil fit in? To begin with, under RSPO, growers are not permitted to clear forests or develop on peatlands. Orangutans thrive in peatland swamp forests. Growers are also required to conserve or enhance areas of High Conservation Value (which includes the presence of rare, threatened or endangered species like the orangutan.) Additionally, growers are responsible for ensuring that rare, threatened or endangered species not be captured, harmed or killed. PONGO Alliance is a platform that demonstrates that growers can, in fact, create safe havens with abundant food sources and forest corridors to improve connectivity for species like the orangutan.
When consumers demand sustainable palm oil, they send a message to brands and retailers that they expect that the products they buy do not contribute to deforestation and biodiversity loss. And when these brands and retailers follow through with committing to sourcing only sustainable palm oil, they contribute to the survival of the orangutan.
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