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2013: The Year of the Orangutan

September 10, 2012

FMT LETTER: From Upreshpal Singh, via e-mail

With the population of both species of orangutans continuing to plummet at an estimated rate of between 1,000 and 2,500 a year, the need for more urgent action is needed. A coalition of three campaign groups has plans to make 2013 the year when the killing has to stop: Friends of the Orangutans (Malaysia), Centre for Orangutan Protection (Indonesia), Nature Alert (Rest of the World).

Plans are underway to bring further attention in various ways early in 2013 on the primary cause of species like orangutans being wiped out; namely the palm oil industry. The present total population of orangutans is thought to be between 50,000 to 60,000, suggesting the species is freefalling to extinction in the next two decades.

We must not and we will not sit around watching this magnificent species being driven to extinction by deforestation linked inextricably to the rapid spread of palm oil plantations in both Malaysia and Indonesia. We must save the orangutan and to do this we need also to save its forest habitat.

Living only on the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra, orangutans are divided into two species: The Sumatran orangutan and the Bornean orangutan.

In the Malaysian state of Sabah there are thought to be about 10,000 remaining, down from about 40,000 in the late 1960s. In the last eight years at least 300 orangutans have either been killed (most likely) or driven from their original territory. Sarawak has about 3,000 orangutans left and their prospects for survival look bleak due to rampant logging.

Despite knowing which forests are inhabited by orangutans and other protected species, the state of Sabah (Malaysia) permits logging companies to destroy, forever, their forest home. This is a very sad reflection on those empowered to protect these species, namely the Sabah Wildlife Department.

The island of Sumatra has about 6,000 orangutans left and these, too, are disappearing fast due to deforestation driven by palm oil companies demanding new land, including ‘protected’ forests for their crops.

Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) holds a rapidly declining population of some 40,000 orangutans. There are about 1,000 orangutans in rescue centres throughout Indonesia, the vast majority of them are victims of the palm oil industry.

Even the Indonesian government admitted orangutans had until recently been deliberately killed at the rate of 3,000 a year for the last 25 years. Unless palm oil companies endorse and enforce a Zero Tolerance No Kill policy, orangutans will keep being killed until they are all gone.

Year of the Orangutan aims among other things to focus worldwide attention on the palm oil industry and its destructive habits. The palm oil industry is without doubt the biggest killer of orangutans and many other protected species but prosecutions in Indonesia are rare and they never happen in Malaysia.

The evidence against the palm oil industry for its part in the mass slaughter of orangutans and other endangered species is as overwhelming as it is compelling. Documentary films, scientific reports, news reports all point the finger at the palm oil industry.

First and foremost we need the palm oil industry and the state of Sabah in Malaysia to declare a Zero Tolerance No Kill policy. There’s no reason not to. It’s the very least they should do. And then back this up with firm action on the ground involving NGOs and scientists monitoring progress.

The industry as a whole has the blood of tens of thousands of dead orangutans on its hands. There is scarcely any time left to save this species as its habitat continues to be sacrificed to boost the bottom line of company balance sheets.


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